Church seeks stop to sale of land in watershed
BAGUIO CITY—A suit filed by the Church and private individuals seeks to strip a watershed in the town of Benguet province of all commercial activity, including the construction of a supposedly ecological resort being developed by a congressman.
The suit took to task officials of Tuba town and several government agencies for the sale of land in the Sto. Tomas watershed, supposedly a protected area.
In a petition for a writ of kalikasan filed in the Supreme Court on Sept. 23, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon and several city residents asked the high court to stop all road construction and all forms of vegetable gardening and commercial development being blamed for the contaminatiion of water sources in Sto. Tomas.
The commercial projects include a proposed ecological resort being developed by Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. on land he claimed to have bought from farmers in the area, lawyer Francisca Claver, the bishops’ counsel, said on Friday.
An environmental order may also compel the Tuba municipal government to start nullification proceedings for land claims there, which it “had legitimized by allowing them to pay tax declarations,” Claver said.
“The issuance of these tax declarations has opened the floodgates for the alienation and transfer of portions of the forest reserve, which is bound to bring about land speculation to feed the high demand for resorts and vacation houses in the name of tourism,” the petition said.
The petition sought court action against Aliping, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and local officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez Jr. and town officials like municipal assessor Prudencio Pinkisan, and the local police.
The Sto. Tomas watershed was classified as a forest reserve in a 1940 proclamation. It is often identified with Mt. Sto. Tomas, which is popular with tourists because of its two giant radar dishes.
But the watershed is composed of several mountain peaks, which are major sources of water for both Baguio and Tuba, and is host to the headwaters of the Bued River that supports the San Fabian River irrigation system in Pangasinan province.
“In the 1970s, water from the irrigation system serviced as much as 2,765 hectares of agricultural land. The decreasing water supply and the ongoing destruction of the Bued River have diminished this to 1,144 ha,” said the petition.
On June 6, a criminal complaint was filed against Aliping, who was blamed by DENR foresters for a 2-kilometer road excavation in Mt. Cabuyao within the watershed.
Aliping had denied taking part in the excavation, which DENR foresters and the Baguio Water District blame for erosions that contaminated the Amliang Springs, a Baguio water source.
The petition sought a court order compelling Aliping to repair the damage to the water source.
But its primary goal, Claver said, was to prevent the further deterioration of the watershed by ordering agencies and the Tuba government against tolerating the existence of farms, roads and real estate projects in the protected area.
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