SC stops activities in Mt. Santo Tomas forest
MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court issued on Tuesday a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) stopping development projects in the Mt. Santo Tomas forest reserve along the border of Pangasinan and Benguet provinces.
The court en banc, presided by Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, granted the TEPO and referred to the Court of Appeals the writ of kalikasan case filed last Sept. 12 by residents of Baguio City and Tuba in Benguet, and San Fabian, Pangasinan.
Among the petitioners were Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Socrates Villegas and Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon
The Court ordered one respondent, Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. and his agents to cease and desist from performing acts to develop or enhance the property located at M. Santo Tomas forest reserve which he has claimed to be his or his brother’s.
The acts include the improvement of the old building standing on the land, the building of any structure thereon, continuing with any road activities and concreting any part of the road.
The Court ordered Aliping to immediately take steps to mitigate the contamination of the Amilang dams due to the erosion emanating from his road opening project.
The Court also ordered the Tuba municipal government, led by Mayor Florencio Benitez, to cease and desist from accepting applications for the issuance of tax declarations over lands within the forest reserve, from processing applications that have already been filed, and from issuing tax declarations that have already been processed and approved.
According to the petitioners, the development projects could affect the Mount Sto. Tomas watershed and threaten residents’ water supply, particularly Baguio, a high-altitude city which has been having difficulty obtaining potable water.
They sought to stop activities that they believed contributed to the degradation of Mount Santo Tomas, namely: illegal tree cutting and man-made erosion due to a road opening on the mountain side; deforestation due to expansion of vegetable gardens and residential areas; and illegal small scale mining activities.
The high tribunal noted that the petition invoked the principle of intergenerational equity, which imposes on the present generation the duty to protect the environment and to pass on its bounty to the coming generations.
The court required all the respondents in the case to file their comments to the petition within 10 days. The Court of Appeals will accept the comments, conduct hearings and receive pieces of evidence after which it would render judgment.
There have been complaints that the activities in the watershed disrupted springs there, turning the water muddy and unfit for distribution to water consumers. The petitioners also said the project initiated by Aliping, which involved the construction of a road connecting several villages in Tuba to the Mount Kabuyao Highway, could also endanger Amilang Creek, which flows into dams that act as water reservoirs.
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