SC stops all projects in watershed
BAGUIO CITY—The Supreme Court, through a temporary environment protection order (Tepo) issued on Tuesday, stopped vegetable gardening, pocket mining and other development projects like roads inside the Mt. Santo Tomas watershed here.
The high court, sitting en banc, granted a Sept. 23 petition to clear the mountain of commercial activity, which has contributed to the degradation of the watershed that supplies water to Baguio, Tuba town in Benguet province and San Fabian town in Pangasinan province.
It said the petition had invoked the principle of “intergenerational equity,” which imposes on the current generation the duty to protect the environment for future generations.
The Tuba assessor’s office has listed 637 tax declarations for private lands inside the watershed that were tolerated by agencies tasked with protecting the watershed, according to the petitioners, who include Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
They said the watershed hosts 28 relay stations and communication towers operated by television networks and telecommunication companies.
“The sheer number of towers mounted on Mt. Santo Tomas has also contributed to the degradation of the forest reserve,” the petition said.
The petition also questioned government projects, like concrete roads, which lead to the telecommunications towers, saying these facilitated “access to the reserve and, if unchecked, will pave the way for more deforestation and destruction of the forest cover.”
Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. was included in the petition for buying land inside the watershed and for which he had applied for excavation permits to develop the property into an ecotourism facility.
On June 6, government foresters sued Aliping for excavating a 2-km road leading to his property. The loose soil from the project site had contaminated the Amliang water source of the Baguio Water District (BWD), they said.
Aliping denied building the road, but the Tepo stopped the lawmaker from proceeding with his projects. The court also ordered him to repair the damage caused by the road construction.
The high court also stopped the Tuba government from accepting and processing applications for the issuance of tax declarations over lands within the Mt. Santo Tomas forest reserve.
The Tepo directed Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to enforce all regulations to protect the watershed, which was established in 1940.
But what concerned the agency was how the Tepo may have harmed the DENR case against Aliping because the petitioners accused DENR of negligence, said Paquito Moreno, Cordillera regional director of the DENR.
The petitioners complained that DENR acted on the illegal road excavations only after being tipped off in April by mountain trekkers.
Francisca Claver, lawyer of the petitioners, said the writ petition shares the same evidence which BWD and the DENR used in their complaints against Aliping, and was not meant to weaken the criminal case. Reports from Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon, and Jerome Aning in Manila
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