Ex-Baguio solon stands trial over forest loss
LA TRINIDAD, BENGUET—Former Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. will stand trial in two separate courts in Benguet province in January for his alleged role in the destruction of trees at the Mt. Sto. Tomas forest reservation in 2014.
A court entered a “not guilty” plea for Aliping during his arraignment on Tuesday for the destruction of trees and a water source at the forest reserve.
Aliping was arraigned along with three contractors, who were blamed for a road excavation that uprooted about 700 trees. They were charged with violating Presidential Decree (PD) No. 705 (the amended Revised Forestry Code) that regulates the cutting and gathering of forest products.
He will face another arraignment on Jan. 26 at the Municipal Trial Court of Tuba town in Benguet, this time for violating a section of PD 705 on the unlawful occupation or destruction of forest and grazing lands.
The lawsuits were filed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which said the excavation was responsible for P10.3 million worth of damage on three hectares of forest land.
The DENR said Aliping and the contractors destroyed 708 Benguet pine trees and 53 alnus trees at the forest reservation in Barangay Poblacion in Tuba.
Mud and gravel that polluted a spring, from where the Baguio Water District draws water for parts of Baguio City and Tuba, had also been attributed to the excavation. The forest reserve straddles Baguio and Tuba.
But Aliping and the contractors denied taking part in the destruction of the trees.
Judge Emmanuel Rasing of the Regional Trial Court Branch 10 in La Trinidad entered a not guilty plea for contractor Bernard Capuyan. Contractors Romeo Aquino and William Go pleaded not guilty.
A pretrial conference has been scheduled on Jan. 18.
Aliping had not issued a statement.
The controversy on the excavation and destruction of trees led Baguio and Tuba residents, as well as former Baguio-Benguet Bishop Carlito Cenzon and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan, to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of kalikasan. The tribunal granted them the writ in 2014.
In May 2015, the Court of Appeals issued a permanent environment protection order, regulating tourism and development activities within the forest reservation.
In January 2015, the Department of Justice recommended the filing of criminal charges against Aliping and the three contractors.
The DENR initially filed a complaint against Aliping in the Office of the Ombudsman. But the Ombudsman concluded that Aliping’s alleged offenses were not made in his official function as a lawmaker.
In August 2016, the Ombudsman said the complaint should be heard by a regular court.
In June this year, the Supreme Court First Division junked three separate petitions filed by Aliping to review his indictment by the Ombudsman.
The high court also affirmed the findings of the Ombudsman that Aliping and the contractors began excavating a section of Mt. Sto. Tomas without securing an environmental permit. —KARLSTON LAPNITEN
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