THE Supreme Court (SC) has issued a writ of kalikasan, stopping road-opening activities and other developments that are being undertaken at Mount Santo Tomas watershed in the municipality of Tuba, Benguet.
The writ of kalikasan was issued during Tuesday’s regular en banc session presided by acting Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been designated as acting chief justice because Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is on official trip abroad.
A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy designed for the protection of one’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.
The writ was issued with a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo) enjoining the respondents Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez, Tuba Police Chief Insp. William Willie and several other provincial environment officials, from initiating or allowing earth-moving activities at Mount Santo Tomas.
The SC also remanded the petition before the Court of Appeals for hearing and decision.
The Court’s action stemmed from the petition filed by Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Diocese and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan Diocese and several residents accusing Aliping as one of those responsible for the degradation of Mount Santo Tomas, which is a valuable source of water to residents of Tuba and Baguio City.
The petitioners said barangay, police and environment officers were discovered that the earth-moving activities at Mount Santo Tomas was reportedly approved by Aliping for the purpose of opening a road starting from Mount Kabuyao highway all the way down to Sitio Amliang and Sitio Bekel of Poblacion, Tuba.
The activities were situated within Mount Santo Tomas, which resulted in the cutting of 306 trees and 455 saplings.
The petitioners noted that the newly opened road ends 50 meters away from Amliang creek, and that the rocks and soil from the earth-moving activities were a threat to the water resources around the area.
The investigation report also said that no Environmental Compliance Certificate, tree-cutting permit or special land-use permit, right-of-way or excavation permits were issued for the said activities.
The petitioners noted that based on the separate investigation conducted by the Baguio Water District (BWD), the earth-moving activities and the cutting of trees within Mount Santo Tomas has resulted in the contamination of water sources
“As a result of the erosion caused by respondent Aliping’s earth-moving activities, clean water which used to flow from the springs was replaced by murky water and found its way to the Amliang dams. Based on BWD’s findings, water from this source could not be distributed due to severe turbidity caused by the destruction,” the petitioners said.
The petitioners added that although Mount Santo Tomas is considered a forest reserve, large areas within its vicinity have been illegally converted into human settlements, resulting in the reduction of the forest cover.
The petitioners said the residents of Mount Santo Tomas have justified the construction of structures on the forest reserve through the tax declarations issued by the municipal assessor’s office of Tuba.
“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 petitioners said.
The petitioners urged the SC to issue a Tepo to restrain further illegal activities within Mount Santo Tomas and conserve whatever is left of the forest.
They also asked the Court to order Aliping to immediately take steps to mitigate the contamination of the Amliang dam due to the erosion emanating from his road-opening project.
Likewise, the petitioner said the Tuba municipal government should be ordered to cease and desist from accepting applications for issuance of tax declarations on lands within the forest reserve.
On the other hand, the petitioners asked the SC to order the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to take short- and long-term measures to protect Mount Santo Tomas including the deployment of personnel to guard against further cutting of trees, illegal excavation and other forms of earth-moving activities.
Joel R. San Juan