by Jimmy K. Laking
Tuba residents engaged in farming on the slopes of Mt. Sto. Tomas have been advised last week to refrain from expanding their farms as part of a concerted effort to save and to protect the forest reserve.
“Our proposal is for long-time farmers to help manage the forest reserve in place,” said Gov. Nestor Fongwan.
But he insisted that the farmers should desist from further expansion.
He also urged municipal officials to desist from issuing tax declarations.
Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Octavio Cuanso said municipal officials have been warned as early as 2009 to remind the municipal assessor to require applicants for new tax declarations to secure DENR certification that their lots are within alienable and disposable lands.
He said he issued the reminder to Mayor Florencio V. Bentrez when he was still the community environment and natural resources officer.
“It was in effect a reminder that no tax declarations should be issued to forest lands,” he said, adding that the reminder was issued to all municipal mayors under his coverage.
In issuing the reminder, Cuanso cited a memorandum of the DENR secretary stressing that the illegal issuance of tax declaration by local government units is ground for imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from office based on Section 75 of Presidential Decree 705 or the Revised Forestry Code.
So far, only the Municipal Assessor of La Trinidad has been complying with the reminder.
The vegetable farms have been identified as a threat to the water sources maintained by the Baguio Water District because of the irresponsible use of chemicals that seep into the ground and eventually find their way to the bodies of water.
Cuanso said most of the vegetable farms are covered by tax declarations, mostly issued by the Municipal Assessor’s Office. Most fall within the jurisdiction of the Mt. Sto. Tomas forest reserve as projected in initial tax mappings.
He said the decision as to whether or not these tax declarations will be cancelled will be up to the town’s comprehensive land use plan.
He said the alternative is to come up with a management plan that will ensure the conservation, preservation and rehabilitation of the forest reserve.
In 1993, records of the Penro showed that the Municipal Assessor listed a total of 285 tax declarations in Mt. Sto. Tomas.
It is believed to have doubled over the past 15 years considering that the forest reserve covers a territory that includes parts of Camp 3, Twin Peaks, Tabaan Norte, Camp 4, and Poblacion.
The Penro is currently updating its master list of tax declarations in coordination with the Municipal Assessor’s Office so that it will be integrated in the CLUP.
Tuba has a total of 32,381-hectares forest land.