February 5, 2023

The regional Department of Environment and Natural Resources will not go easy on the implementation of the permanent protection order (PEPO) covering Mt. Sto. Tomas in Tuba, Benguet even with the intense lobbying by some groups for the agency to ease restrictions at the forest reservation.
DENR-Cordillera Executive Director Ralph Pablo said the PEPO does not prevent residents from repairing their houses or applying for electrical connection but there are conditions that should be followed before these are allowed.
The restrictions cover not only the repair of houses but also the repair of telecommunication towers and other infrastructure at the area, conduct of researches, filming, sports activities, and even political campaigns.
Pablo said regardless of what every individual or group intends to do at the reservation, everything has to be approved and inspected by the DENR and in some cases require the endorsement of the barangay and the municipal government.
“The PEPO is permanent,” Pablo said stressing that after issuance of the PEPO in 2015, no new construction is allowed at the reservation. There was a massive demolition of new structures then, and in 2018, the DENR conducted an inventory of structures to determine long-time occupants in the area.
Residents and businessmen at the area recently requested Benguet caretaker Eric Yap to assist them in appealing to the DENR.
Yap wrote the DENR about the residents’ predicament but Pablo said the PEPO explicitly limits activities at the reservation.
He said restrictions are being imposed in view of the fact that the area is a forest reservation and watershed, not a tourist destination where the public may freely move about. Mt. Sto. Tomas only became famous when a local television series was filmed there in 2014.
For house repairs, a resident should write a letter request to the DENR detailing the kind of repair to be done and the materials that will be brought in and an endorsement from the barangay. The Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, and the DENR’s Enforcement Division will also inspect the structure that needs to be repaired to verify the request and to ensure that only the specified repair will be conducted. Photo documentation of the activity specified in the request also need to be submitted, Pablo said.
Even those conducting researches, site visit, sports events, photo shoots, filming, will need to request the DENR.
Similar to the requirement for house repairs, the requests should specify what exactly will be done while in the reservation such as but not limited to: number of hours or days at the site, materials and vehicles to bring in, number of attendees, specific area to visit, and route plan (for biking or trail running).
A new guideline was recently issued on compliance with the Covid-19 health protocols in relation to the conduct of group activities including campaigning.
Pablo said national candidates are also required to seek clearance from the DENR; local candidates on the other hand, only need to coordinate with the local government and the barangay.
In 2019, a forest land use plan (FLUP) was prepared governing allowable activities at the area but the same cannot be implemented yet after the DENR central office required that a free, prior and informed consent be obtained from the residents. – Rimaliza A. Opiña