February 3, 2023

The Benguet Prosecutor’s Office reversed an earlier resolution of the Baguio City Prosecutor’s Office, which dismissed the complaints filed by Mayor Benjamin Magalong and the Community Environment and Natural Resources (Cenro) against officials of Gateluck Corporation for violation of the Environment Code and Republic Act 11038 or the expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-Nipas).
In a resolution dated Jan. 27, acting prosecutor for Baguio Sheryl Anne Paoad-Cabantac said there is probable cause to indict seven officers of Gateluck Corporation for violation of the Environment Code and E-Nipas Act.
Cabantac also found cause to indict eight officers of Great Zone Enterprise for violating the same laws.
Officers of Gateluck have been sued for ordering the killing of full-grown pine trees at their property along Legarda Road. Great Zone Enterprise is the contractor tapped by Gateluck to develop its property.
But instead of indicting the respondents to 45 counts of violating the Environment Code, Cabantac said the res-pondents should only be charged for one count, in view of the “principle of single intent.”
“We cannot concur with the mayor’s contention that 45 counts of violation of the ordinance should be filed in consonance with the number of pine trees that were destroyed in view of the principle of single intent. The respondents were impelled by a single intent – that is to destroy the pine trees, thus regardless of the number of trees destroyed, only one violation shall be filed,” Cabantac said in the resolution.
In resolutions penned in August and September last year, investigating prosecutor Conrado Catral, Jr. dismissed the complaints filed by Magalong and the Cenro saying that while the 45 trees had been bored, there is no evidence showing that Gateluck had personally and actually caused the boring of the 45 trees.
The Cenro, meanwhile, claimed the site where the trees died is within a protected area and the directors of Gateluck Corp. must be held liable for violating Sec. 18 of the Nipas Act, which punishes poaching, killing, destroying, disturbing any wildlife, even in private lands within the protected area.
Catral said that there is no positive evidence showing that any or all of the respondents had personally or actually poached, killed, destroyed, or disturbed any wildlife in the area, nor did they authorize, consented, or allowed any other person to commit such acts.
In his resolutions, Catral said that while laws were indeed violated, there is no direct evidence that could link the directors of Gateluck Corp. to the crimes they are accused of.
In November last year, the mayor, through the City Legal Office and the Cenro filed a motion for reconsideration.
At the same time, Magalong submitted a supplement complaint implicating employees of Great Zone Enterprise. Included in the complaint are affidavits of security guards of Great Zone stating that they were privy as to how the poisoning of the pine trees was done. Asst. City Prosecutor Nenita Opiana, who was then tasked to review the complaint, was also asked to inhibit.
In reversing the City Prosecutor’s Office’ findings, Cabantac said Gateluck should be held liable, as its officers could not pass the blame on treasure hunters whom it claims were responsible in the drilling of holes in the pine trees where poison will be injected.
“What interest do this alleged treasure hunters and passersby have over the death of these pine trees? It is a futile attempt, a dismal move to extricate themselves from liability when the totality of the evidence will point to them as persons behind the destruction,” Cabantac said.
She said that while corporations cannot be charged, there are laws that states that its officials or persons in charge may be sued.
She said officer and personnel of Great Zone Enterprise did not even refute the statements of witnesses of the city government by not submitting their counter-affidavits.
The Benguet Prosecutor’s Office reviewed the complaint after all fiscals of the Baguio Prosecutor’s Office inhibited from handling the complaint. – Rimaliza A. Opiña