February 1, 2023

The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the Writ of Kalikasan issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) that banned any development within the Sto. Tomas Forest Reservation in Tuba, Benguet.
In upholding the Writ of Kalikasan, the SC denied the petition of former Baguio Rep. Nicasio Aliping Jr. that sought for the reversal of a portion of the CA ruling, which prevented him from conducting improvements in his supposed claimed property within the reservation.
The CA prevented Aliping from bulldozing, levelling, or conducting any earth-moving activity, improving the old building, and installing any structure on his claimed land, and continuing with road opening activities, among other activities.
Aliping was also ordered to mitigate the soil erosion caused by his earth-moving activities that led to the siltation of the dams used by the Baguio Water District and rehabilitate the portions of the reservation that were destroyed by opening of the road leading to his claimed property.
The former solon asked the SC to reverse the CA ruling, saying it violates his right to equal protection of the laws because the others who also reside in the reservation are not prohibited from making improvements on their claims in the area.
He added the ruling also deprived him of the right to use his property without due process of law and the order for him to rehabilitate the destroyed portions of Mt. Sto. Tomas had no basis and assumed he was guilty of tree-cutting and earth-moving activities outside of his claim.
The SC, in a decision rendered June 21, 2022, but was made available to the media only recently, denied Aliping’s plea.
It said the CA did not did not violate Aliping’s right to equal protection of the laws because even if there are other residents within the Sto. Tomas reservation, they are not respondents to the Writ of Kalikasan petition.
“The Kalikasan petition lists, as one of its causes of action, an activity specific only to the petitioner, like the illegal tree-cutting and earthmoving resulting from a road construction project. No similar activity was imputed against the other residents and owners of vegetable gardens within the reserve,” the SC ruling stated.
“A similar directive could not have been made against other residents and owners of vegetable gardens within the reserve because they were never specifically impleaded in the Kalikasan petition, nor have they been accused of, much less proven to have engaged in earth-moving activities comparable to that committed by the petitioner.”
The SC declared as misguided Aliping’s claim that his right to due process was violated.
“The voluminous records of this case attest that the assailed decision, including the subject directive, had been the product of bona fide proceedings in which petitioner actively participated. Verily, petitioner had been given ample opportunity to be heard before the verdict against him was handed down,” the SC order added.
The SC also said Aliping’s challenge against the factual basis of the order for him to rehabilitate the destroyed portions of Sto. Tomas Reservation due to tree-cutting and earth-moving activities lacks merit.
The SC said there is enough evidence linking him to the tree-cutting and earth moving activities in the Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve.
It added the evidence revealed the tree-cutting and earth moving activities within the reserve were made pursuant to the construction of two roads at Barangay Poblacion, Tuba, which were newly constructed and emanate from Aliping’s claimed property.
“The roads originate from his claim and are structurally designed to connect his claim to different sitios within Barangay Poblacion. The roads were evidently constructed for the benefit of the petitioner,” the ruling stated.
Aside from Aliping, those impleaded in the Writ of Kalikasan petition are key officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the local government of Tuba, and Tuba Municipal Police Station.
In the Temporary Environment Protection Order that came with the issuance of the Writ of Kalikasan, the CA prevented the municipality of Tuba from accepting applications for tax declaration over lands within Sto. Tomas and ordered the local police to enforce environmental laws.
Officials of the DENR, Tuba, and the local police said they have undertaken measures that held accountable those who conducted activities that threatened the sustainability of the natural springs of the Sto. Tomas Reservation.
The Writ of Kalikasan petition was filed by the late Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon; Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Pangasinan; Sheree Nolasco; Marie Balangue; Nonnette Bennett; Teresita de Venecia; Antonio Supremido, Jr.; and Gener Tandoc. – Jane B. Cadalig