“In case the offender is a government official or employee, he shall be deemed automatically dismissed from public office and permanently disqualified from holding any elective or appointive position,” thus stressed the Office of the Ombudsman in their resolution on the case filed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional office and the Community Environment Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of La Trinidad, Benguet against incumbent Baguio Representative NicasioAliping Jr. and three others.
This is totally another case administratively filed against Aliping before the Sandiganbayan by the Office of the Ombudsman after a criminal was filed against him also by a group headed by Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Roman Catholic Vicariate for the environmental destruction he allegedly did at Mount Kabuyao (or Santo Tomas) last April 2014.
“In fact, I have to admit to you. I started the project without complying or securing the necessary permits. So as not to make it illegal, Madame Chair, I wrote the Honorable Mayor (a) letter for the application of my excavation permit. That was actually dated April 14, 2014. And likewise, there was also a request to the punong barangay on the endorsement of the barangay. But while waiting on (sic) the excavation permit, I have to admit to you that I already started the levelling and excavation. And there was miscommunication relayed to me by the Honorable Mayor to stop and decease (sic) in the excavation of the property, to which we already stopped. And as a matter of fact, we also received a complaint coming from the Office of the DENR, Environment Management Bureau, for lots of violation, and a cease and desist order against this representation and the owners of the heavy equipment. Likewise, I also received a criminal case for violation of Presidential Decree 705 on Section 77 and Section 78, 3 counts. Among the respondents were the contractors,” Aliping said in his counter-affidavit to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales
However, according to the Ombudsman, Aliping’s own proclamation that Santo Tomas is no longer a forest land is unacceptable. “It should be pointed out that the fact that (even if) the forest land is already inhabited or that national roads or buildings have been constructed therein do not make a proclamation of a land as forest land void or no longer in effect. Its classification does not depend on whims or caprices of anybody. There should be a lawful order or pronouncement to that effect.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in its reply to Aliping’s counter-affidavit, stated that Mount Santo Tomas was declared a forest reserve by Presidential Decree 581 in the year 1940, thus, it cannot be converted into private property.
“Moreover, Aliping is not consistent regarding the area of his alleged land claim. While claiming that the land consists 2.6885 hectares only, copies of Assessment of Real Property Nos. 99-001-05853 and 05854 shows a total area of 5 hectares. Hence, the newly opened road could actually be inside his property. His letter to Barangay Chairman Paus of Poblacion, Tuba, Benguet, is also evidence that Aliping has the intention to construct a drive-in road on his land claim and that of other people within Mount Santo Tomas. He mentioned that a proposed road will be excavated leading to his claim,” the resolution continued.
“DENR likewise assails Aliping’s argument that there were no trees in the 3,000 square meter open area where the excavation was held. DENR attached some Facebook posts of Aliping when the latter sponsored a Fun Run where photos of trees could be seen in the area,” it added.
“In finding probable cause to indict respondents of the crimes charged, the DOJ observed that Aliping admitted in his counter-affidavit that he is the owner of the subject area but could not present any document to support his claim. The said area, however, has been declared a forest reserve since 1940 and is thus incapable of being under private ownership.
Aliping also admitted that he requested from the concerned barangay council for an endorsement for the issuance of an excavation permit but no permit was issued to him.
This case is different from another one filed and pending appeal at the Supreme Court by a group led by the Roman Catholic Vicariate of Baguio and Benguet Bishop Carlito Cenzon against Aliping and contractors William Go, president of Goldrich Construction & Trading; Bernard Capuyan, president of BLC Construction & Aggregates; and Romeo Aquino, president of RU Aquino Construction & Development Corporationfor a similar offense.
This resulted, after Aliping and the three contractors allegedly cut down 761 Benguet pine and alnus trees and saplings during the earth-moving and levelling of a 2.6-kilometer stretch of road leading to Aliping’s claimed property located at Sitio Pongayan, Mount Santo Tomas, Poblacion, Tuba, Benguet without any permits.
Although a charge was filed against them before the Benguet Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, on July 14, 2014, Provincial Prosecutor William Bacoling voluntarily inhibited himself from the proceeding citing his close relationship with respondents Capuyan and Aquino.
He then forwarded the records of the preliminary investigation to the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in La Union, by way of a motion, and the complainants did not oppose when the same office inhibited themselves from prosecuting the same case for still unknown reasons on July 22 the same year.
On July 31, 2014, Regional Prosecutor Nonnatus Cesar Rojas endorsed the records of the preliminary investigation to Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima.
On September 10, 2014, De Lima issued Department Order No. 773 designating Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra as acting provincial prosecutor of Benguet to conduct a preliminary investigation or re-investigation of the complaint.
As a result, Pacamarra more recently stated in a resolution that she finds probable cause against respondents Aliping, in conspiracy with Go, Aquino and Capuyan for violation of Sections 77 and 78 of Presidential Decree 705, as amended.
That could mean that, if and when found guilty of forest destruction, Aliping could be automatically dismissed from public office and permanently disqualified from holding any elective or appointive position./The Junction News Team