The Ombudsman ordered the filing of charges against Baguio Representative Nicasio Aliping, Jr. and three public works contractors for alleged earthmoving activities that caused the killing of over700 pine trees worth P10.3 million in Tuba, Benguet in April 2014.
In a resolution recently signed by Ombudsman ConchitaCarpio-Morales, Aliping and contractors William Go, Bernard Capuyan and Romeo Aquino were ordered to be charged before the Sandiganbayan with violation of Sections 77 and 78 of the Revised Forestry Code.
Based on an investigation of the Environmental Ombudsman, Aliping and the three other respondents conducted “earthmoving activities” using heavy equipment in Sitio Pongayan, Mount Santo Tomas, in Tuba, Benguett wo years ago.
The Ombudsman said 293 pine trees were uprooted and 415 Benguet pine tree samplings were damaged by the earth moving activities.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which served as the complainant, estimated the total damage brought about by the alleged illegal earth moving activities at P10.3 million. The rehabilitation cost, however could even be more.
The Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that the earth moving activities, which were conducted as part of developing Aliping’s land property in the area, also caused the turbidity of the water supply for Baguio City and Tuba.
“The cause of the turbidity of the water supply (was due) to the massive land development within and around the property of Aliping,” the Ombudsman said. Three springs were affected by the project.
The Ombudsman sided with the DENR in saying that Mount Santo Tomas, being a declared forest reserve (since 1940), cannot be converted into private property.
In his defense, Aliping admitted that no permits were issued for the earth-moving activities and that no documents were presented showing ownership over the property.
Aliping allegedly undertook the earthmoving and illegal logging activities through the construction companies of Go, Capuyan and Aquino.
“It is clear as daylight that the cutting of trees and other earth-moving activities were done without authority” and that “Aliping’s use of the three backhoes/heavy equipment in his earth moving activity is undisputed,” the Ombudsman said.
The Revised Forestry Code prohibits any person to cut, gather, collect, remove timber or other forest products from forest land without any authority.
Morales revived the Office of the Environmental Ombudsman in 2012 to handle complaints involving violations of environmental laws committed by public officials and employees.
Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard Mosquera currently serves as the Environmental Ombudsman.
Upon learning about this, former Baguio Representative Bernardo Vergara said that with an earlier charge ongoing appeal before the Supreme Court, it was inevitable that Aliping would also be charged administratively before the Sandiganbayan.
“At least, he will be given the chance to defend himself and present proof of his innocence before an impartial body. As we are all aware, everybody is still considered innocent unless proven guilty,” he said.
Congressman Aliping on the other hand filed a motion for reconsideration through his lawyer, Atty. Lauro Gacayan. In a press release from the Congressman’s office, it was said that the Ombudsman’s resolution is contrary to evidence. It is claimed that Aliping was not in the area when the environmental crime happened further saying, “Was he just presumed to have given illegal orders to individuals to cut trees while attending his duties as a Member of the House of Representatives?”Aliping insisted that the uprooted trees were found outside his 3-hectare claimed property in which he has a tax declaration. Aliping’s camp also admitted “levelling and excavation activities by Aliping,” but they are mum about the non-issuance of permits for the said activities.
The tree cutting and earth moving was first reported to authorities by a group of mountaineers on April 2014.
If found guilty, the lawmaker may be sentenced to a maximum penalty for forest destruction and will be banned from holding public office for life./The Junction News Team