SC asked to stop road work dirtying Benguet water supply
[Original image from JovialWanderer.com]
MANILA, Philippines – Church leaders and concerned residents have asked the Supreme Court to stop road opening and tree cutting in the Mount Santo Tomas watershed in Benguet, saying the activities threaten their water supply.
The petitioners, led by Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Diocese and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Lingayen-Dagupan Diocese, specifically asked the court to issue a Writ of Kalikasan and a temporary protection order (TEPO) to stop the activities, which were initiated by Baguio Representative Nicasio Alipin.
A Writ of Kalikasan is a special legal remedy that allows the Supreme Court to compel concerned government agencies to respond to reports of environmental damage that threaten human communities.
Aside from Aliping, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez, Tuba Police Chief Inspector William Willi, and other local environment officials are named respondents in the 42-page petition.
According to the petition, the road opening activities necessitated tree cutting and earth moving, which have led to massive landslides aggravated by rains.
“Sediments and rocks continuously slide down, causing contaminating of the Amliang dams utilized to impound fresh spring water for distribution to residents of Baguio and Tuba,” claimed the petitioners.
The watershed is particularly valuable to Baguio City, known for having the most expensive water rates in the country because much of its water supply has to be pumped through pipes all the way from La Union, said water resources expert Carlos Primo David, a geologist at the Oscar M Lopez Center.
A separate investigation by the Baguio Water District (BWD) concurred that the activities in the watershed have turned water from the springs murky, so much so that it could no longer be distributed.
The construction of the road, given the greenlight by Aliping, seeks to connect Mount Kabuyao Highway all the way down to sitios Amliang and Bekel of Poblacion in the municipality of Tuba.
The end of the road is 50 meters from Amliang Creek, a waterway that flows to the dams.
Apart from endangering a vital water resource, the road-opening activities were allegedly done without the necessary permits, including environmental compliance certificate (ECC), right of way permit, special land use permit and tree-cutting permit.
The petitioners say 306 full-grown trees and 455 saplings have already been cut during the earth-moving activities.
In response to these violations, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) filed a criminal complaint against Aliping and 3 contractors, namely, RU Aquino Construction and Development Corporation, Goldrich Construction, and BLC Construction and Aggregates on June 6.
The tree cutting and earth moving was first reported to authorities by a group of mountaineers last April.
Another threat to the watershed is the presence of residential structures inside what is supposed to be a forest reserve, said the petitioners.
The residents use tax declarations issued by municipal assessors of Tuba to justify the construction of their homes inside the protected area.
It’s the issuance of tax declarations that allow individuals to get away with turning protected forests into agricultural land or into real estate projects like vacation houses or resorts, said the petitioners.
Under the law, only the executive department of local governments can reclassify forest lands, not municipal assessors.
Aside from putting a stop to the illegal activities in the watershed, the petitioners asked the Supreme Court to order Aliping to immediately clean up the contamination in the waterways.
They also asked the court to order the Tuba municipal government to stop issuing tax declarations for land within the watershed.
The DENR should also be ordered to deploy personnel to guard the forest reserve from future tree cutting and earth moving activities. A long-term plan should be crafted to ensure the conservation of Mount Santo Tomas. – With reports from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com