Baguio lawmaker faces charges for forest reserve destruction

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman announced on Wednesday, April 13, that it has ordered the filing of charges against Baguio City Representative Nicasio Aliping Jr and 3 others for destroying part of a forest reserve and watershed in Tuba, Benguet. 

The Ombudsman said in a statement that Aliping and contractors William Go, Bernard Capuyan, and Romeo Aquino are facing trial before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan for violation of Sections 77 and 78 of the Revised Forestry Code.

It said that based on the findings of Environmental Ombudsman, Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard Mosquera, Aliping conducted earth moving activities in April 2014, "using heavy equipment that resulted to the uprooting of 293 pine trees, with 415 Benguet pine tree samplings damaged."

This was for the construction of a road leading to his property.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the complainant in the case, estimated the total damage at P10.3 million.

The investigation also showed that “the cause of the turbidity of the water supply [was due] to the massive land development within and around the property of Aliping.”

This means that because of the land development, earth sediments got into the local water supply.

The DENR noted that Mount Sto Tomas, where the development was made, "was declared forest reserve, thus it cannot be converted into private property.”

No permits, no land ownership

The lawmaker admitted he did not have the required permits for the operation, and had no documents to prove ownership of the property involved.

Aliping undertook the activities through the construction corporations owned by Go, Capuyan, and Aquino.

"It is clear as daylight that the cutting of trees and other earthmoving activities were done without authority….Aliping’s use of the 3 backhoes/heavy equipment in his earthmoving 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.

In 2014, Church leaders and concerned residents asked the Supreme Court to stop Aliping's road construction activity at Mount Sto Tomas. (READ: SC asked to stop road work dirtying  Benguet water supply)

In 2012, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales revitalized the Environmental Ombudsman that handles complaints involving violations of environmental laws committed by public officials and employees. –