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MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court issued a permanent environmental protection order on a Mountain Province forest zone, barring any form of activities that can cause damage to the protected land.
In a decision promulgated February 3, but only released on Thursday, December 28, the High Court’s Second Division dismissed a petition for review filed by Robles and Rose Maliones against an October 2019 Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that affirmed environmental reliefs granted on a parcel of land in Barangay Data, Sabanga, Mountain Province.
The decision, penned by SC Associate Justice Jhosep Lopez, ordered the Maliones couple to “cease and desist from bulldozing, cultivating, and introducing improvements, from other earthmoving activities that cause irreparable damage to the forest zone.” These activities include cutting trees, engaging in kaingin, and other illegal activities that can cause pollution, as well as claiming ownership over the communal forest.
The case stems from a citizen suit filed in October 2015 that sought protection for the land over concerns the Maliones couple committed alleged violations of environmental laws “that would lead to unimaginable environmental damage not only to the prejudice of their own constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology, but also to that of their children, the present generation, and the generations yet unborn.”
The original petition said the Maliones couple claimed the land after being issued tax declarations under their name, and have introduced features that led to exclusion of the land from public use.
The SC, in affirming the CA decision, said there was no proof the Maliones couple had permits or sought authorization to “enter, occupy, and clear” the land that they claim.
It also highlighted they were conducting activities that went against the law and “cause prejudice to the life, health, and property of residents” of the barangay.
The High Court clarified it was not ruling on the issues regarding ownership. The Maliones couple claimed the land is ancestral property that was sold to them.
But the SC said that “recognition of the parties as indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples in the present environmental case which must be addressed in the proper case and in the correct forum.”
It, however, ordered that environmental reliefs could be granted. The SC ordered the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources in the Cordillera Administrative Region to do the following:
- Stop and prevent Maliones and other relevant parties from conducting illegal activities on the protected land, including converting it into vegetable farms.
- Plant trees on the parts of the land affected by illegal activities
- Guard and patrol the relevant land to prevent further damage
- Perform all necessary measures to ensure continued protection of the land