The Supreme Court has ordered the stoppage of activities that cause irreparable damage to a forest zone in Barangay Data in Sabangan, Mountain Province.
In a 22-page decision, the SC Second Division denied the consolidated petition for review on certiorari that challenged the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA), which affirmed a regional trial court’s grant of environmental relief to Mario Timario and his companions.
Due to this, the Court ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Cordillera Autonomous Region to stop and prevent petitioners Robles and Rose Maliones from converting the portion of the forest zone covered by their tax declarations into vegetable farms.
The DENR was also directed to prevent the petitioners from engaging in illegal activities, including the cutting of trees, kaingin, earth moving and land conversion activities; and from using fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, and other substances.
Meanwhile, the SC also said the DENR must cause the planting of trees in the affected areas, or the rehabilitation of the areas damaged by the said activities.
It also ordered the DENR to guard and patrol the areas to prevent further illegal and destructive activities and cause the apprehension of all violators.
The high tribunal ordered the Barangay Captain of Data, Sabangan to actively participate in the environmental management and protection programs of the government, as well as to render assistance in the enforcement of environmental laws and the arrest of violators.
“The temporary environmental protection order earlier issued is hereby made permanent and an environmental protection order is hereby issued,” the SC said.
“Spouses Maliones et al. are ordered to cease and desist from bulldozing, cultivating, and introducing improvements from other earth-moving activities that cause irreparable damage to the forest zone,” it added.
The spouses were also directed to remove their barbed wire fences around the forest zone. At the same time, the Offices of the Provincial Assessor and Municipal Assessor of Sabangan were ordered to desist from issuing tax declarations.
“From the finality of this decision, the foregoing government officials and agencies are directed to submit to this Court a quarterly report of actions and measures undertaken by their respective agencies/offices in accordance with this decision,” the SC said.
This came after Timario and other individuals in October 2015 sought the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order and permanent protection order and the cancellation of tax declarations against the petitioners.
They claimed that a parcel of land in the barangay had been issued tax declarations in the names of the petitioners. They claimed that the petitioners were illegally occupying and destroying parts of the public forest.
In denying the petitioners’ motion, the SC upheld the findings of the RTC and the CA that there is an actual or imminent threat that may be attributed to the petitioners.
Further, the court said that the acts of the petitioners in fencing off and building on the subject land were violative of Presidential Decree 705.
According to the SC, there is no evidence on record that the petitioners obtained or possessed the requisite permits for such actions.
“In fact, the City Environment and Natural Resources Office expressly declared that petitioners’ earth-moving activities were being done on a portion of the public forest. These facts were not rebutted by the petitioners,” the SC said.
However, it said that it is not proper for the court to assail the validity of the tax declarations of the petitioners.
The court said it shall “refrain from resolving the underlying issues on the ownership of the subject land and the 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.”
“Nonetheless, this Court is not precluded from granting reliefs available to [respondents], in accordance with Section 1, Rule 5, of the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases,” it said. — VDV, GMA Integrated News
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