Issue of May 17, 2015
     
NEWS
Benguet
 
OPINION
 

68th
Courier Anniversary Issue
 
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My take on the Sto Tomas forest reserve case

(Atty. Fran M. Claver, our favorite environmental lawyer, borrows our column this week to give her interesting and enlightening take on the Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve case.)


The petitioners have not yet received their official copy of the decision in the Writ of Kalikasan case involving Mt. Santo Tomas Forest Reserve.
However, the text is available for anyone to read in the Court of Appeals website.

The court has spoken. Its decision cannot be any clearer. It gave very specific directives to the concerned government agencies, the local government of Tuba, the Municipal Assessor, and the Philippine National Police to do certain tasks. The instructions are clear enough and do not require any interpretation.

When the Kalikasan case was pending, the petitioners and the respondents were on “opposite sides of the fence,” so to speak. We were protagonists who were out to prove our respective claims in court. But that is done and over with. With the court’s decision, we are no longer competitors in a case. Let us close ranks and work together to comply with the court’s verdict. The petition was filed primarily to put a stop to the destruction of the forest so that its bounties which we presently enjoy will be preserved and something remains to be passed on to the future generations. This should be our common mantra from now on.

The decision constitutes the very road map which unites the concerned government agencies, the LGU, the police force, and all advocates for environmental protection. The decision is there not to be used as a platform to start bashing individuals and entities who are perceived not to have performed their tasks. Less so, the decision is there not to be utilized to glorify any of the petitioners or even their counsels. It is time to go beyond the bashing, the credit grabbing, and divisiveness which the Kalikasan case may have unwittingly created. The difficult part is yet to start. Most importantly, the plight of the present occupants of the forest reserve – especially the most vulnerable is something which confronts us in light of the pronouncements of the CA.

While working to enforce the court’s ruling, there is need to address the concerns of the farmers, gardeners, and occupants. This is something which the decision did not touch on. Emotions remain high with the recent decision and it is evident that the situation is sparking off a tendency towards pitting the Sto. Tomas community against the petitioners and environmental groups. In a recent Inquirer.net article, the mayor of Tuba was supposed to have stated words to the effect that the petitioners’ intent (in filing the Kalikasan case) is good as it is meant for the protection of the environment but that the petitioners “failed to see how the writ would affect residents within the reservation; they only thought of Pungayan.” It is hoped that the mayor was misquoted here. The Kalikasan case was precisely brought with the intention to saving Santo Tomas in order that the water sources and the bounties which it provides and which we presently enjoy can be passed on to the future generations. The beneficiaries of the effort to preserve the forest reserve are the future generations which include those of the occupants of Pungayan.

To say that the Kalikasan case was brought to save the environment without regard for the welfare of the residents is to peddle a dangerous and divisive concept. Anyone who claims to love Baguio (and Benguet) and who believes in saving what is left of the fragile environment, need not subscribe to the fallacious concept that protecting the ecosystem means disregarding the plight of the communities. It has been proven time and again that, given the proper education, settlers in the forest zones are the best guardians of the forest itself.

The petitioners are private citizens and have only their advocacy. However, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office, Environment Management Bureau, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, Tuba municipality and its corresponding offices have the mandate, as well as the authority, and that they are capable of putting into action plans and programs in order that the court decision can be enforced. The agencies and the Tuba municipality now call the shots in implementing the decision. As for the petitioners, they have a supporting role. The petitioners however are willing to join hands with the agencies, Tuba municipality, other environmental advocates and most importantly, the communities in Santo Tomas, to ensure that the decision will not go to waste. We, the petitioners, see ourselves as partners in this long and arduous journey to preserve Santo Tomas forest reserve for our children and generations to come.

As a first step, it is suggested that the leadership of the DENR and the Tuba municipality hold a stakeholders’ meeting which includes the affected Santo Tomas communities, the petitioners, Baguio Water District, the local church and other environmental advocates to map out coordinated plans in enforcing the decision with due consideration for the issues of the present occupants. From now on, we are all partners in this herculean task.

This is my humble take.



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