Issue of February 9, 2020
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Tuba police explains role in Sto Tomas protection order
by Jane B. Cadalig

The presence of policemen at the road checkpoint leading to the Mt. Sto. Tomas Forest Reservation in Tuba, Benguet is meant to ensure peace and order in the area.

Tuba Municipal Police Chief, Maj. Dominador de Guzman, said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the main enforcer of the Permanent Environment Protection Order (PEPO) issued by the Supreme Court that prevented any developments within the reservation, including the entry of non-residents in the area.

De Guzman said the job of the police officers who are detailed at the checkpoint together with personnel of the DENR, is to ensure order.

The police have earned the backlash from some residents within the reservation. Among the impressions was the police are not consistent in screening because non-residents are at times allowed to proceed to the area.

“The DENR is the one screening people going to the reservation. The police are there merely to provide security. We are not the main enforcer of the PEPO,” de Guzman said.

Because of the PEPO, which was issued in 2016 to prevent the reservation from further degradation, house construction and tourism-related activities, among other developments, have been barred in the reservation, where the catch basin of the Baguio Water District is located. Only the DENR has the authority to grant permits to people or groups that intend to visit the area.

De Guzman said the impression that the police are the main enforcers of the PEPO might be due to the fact that they outnumber the DENR personnel supervising the checkpoint. Five police officers and two DENR personnel are detailed at the entry point.

The impression was gathered by members of the Benguet Police Provincial Office (BPPO) Technical Working Group who are making their rounds to get the communities’ feedbacks of their men and women in uniform.

BPPO Strategy Management Unit chief, Lt/Col. Gemma Braganza advised the Tuba police that when they conduct community engagements, they should explain to residents within the reservation that their role in the PEPO implementation is limited to peace and order.

While the Tuba police earned a generally positive rating from their stakeholders, residents sought for more police visibility and regular foot patrols and strict enforcement of the “No helmet, no travel” policy among motorcycle riders, especially since the municipality is traversed by the three main arteries leading to Baguio City and the rest of the Cordillera – Kennon Road, Palispis-Aspiras (Marcos) Highway, and Quirino (Naguilian) Highway.

Also, among the community suggestions is for the local police to help souvenir shop owners along the Palispis-Aspiras Highway remind tourists to at least observe a designated area when smoking.

Tourists from Baguio City reportedly do not heed requests for them to be considerate to non-smokers even if Tuba does not have a smoke-free ordinance.

Braganza said the local police could raise Executive Order 26 that provides for the establishment of smoke-free environments in public places.

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