TASK FORCE TIGHTENS SECURITY AT BENGUET FOREST RESERVE
The Santo Tomas forest reserve management council (STFRMC) holds a meeting on March 12 to discuss the compliance to the permanent environment protection order issued by the Court of Appeals in 2015. (Photo by Liza T. Agoot)
BAGUIO CITY-- Members of the Santo Tomas Forest Reserve Management Council (STFRMC) agreed on Tuesday to further improve the enforcement of the court-issued permanent environment protection order (PEPO) preventing human activity inside the reservation.
“We have now a strengthened checkpoint with the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). More than 1,700 vehicles were prevented entry to Mt. Santo Tomas from January to March as reported by the Tuba police,” Carlos Arida Sr., Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) chief, said during a meeting of the task force.
"That’s how serious. Kung hindi natin siya mamu-monitor at mare-regulate, there will come a time na lalong lalaki angenvironmental problems natin (if we cannot monitor and will not regulate [entry of tourists and vehicles], there will come a time when the environmental problem will be massive),” Arida said.
Arida said the task force has ordered the police to look at the different entry points to Mt. Santo Tomas to prevent the entry of unauthorized persons.
The Court of Appeals (CA) issued a PEPO on May 2015 to the Mt. Santo Tomas Forest Reserve in Tuba, Benguet following the case filed by former Catholic Church Bishop Carlito Cenzon and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, claiming the reservation's degradation.
The court ordered a halt in all activities inside the reservation -- including a stop in the expansion of existing farms and habitation, as well as the stoppage of all business activities in the area covering barangays Tabaan Norte, Tabaan Sur, Twin Peaks and Poblacion.
The court also ordered the prevention of entry of non-residents to the area.
During the meeting, Arida said the police also sought to be furnished with a copy of the base-map, which will allow them to identify the actual boundaries of the reservation.
Arida said the DENR has completed the survey and installation of monuments of the reservation, which will make it easy to provide the request of the police.
He said there is a need to boost the information drive, explaining to the people the “writ of kalikasan” and the PEPO issued by the Court of Appeals.
Included as members of the council are peoples’ organizations, which would teach people farming skills to shift to organic farming.
“We want to intensify the IEC (information education campaign). Some residents are being used so that some can enter. It is unfortunate that entry of tourists continue to happen despite the prohibition which some enterprising people use in making gains,” Arida said.
“This is a challenging task but we are bent on complying with the court’s order,” he added.
He said the municipality has been tasked to act to stop any business establishment in Santo Tomas from operating, which would cease the influx of tourists in the area.
Arida pointed out that the council has submitted its long-term protection and management plan for the Mt. Santo Tomas reservation to the DENR central office for funding of the programs.
He said the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Cordillera is also preparing the conduct of a Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) for the implementation of the long term plan for Mount Sto. Tomas.
“The DENR, PNP showed a detailed order of what they are doing as dictated by the court. Tuba had not also issued any permit to operate any business, allowed registration of a tax declaration and we are complying with the quarterly reportorial requirement of the court,” Arida said. (PNA)