By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The Ifugao court has made the temporary environmental protection order over Mount Polis permanent and barred all forms of quarrying in the area.
In her March 13 order, Ester Piscoso-Flor, presiding judge of Branch 34 of the Regional Trial Court in Banaue town declared that the TEPO she issued in November 16, 2015 and TEPO extension December 7, 2015 are now made pemanent.
Mt. Polis is a critical watershed suporting domestic needs and irrigates the rice terraces of villages in Hungduan and Banaue towns of Ifugao and adjacent villages of Mountain Provinces. Mt. Polis is the main water source of two (Hungduan and Banaue) of the five sites of world famous Unesco inscribed Ifugao rice terraces.
Flor further declared all permits to quarry issued “null and void”. She also directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Philippine National Police (PNP) to confiscate all quarry equipment and remove all quarry structures within Mt. Polis. She asked the said agencies to dispose of the equipment according to law and report to the court.
Flor also approved the Consent Decree that was drawn by the various stake holders except for the forth component in the said decree that allows manual quarrying operations in the area. “The court heretofore that quarrying within the Mt. Polis area without any qualification whatsoever is illegal per se in view of the fact that Mt. Polis is declared by law as a forest reserve,” her order states.
All parties in the case that include the respondents, the petitioner Bishop Valentin Dimoc, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Public Works and Highways, Philippine National Police and the municipal government of Banaue are among the stakeholders in the said Consent Decree.
A consent decree in the legal parlance is an agreement or settlement that resolves a dispute between without admission of guilt (in a criminal case) or liability (in a civil case).
She mentioned that the court agrees to three other components of the decree that include rehabilitation, conservation and protection plans. “The forth one, regulated utilization, in so far as it advocates quarry operations must be categorically nullified,” her order said.
She also said that based on existing environmental laws prohibit even manually operated quarrying in Mt. Polis considering that it is a forest reservation “and as such it is inalienable public land”.
Flor also mentioned that the prohibition of mining and quarrying activities within forest reservations is simply because the irreversible damage that results from these activities defeats the the purpose that the law seeks to preserve in classifying it as a reservation.
“Removing the soil which holds the tree that makes up the forest leads to depletion and eventual destruction of the forest cover for there cannot be a forest without the fertile ground on which trees grow and abound,” Flor said in her order.
Flor encouraged the stakeholders to the consent decree to establish the Mt. Polis Protection Development Council to strictly implement the Mt. Police Comprehensive Protection Plan and other pertinent environmental laws as defined in the decree. # nordis.net