THE 105th Charter Day Anniversary of Baguio City is not only a celebration of how it came to be the well known Summer Capital through shared responsibilities, duties and resources, it must also be a reflection of how its leaders perform.
Months ago, the city was alarmed by a controversy which placed Baguio Representative Nicasio Aliping Jr. in a bad light.
The lawmaker's name was dragged into the controversy for violations on environmental laws due to activities in Mt. Kabuyao, a portion of the Mount Sto. Tomas reservation in Tuba, Benguet.
The issue broke out when Benguet officials, Governor Nestor Fongwan and Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez, issued a cease and desist order addressed to Aliping asking a stop to the massive land development in his alleged property in the area.
On May 13, Baguio Water District general manager Salvador Royeca called the attention of Fongwan through a letter over threats on its water sources in Amliang which is in Kabuyao and Camp 6, Tuba, Benguet.
The general manager reported the turbidity seen at Dam 3 Stage 1 in Camp 6 was seemingly a result of the land development in the alleged Aliping property. This was established during an inspection conducted by the BWD April 28.
Citing further contamination on the water sources Royeca then sought the help of Fongwan and asked to regulate activities in the area.
The governor, alarmed by the communication, immediately wrote Mayor Bentrez and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Bentrez wrote Aliping on May 15 requesting him to implement measures to prevent Amliang water sources from further contamination.
Aliping replied assuring mitigating measures will be instituted to prevent destruction of the water sources and the forest.
But despite the assurance given by the solon, on May 27, Bentrez again wrote Aliping sternly asking him to stop whatever development is going on in his property.
On June 2, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a Notice of Violation cum Cease and Desist Order to Aliping along with three contractors earlier tagged in the case: the BLC Construction and Aggregates, RUA Construction and Development Corp., and the Goldrich Construction.
DENR-EMB OIC regional director Oscar Cabanayan informed the respondents that reports have reached their office of a road construction at Mt. Sto. Tomas.
In his notice, he pointed out the location of the project "is considered an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA) as defined under Proclamation 2146 PD 1586 which establishes the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) System.”
It was also discovered the project was found operating without an Environmental Compliance Certificate, a requirement before any developments in an ECA.
Aliping admitted failing to secure an ECC but emphasized the road construction is not covered by his land development project.
While Aliping did not undergo the EIA process to secure an ECC, he said he tried to apply for an excavation permit from the office of mayor Bentrez. This excavation permit was never issued.
Even though the solon denied involvement on the road construction in Sto. Tomas, questions were raised on Aliping's failure to secure permits necessary for his project.
To the people of Baguio, for someone who was elected as legislator, Aliping was expected to know the law and abide by it.
His violation on operating without permit cost him P50,000 in penalties (measly, many have said) and a commitment to implement mitigating measures in Kabuyao.
But as Aliping continued to deny his involvement in the construction, the proximity of the road works to his property still fanned speculations of his knowledge on the project.
This as he clarified his property is being developed into an eco-park. With this, the solon stressed his land development had nothing to do with the destruction in Kabuyao caused by the road construction.
This road construction is not as ordinary as any road project. The road construction in Kabuyao dragged the solon into a case for allegedly violating PD 705 or the Philippine Forestry Code.
On June 6, acting Benguet Provincial Environment and Natural Resources officer Octavio Cuanso filed the case with the Benguet Provincial Prosecutor's Office on behalf of the DENR.
Aliping along with three more respondents Romeo Aquino of RUA Construction and Development Corp., Bernard Capuyan of BLC Construction and Aggregates and William Go of Goldrich Construction, the alleged contractors, were served an order June 2 for purportedly cutting, removing, gathering or collecting timber in the forest reservation.
But in his counter affidavit, Aliping firmly maintained, "There is no basis for the assessment of forest charges and computation of the market value of fallen and/or uprooted trees causes by new road openings constructed from Sitio Pongayan to Sitio Amliang and Sitio Pongayan to Sitio Bekel, Sto. Tomas, Poblacion Tuba, Benguet in the amount of P10,314,531.40 for the reason that I have not caused the felling or uprooting of trees at the road opening outside my property nor was there any such felled or uprooted tree found inside my property.”
In a surprising turn of events, the Benguet Prosecutor's Office inhibited from the case.
Prosecutor William Bacoling, who was supposed to handle the case, submitted a formal inhibition at the Regional Prosecutor's Office in La Union and an assignment of the case to Regional State Prosecutor Nonnatus Ceasar Rojas on July 14.
The reason for the inhibition was because respondent Bernard Capuyan is a close relative of Bacoling, while Romeo Aquino is his brother in the Masonic fraternity.
"Considering such relationship and in order to dispel any suspicion and notion of biasness and partiality, the undersigned and this office is inhibiting from resolving the preliminary investigation of these cases," Bacoling said.
Meanwhile, aside from the criminal charges filed against the lawmaker and the accused contractors for allegedly leading the Kabuyao tree massacre, another case was filed by the Baguio Water District for the destruction of its water sources.
The BWD filed a complaint June 26 before the Pollution Adjudication Board against Aliping and the alleged three contractors for violations of the Clean Water Act of 2009.
Three Amliang springs were first seen with turbidity caused by earth moving activities from Aliping's property and the road construction whose “owner” has yet to be identified.
BWD was left without a choice but to shut down the Amliang springs scared to compromise the health of its concessionaires along Marcos Highway and other portions of Baguio and Benguet.
BWD later revealed the springs have been rendered useless by boulders which covered the water sources and expressed fears transmission lines are already heavily silted with soil preventing water to pass through.
BWD, in coordination with the DENR-EMB sought for mitigating measures to be instituted and a massive clean up to revive the water sources.
To date, BWD has already conducted clean-up operations to recover the water sources while the mitigating measures plan submitted by Aliping are still with the DENR-EMB which is expected to issue a resolution about Aliping and the accused three contractors' for violation of the PD 1586 soon.
Aside from the mitigating measures, BWD is also seeking for payment of the cost of damages which include the cost for rehabilitation of the water sources and the opportunity cost the water district incurs due to the non-operation of these sources.
While Aliping is the only one being singled out for all these controversies, he, along with the DENR-EMB went for an ocular in Kabuyao to determine other possible factors which caused the destruction of the Amliang water sources.
During the ocular July 18, Cabanayan of DENR-EMB established there were several factors which affected the water sources in Kabuyao citing the road widening project of DPWH, the road construction where a number of trees were cut, the development project in Aliping's property, the inorganic farming along the area, small scale mining activities and housing.
This as Aliping said in his counter affidavit, "I am being singled out for political persecution at my expense because I am a public figure being the incumbent Congressman for the lone district of Baguio City."
Whether it is true or not, the controversies have somehow marred the reputation of the solon.
The Baguio City chapter of the Liberal Party where he sits as the chairman is currently in disarray because of the issues surrounding the leader.
In the middle of all these controversies, Aliping faced the public to deliver his accomplishment report for his first year as a congressman.
Aliping believes his accomplishments for the past years and the ones still in the pipeline will not be overshadowed by these controversy.
"Rest assured, that as your congressman, I will continue to discharge my social responsibilities and fulfill my constituency obligations even as I dutifully perform mandated legislative functions for the lone district of Baguio City," he said.
Whatever issues there may be, it is a challenge for leaders how they will face and handle these without compromising their functions.
Given the hot issue that made noise in the city, leaders in the government are expected to learn from it.
Furthermore, it is a reminder that the people of Baguio will not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear on their misdeeds.
A stern reminder. A warning, if you will.