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Claim to forest reserve rebuffed

TUBA, Benguet—A senior environment official rejected on Sunday the  ownership claim of a lawmaker over several hectares of land inside a forest reservation, which he said was not allowed by law. 

Octavio Cuanzo, officer-in-charge of the Benguet Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, said the claim of Baguio City Rep. Nicasio Aliping over five hectares of land inside the Mount Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve was illegal.

“Forest reserves are not open to private ownership. Portions of it cannot be converted into private property,” Cuanzo said.

Cuanzo submitted an affidavit to the Benguet Provincial Prosecutor to shoot down explanation of Aliping, who was accused of illegal logging and making excavations to build a road to his claim inside the forest reserve. Saplings and debris from excavations clogged the springs that provide potable water to the Baguio City.

Aliping presented tax declarations to support his claim over the area, where he was building what he described as an “eco-park.” He denied he cut trees in the area and described the case against him as politically-motivated.

But Cuanzo said Aliping is not “above the law” and his allegation that he was being singled out by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for political reasons “has no basis and is a product of his imagination.”

He said the tax declarations Aliping presented as basis for his claim inside the forest reserve was not acceptable because “the issuance of declaration does not reclassify Mount Sto. Tomas Forest reserve into an alienable and disposable land.”

Cuanzo said a newly opened road inside the reservation was within the area claimed by Aliping and they have photographs of the stumps and uprooted trees that were cut down during the excavation work in the area.

The three contractors, who owned the backhoes used in excavation work, must be included in the complaint filed against Aliping despite their allegations they acted in good faith, Cuanzo said.

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