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NCIP official faces jail term for halting demolition at watershed


By Artemio Dumlao (The Philippine Star) Updated August 11, 2009 12:00 AM

BAGUIO CITY , Philippines – The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, particularly hearing officer lawyer Brain Masweng might find himself in jail.

Baguio cited him for contempt before the Supreme Court after halting the long needed demolition of illegal structures at the Busol Watershed Park, Baguio’s largest source of water.

Baguio’s chief lawyer Melchor Rabanes said the NCIP through Masweng disregarded the decision of the Supreme Court when it issued a 72 hour-Temporary Restraining Order third week of July halting the demolition of huge buildings at the watershed. 

Again, after the 72-hour TRO lapsed, NCIP issued a 17-day extension of the TRO ending Aug. 17.

As a result of the TROs by the NCIP, “professional squatters” got enough time to laugh at the SC decision.

“There should be a sanction and there is a penalty for that (halting the SC via NCIP TRO),” said Rabanes.

“Political will”

But while Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. vows they will not honor any TRO, the city’s demolition crew received no orders to continue implementing the demolitions.

Aside from “talking-tough”, the city, after the foiled demolition, went only as far as designating officials to oversee that demolitions would not go in disarray as what happened in July 28 when the demolition crew were “overpowered” by “curse-shouting” women-owners of the huge buildings backed up by men at the human barricade fortified by a Mitsubishi Pajero and Mercedes Benz van that blocked the entrance of the watershed.

Apparent grandstanding by officials eyeing posts in the 2010 polls are also doing a disservice to the watershed.

A government inventory claimed there are some 900 illegal structures in Busol.

Only a few are scheduled to be torn down because their cases were given clearance by the SC ahead of the others.

Environmentalists in the city had been constantly lobbying for the dismantling of illegal structures constructed in the watershed and forest reservations in the city, but the efforts were slow because the affected parties resort to filing court cases to delay the enforcement of the demolition orders.

“The demolition stays,” the mayor had claimed, warning he might be also sued for not implementing the SC order. “We cannot recognize the TRO because NCIP is not a judicial authority.”

But there was no “walk in the talk” as the TRO by the NCIP virtually stopped them until this week when it expires.

Aside from these hitches, apparently are unseen hands within the city government, DENR offices and even the police because reportedly some have structures in the watershed.

A former city anti-squatting task force official intimated a DENR-Baguio official, a city hall employee and at least six policemen are enjoying illegally the “sanctuary” of the watershed.

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