Legal battle for Naga landslide victims starts

By: Rosalie O. Abatayo January 10,2019 - 07:54 PM

CEBU CITY, Philippines–The legal battle for the victims of the Naga City landslide has begun.

On Thursday afternoon, Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Presiding Judge Generosa Labra has started hearing the petition for the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order (Tepo), to halt all quarry operations in the mountains of Naga City.

The petition for the Tepo is in relation to the P4.5-billion class suit lodged against Apo Land and Quarry Corp. (ALQC) and five others over the September 20 landslide that killed at least 78 individuals from the Sitios of Tagaytay and Sindulan in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City.

Environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido, lead counsel of the landslide victims who stood as complainants, said it is necessary for the court to issue the Tepo to ensure that ALQC, the quarry firm that operates in Naga City will not resume operations. 

But lawyers Eduardo Soleng and Aylward Consulta, the lawyers of ALQC, during their oral arguments said that a Tepo is no longer necessary, since the firm has been ordered to cease and desist operations by a number of government agencies. 

Soleng said that the elements of urgency, threat and irreparable injury if the Tepo will not be issued are not met by the petition considering that there is no operation that needs to be stopped at the moment.

Since the landslide incident on September 20, ALQC has stopped its quarry activities in the mountains of Naga City where they have Mineral Product Sharing Agreements (MPSAs) with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, during his visit in Naga City a day after the landslide, has suspended indefinitely the operations of ALQC. The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), an attached agency of the DENR tasked in issuing Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), has also suspended the clearance for ALQC’s operations following the landslide.

Naga City Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong also has a standing cease and desist order (CDO) against the quarry firm.

The prosecution wanted to present a witness, Alexander Villarba, a resident of Sitio Sindulan, to testify on the need to issue a Tepo. 

However, ALQC lawyers argued that Villarba’s testimony is not substantial to the petition for the Tepo since his judicial affidavit only talked about his account on the landslide incident.

In his stead, Cabrido asked the court to summon the heads of the disaster offices of Cebu Province and Naga City to testify on the situation of the ground zero of the landslide area in order to assess if the Tepo is necessary.

“Sila ang among I-presentar to testify that there is a continuing threat landslide sa Naga. Sila pod ang motestify kung unsa ang kakuyaw sa bukid when they conducted the rescue operations because there were many times that they stopped because the soil was still loose and it was very dangerous,” Cabrido said in a separate interview after the trial.

The next trial for the petition for the Tepo is set on February 7. /rcg

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