CA junks appeal filed by logging firm president vs ranking DENR officials

September 12, 2010 11:35 pm 

MANILA, Sept. 12 – The Court of Appeals (CA) has junked the petition of a logging firm president to indict several ranking officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in connection with a dispute involving 35,000 hectares of forest land in General Nakar, Quezon.

The 10-page decision, penned by CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr., also ruled that it is not within the jurisdiction of the appellate court to hear Pacific Coast Agribusiness Development Corp. (PCADC) president Joel Sarza's petition against the assailed Ombudsman resolution as it "is criminal in nature, thus, its review “exclusively lies within the power of the Supreme Court (SC).”

Sarza earlier accused the Office of the Ombudsman of committing grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed the graft complaint he filed against former DENR Secretary Heherson Alvarez and several others for lack of probable cause.

In his petition, Sarza claimed that there was substantial evidence against the respondents to warrant the finding of probable cause for the purpose of indicting them under Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The CA noted that in Fabian vs Desierto, the SC made it clear what particular nature of orders, directives or decisions of the Ombudsman are appealable before it through a petition for review.

Based on the said SC ruling, appeals from the decision of the Ombudsman in administrative disciplinary cases should be taken to the CA through a petition for review.

“Here, it is beyond doubt that what is being disputed by the petitioner is the finding of lack of probable cause by the respondent Ombudsman to indict all the respondents for violating pertinent provisions of Republic Act No. 3019, which is considered criminal in nature and as such, the remedy availed of by him, via this present petition, to question the propriety thereof is evidently erroneous,” it said.

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Japar Dimaampao and Jane Aurora Lantion, all members of the CA First Division.

Sarza's case originated from the letter-application dated Sept. 4, 2000 filed by PCABDC with the Community Environmental and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the DENR in Real, Quezon for the integrated forest management agreement (IFMA) covering the 35,000-hectare land in Gen. Nakar, Quezon.

An IFMA is a production sharing contract entered into by and between the DENR and a qualified applicant wherein the agency grants private corporations the exclusive right to develop, manage, protect and utilize a specified area of forestland and forest resources for a period of 25 years and may be renewed for another 25-year period.

After two years time, PCABDC was asked to submit to the Office of the DENR Secretary through CENRO of Real, Quezon province, the Provincial Environmental and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Lucena, Quezon and the regional executive director (RED), some supporting documents which the firm claimed to have been previously submitted already.

Despite the “first-come, first-serve” policy of the DENR, Sarza said he was surprised to learn that the IFMA application of Timberland Forest Products, Inc. (TFPI) over the same forest land was granted although it was only filed on July 15, 2002.

On Nov. 12, 2002, the DENR awarded the IFMA to TFPI, prompting PCABDC to file a criminal complaint against Alvarez and other DENR officials before the Ombudsman.

Sarza claimed that the DENR officials committed undue haste in evaluating TFPI’s IFMA application and conspired with the latter in granting the company's application.

In a resolution issued on June 29, 2005, the Ombudsman dismissed for lack of probable cause Sarza’s complaint.

On Nov. 25, 2008, the Ombudsman denied the motion for reconsideration filed by Sarza and affirmed its earlier resolution dismissing the complaint. (PNA) RMA/PFN

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