CA affirms decision denying indictment of former DENR chief

January 31, 2011 7:50 am 

By Priam F. Nepomuceno

MANILA, Jan. 30 – The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed its earlier decision which dismissed the petition of a logging firm executive asking for indictment for graft of former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Heherson Alvarez and several other officials of the agency in connection with a disputed 35,000 hectares of forestland in General Nakar, Quezon.

In a four-page ruling penned by CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes, the CA First Division effectively junked the motion for reconsideration filed by Pacific Coast Agribusiness Development Corp. (PCADC) president Joel Sarza, which asked the appellate court to reconsider its Aug. 31, 2010 ruling.

In dismissing the PCADC petition, the CA stressed that it has no jurisdiction over the case as the questioned resolution of the Ombudsman is criminal in nature, thus, its review “exclusively lies within the power of the Supreme Court.”

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Japar Dimaampao and Jane Aurora Lantion.

“Here, the controversy presented for this Court’s evaluation is criminal in nature and following the pertinent rulings cited in the decision sought to be set aside, we cannot take cognizance thereof as the same evidently does not fall within our jurisdiction,” the CA emphasized.

Sarza earlier asked the CA to junk the resolution issued by the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing the graft complaint he filed against Alvarez and several others due to lack of probable cause.

“It is really unfortunate that herein petitioner availed of the wrong remedy in impugning the assailed issuances of the respondent Ombudsman by coming to this Court instead of elevating the same to the Supreme Court but as we have previously emphasized… this is not a mere procedural lapse that we are prepared to brush aside in the interest of substantial justice because what is actually involved here is the lack of jurisdiction on our part to take cognizance thereof,” the CA stressed.

Records show that the case stemmed from the letter-application dated Sept. 4, 2000 filed by PCADC with the Community Environmental and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the DENR in Real, Quezon for Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) covering a 35,000-hectare land in General Nakar, Quezon province.

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

After the lapse of two years, PCADC 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-served” policy of the DENR, Sarza claimed he was surprised to learn that the IFMA application of Timberland Forest Products Inc. (TFPI) over the same land was granted although it was only filed on July 15, 2002.

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

scs/PFN

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