Could it be a hollow victory for a former municipal councilor who regained his seat in the May 9, 2016 elections but lost in a court case for cutting several coconut trees without the necessary permit.
Antequera Councilor-elect Asterio Coquilla was sentenced to a minimum one year and nine months to four years maximum by 1st Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Cortes-Antequera-Maribojoc Presiding Judge Maria Elisa Ello-Ochoco.
In a ten page joint decision promulgated on April 15, 2016, Ochoco found Coquilla guilty beyond reasonable doubt for cutting two coconut trees without a permit from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
In a text message to the Chronicle, Coquilla said “I do not agree with the decision of the court because it is clear in section 32-A of IRR of RA 8048 that cutting is allowed even without a permit for hazardous coco trees, as long as it is reported to the PCA and shall not be sliced into lumber. It is very clear in fact and in law”.
Coquilla further said that PCA-Bohol, “in practice” allows the cutting of coconut trees without a permit.
Coquilla is mulling several legal options but is leaning towards applying for probation instead of filing a motion for reconsideration.
Two cases against Coquilla were filed by Rizaleo Gahit “at the instance of PCA, Tagbilaran City” even as he claimed that the cases were politically motivated pointing at his political nemesis, Mayor Jose Mario Pahang as “the party in interest”.
Coquilla admitted in open court that he ordered the cutting of six coconut trees in his property since these trees “have grown tall, have posed actual and imminent danger to life and property and therefore were hazardous “.
Citing provisions of the IRR of RA 8048 known as the Coconut Preservation Act of 1995 and RA 1021 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, Coquilla told the court that coconut trees which pose imminent danger to life and property shall be exempt from securing a permit to cut and the payment of application fees.
Coquilla also told the court that an approaching typhoon forced him to cut the coconut trees.
But the court saw things differently saying Coquilla’s allegation that the coconut trees endangered life and property due to an incoming typhoon are not “exempting circumstances” since the crime charged is a special law.
And besides, the court added, “there was no reported typhoon”.
The court also chided Coquilla that as a former councilor and the president of the Antequera Municipal Federation of Small Coconut Farmers Organization “he should have known the limits and bounds of the cutting of coconut trees”.
Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Margie Tan-Alvaro prosecuted the case for the state and Atty. Doni Piquero was the counsel for Coquilla. (Chito M. Visarra with reports from Jun Gutierrez)