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PAMB’s decision on NNNP 2nd of three parts

Members of the Protected Area Management Board of the Northern Negros Natural Park, who voted against the recommendation of their technical working group to demolish structures that have been constructed in the area without prior permit, have jeopardized the conservation efforts and ecological status of this protected area in Negros Occidental.

The prominent and rich owners of these structures, comprising of private resorts and vacation houses, have been issued with cease-and-desist orders by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andre Untal, who is also the Protected Area Superintendent of the NNNP.

Aside from the permitting issue, the reported owners of these facilities, numbering to at least 91, are not entitled to stay in the PA since they are not qualified as tenured migrants. The revised guideline of the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or Republic Act 7586, provides that a tenured migrant is a PA occupant who has been actually and continuously occupying portion of the protected area for five years before its designation as part of the NIPAS, and solely dependent therein for subsistence.

There is also a big question on how these private individuals were able to secure the lands they are now occupying in the NNNP. It is reported that buying and selling of lands are now rampant in the PA.

The original occupants or claimants of these lands have abandoned their possible opportunity to apply and be secured for land tenure in the PA, which is a dislocation concern. If the PAMB allows the continuing existence of these private structures, what moral ascendancy and authority will it have in preventing others to follow? Under these circumstances, the influx of migrants in the already-heavily occupied NNNP is not a remote possibility and it will increase the demand for spaces over the areas covered by the PA.

The ultimate consequence is additional forest clearing, which is detrimental to the values of the NNNP as an important habitat to globally important species and ecosystems services it provides to a lot of people. It is important to note that the NNNP is one of the most important watersheds of Negros Occidental, including Bacolod City. The remaining forest of the PA also helps mitigate soil erosion, landslide and flooding, among others.

The non-tenured migrants’ private resorts and vacation houses should not be equated with the structures constructed for purposes of basic social and economic services, especially those established prior to the establishment of the NNNP, since the latter are intended for general public welfare and can be regulated for as long that they are situated in hazard-free areas and within the appropriate management zone, while the former are primarily intended for private benefits, which is not in anyway included as part of the agenda of the PA management.

I was shocked to learn that even the representatives of the Indigenous People, the Bukidnon in particular, also voted against the TWG recommendation in fear that they will also be affected once that motion shall be approved. It is very necessary that the National Commission for Indigenous People shed light on this matter, because, in the event that the subject structures are situated in the ancestral domain claims of this IP group, the policy on free and prior informed consent of the indigenous people shall apply, otherwise, it is also a violation of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, or IPRA. The IPs should be apprised that under the NIPAS Act and IPRA, they are given the right to stay in the protected area.

In addition, these private resorts and vacation houses are subject to an Environmental Clearance Certificate from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources since they are located in the NNNP, which is an environmentally-critical area and therefore covered with the Environmental Impact Assessment Statement System.

Did the DENR issue any ECC to anyone of the owners of these private structures? (To be continued)*

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