DENR won't extend demolition deadline in El Nido shoreline
PALAWAN, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Wednesday, April 4, rejected the request of El Nido coastal easement violators to extend until the end of peak season the deadline to self-demolish illegally built structures.
DENR Mimaropa Director Natividad Bernardino said the 32 business establishment owners only have until April 11 to remove their structures built on the 3-meter coastal easement zone.
"We have no choice but to enforce the law. They will be forcibly demolished after the April 11 deadline if they don't start self-demolition now," she said in a text message.
Affected members of the Cottages, Resorts, and Restaurants Association of El Nido (CRRAEN) on Monday, April 2 held a dialogue with local environment officials to discuss concerns about their imminent eviction, in compliance with the easement provision of the Philippines' Water Code.
"We're asking to allow us to begin the demolition mid-July because most of us have already received booking reservations until end of June 2018, which is part of the peak tourism season," CRRAEN president Henri Fernandez said.
DENR Mimaropa on March 12 had served eviction notices to commercial establishments along the beach facing Bacuit Bay. They were given 30 days to dismantle and vacate the area.
Fernandez admitted the abrupt implementation has caught them by surprise, noting that before the crackdown in Boracay happened, the municipal government and the DENR's Protected Area Management Board already agreed for a "3 to 5 years' phase-out period for us to recover our hard-earned investments."
"Whatever revenue to be generated until the requested extension period is much needed, as part of it will be used in the demolition of structures that encroach the easement area," he said.
But the DENR regional office has remained firm in its decision, saying the El Nido Task Force will oversee the dismantling demolitions in the coming days.
"The members of the task force will supervise the demolition of each and every establishment and determine how long each one will take to finish the demolition," Bernardino said.
She added that in the next two days, the task force will be serving eviction notices to around 300 occupants of timberland-classified areas, including more than 50 hotels and restaurants along the shoreline of Barangay Corong-Corong.
"If they are on the [prescribed 40-meter] salvage zone [for timberland], they need to move out; if not, we will respect the titles issued [to them] prior to the land classification map of 1941," she said.
Bernardino said everyone will be issued notices, but they will also be asked to produce evidence that will prove their occupation of the timberland areas is lawful.
"If they [are able to] produce titles, we will scrutinize each title and determine applicability of the law," she added.
Reversion cases to be filed
Meanwhile, the DENR said on Thursday morning said it will file reversion cases before the court to cancel the land titles issued by erring local environment officials to nearly 40 business establishments occupying forestland in El Nido.
These land titles certifying the lots as alienable and disposable are "ab ibnitio or void from the start" since they have been designated as timberland in the 1935 DENR land classification map.
"We will need to file reversion cases in the court to cancel those titles," DENR regional director Natividad Bernardino said in a text message.
Bernardino, however, reiterated her previous statement that they will respect the titles issued prior to the land classification map, such as those issued as early as 1920s during the American regime.
She said they will ask the Office of the Solicitor General to file the cases in court for the DENR regional office.
"It takes years [to get the court decision] because we have to do the reversion case per individual title or lot," she added. "Usually, DENR wins especially for patents or OCTs (owner certificate of titles) issued by DENR itself."
Based on initial count, she said less than half of around 80 establishments in portions deemed as timberland along the shoreline of Barangay Corong-Corong have spuriously secured titles.
Cases vs DENR personnel
"We will fast-track everything as soon as they show us their titles," Bernardino said, when asked about the timeline of scrutinizing the titles and eventually filing the reversion cases.
Under the Philippine Water Code, a 40-meter coastal easement zone has to be observed in forestland-classified area. Those found on this no-build zone have been ordered to self-demolish within 30 days upon receipt Friday.
Bernardino also said that her office will also make the erring local environment officials liable for the unlawful issuance of such land titles despite the existing land classification.
"We will file cases against DENR personnel responsible for illegally issuing titles and certifying timberland as A and D (alienable and disposable). Some [of them] are already retired but others are still in active service," she said.
Her office will ask for help from the anti-fake titling task force of DENR Central Office for additional legal staff and logistics to pursue this move.
Bernardino said they "have initially identified more than 2,000 illegally issued titles on timberland" in Palawan, the very reason why titling by DENR in the province has been suspended since 2015.
"Secretary Roy Cimatu fully supports our initiative in El Nido and wants every DENR personnel made accountable for issuing illegal titles and the whole mess created by our own people in El Nido similar to Boracay," she said. – Rappler.com