VICE Governor Jose Mari Pelaez on Monday, April 23, told the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials to “go easy” on the Seven Seas Water Park and Resort.
At the Monday’s weekly session, Pelaez and members of the Misamis Oriental Provincial Board grilled the environment officials for their inconsistencies in handling the issue.
Board Member Gerardo Sabal criticized the apparent lack of coordination among DENR officials regarding the issuance of an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the water park, at the same time, it was questioning the legality of the title of UC-1 Corporation, the company that owns Seven Seas.
"How come the DENR, if there were legal infirmities as early as 1997, why did it issue an ECC to Seven Seas? Doesn't the DENR have check and balance in the policies and guidelines in the issuance of ECCs? Do your departments not have coordination so that the ECC will not be issued?" Sabal said.
Pelaez said it should be the DENR's duty to have all the titles annotated before the Registry of Deeds.
He said the annotation should contain all the information of the subject property. The information, he adds, should be helpful to the potential buyers of the property.
Had the buyers known of the legal impediment of the land, Pelaez said this could have prevented the establishment of the multi-million water park.
"Kawawa naman yung bibili ng property, kasi walang nakalagay na (because there is no) annotation that you are objecting, that this is under litigation, this is timberland, then he would have looked for another property. So meron din kayong pagkukulang diyan sa DENR (So you also have shortcomings there at the DENR)," Pelaez said.
The vice governor went on and ranted why the DENR is too focused on the land dispute, which he said, is not a major issue and "not even an environmental issue".
"We're just asking you to go easy on this particular property, andami-dami nating problema sa DENR (we have lots of problems in the DENR). Ang makakalaban niyo dito ang province of Misamis Oriental and the municipality of Opol (The province of Misamis Oriental and the municipality of Opol will be your enemies on this) because this is a huge investment, this is giving jobs to our people. There are lots of problem there, may pollution diyan sa karagatan hindi niyo masolve (there is pollution in our seas that you cannot solve), andami nating problema sa environment bakit tayo nakafocus sa Seven Seas (there are lots of problem in the environment why focus on Seven Seas?" he said.
"This is just 5 hectares, please allot your time where it matters, this is providing employment, helping tourism, it did not even harm trees, it's a barren and unproductive land that is made productive, and now you're questioning? Let us set aside the legalities, let us look at the practicality of this issue," he said.
Pelaez urged DENR officials to look at the economic impact of the project to the province.
DENR chief of legal division Lawyer Florenda Lamason-Yap said they are just doing their jobs and maintained that it is not singling out the Seven Seas.
The DENR officials, however, cannot pinpoint why it issued an ECC to Seven Seas while questioning its land title.
Engineer Elpidio Paras, president of the UC-1 Corporation meanwhile admitted that when he bought the property in 2012, he was not aware of the land history.
Paras maintained that he went through all the process for applying permits.
"When I bought the property in 2012, I was not aware of all this in history because what I was looking at was the title itself, and we did not see any annotation that said the property is encumber so we bought the property in good faith. So we have already spent hundreds of million to build the property and as we were about to open last year, we were just surprised that there was a petition filed by the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) through the DENR," he said.
"The reality is that we have build our project which poses a lot of impact to the tourism industry in this part of the country, especially that now Boracay will be closed, and we hate to be the collateral damage of what is happening in Boracay but this is a totally different issue, it's a land classification issue, a nullification case," he added.
The Provincial Board is set to submit a resolution to the Court of Appeals and to the concerned parties of the case, that the provincial government is expressing its support to the UC-1 Corporation.
The DENR is seeking to cancel all the titles in the 50 hectare property located in Barra, Opol, asserting that the area is timberland and thus shouldn't be owned by any private party.