THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will have to legalize illegal structures at the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP) as a measure to address the prevailing environment issues hounding forest parks in the province.
This was stressed by Undersecretary Jim Sampulna on the sidelines of the 2nd Research and Development Congress on East Asian-Australasian Flyway for Wetlands and Migratory Waterbirds at L’Fisher Hotel in Bacolod City Tuesday, October 8.
Sampulna, the former director of DENR-Western Visayas and head of the Protected Area Management Board, said the agency will tighten the measure to protect the NNNP.
Though, the government, he said, can help about a hundred of structures considered illegal to become legal through Special Agreement within Protected Area (Sapa) application.
“They are illegal mainly because they are situated in a natural park,” Sampulna said, adding that “but we will just legalize their stay there.”
The undersecretary recalled that before he left the region, he has been urging establishments to apply for Sapa. “It was my project before I transferred to Manila.”
Aside from the NNNP, there are also illegal structures at the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP), still in Negros Island, he said.
As these structures, including houses made of cement, are already built “we cannot do anything so let us just legalize them, if they can.”
As this developed, environment groups in the province slammed the pronouncement of the DENR official.
The Group of Environmental Socialists (Goes), in a statement to SunStar Bacolod, asked how a public servant like Sampulna can simply decide to allow the illegal activities to be legal.
Randy James Rojo, convenor of Goes, said giving unwarranted benefits, preference, or advantage to the said private respondents by failing or refusing to prosecute them along with the other environmental violators for violation of the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) Act is a clear violation of the law.
Citing the data obtained earlier from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources (Penro), Goes said there are at least 200 illegal structures at the NNNP.
In a separate statement to SunStar Bacolod, the Green Alert Network Inc. (GAN) said it fully disagreed with the statement of the DENR official legalizing the illegal structures at the natural parks.
GAN said these cases are evidently manifested at Barangay Patag in Silay City, Barangay Gawahon in Victorias City, and Salvador Benedicto and its environs where upland agricultural lands are being converted into private rest houses.
“With the exposure of the Philippines to different natural hazard events such as typhoons, flooding and landslide, we encourage the local government units (LGUs) around the territories of the natural park to mainstream disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation approaches into their local development planning processes,” it added.
The group said “this means that the LGUs should recognize that unregulated environmental activities in the forest areas would result to a potential flooding and landslides that can heavily impact the communities in surrounding areas and even to the mainland.”
Earlier, environment groups have been denouncing the “anomalies” at the NNNP particularly the structures built inside the protected area.
They are calling the attention of DENR-Western Visayas regional executive director Francisco Milla Jr. and Penro head Edgardo Rostata to do their mandates to protect the rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology.
For his part, Rostata said the issue on illegal structures is still being reviewed by the DENR Legal Division for any administrative and criminal actions.
Rostata said the DENR has already issued show cause orders for many of these structures on top of the notices of violations issued by the Environment Management Bureau.
The LGU, he said, has the primary responsibility for building and business permits which they promised to act on.