ENVIRONMENTAL groups and individuals in Negros Island have joined the call to halt the legalization of proliferating illegal structures at the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP).
An online petition of a concerned citizen has already gathered 1,764 signatures since it was posted on bataris.org.ph. on October 20 this year.
The petition urges the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop the legalization of illegal structures inside the forest park and hold these "environmental offenders" accountable as it is their sworn oath to safeguard and protect the environment.
The petition stated that it was an insult when the DENR Undersecretary Jim Sampulna resorted to "legalize" the illegal structures inside the NNNP when they cannot do anything because the structures are already cemented there.
"Allowing these illegal structures such as resorts, businesses and private houses to legally operate will only disrupt and destroy further the natural ecosystems and rich biodiversity of the protected area," it said, adding that "such decision will only serve as a precedent for other environmental offenders to do the same in other parts of the country."
Sampulna made the pronouncement that the DENR will just have to legalize illegal structures at the NNNP during the 2nd Research and Development Congress on East Asian-Australasian Flyway for Wetlands and Migratory Waterbirds in Bacolod City earlier this month.
Sampulna, the former regional 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."
Environment groups in the province had slammed the DENR official.
The Group of Environmental Socialists (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.
Also, the Green Alert Network Inc. (GAN) disagreed on the move to legalize 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.
In a new statement yesterday, the group said if the DENR were to be serious in their sworn oath to protect the rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology, they would stop the increasing number of illegal structures and penalize these environmental violators.
"It was emphasized that the NNNP is also a home to endemic and endangered flora and fauna. With the current onset of the climate crisis, let us not cause more harm to one of our natural solutions to this rapid climate—our forests," it added.
For his part, Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson earlier said he is not against the move of legalizing the structures especially those in business.
Lacson said that the areas should be determined but thickly forested areas should not be touched.
Multi-use zones should be allowed in Salvador Benedicto to further develop the economic activities in the area.