SEVEN Seas Water Park and Resort in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental, is sitting on an area that is classified as timberland, officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in a round-table discussion Friday, April 13.
Lawyer Florenda Lamasaon-Yap, chief of DENR-Northern Mindanao's legal division, said its office has an ongoing legal battle against UC-1 Corporation, the owner and operator of Seven Seas Water Park and Resort, and also against LS Properties, the 20-hectare property’s previous owner.
Lamason-Yap said they are seeking the cancellation of the land title of the 20-hectare property that UC-1 acquired from LS Properties in 2010.
LS Properties reportedly owns the 50 hectares land in Barra, Opol town.
"The classification of the land is timberland, so in essence, it shouldn't be titled because it is a public domain. But what happened was, the LS Properties somehow got a title still but not from us, but through judicial proceedings. They acquired the title of the 50 hectares back in 2002, and they subsequently sold 20 hectares of it to UC-1 Corporation, and the other 30 hectares to a businessman," Lamason-Yap said.
Engineer Agnes Dejoras, chief of the Surveys and Mapping Division, said there are about four government entities that can issue titles, namely, the DENR, Department of Agrarian Reform, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and the court.
LS Properties reportedly acquired their title from the Regional Trial Court Branch 39.
"I cannot answer for Branch 39 but this is why they are also respondents of the case. But before, there is somehow lack of coordination between these government entities that is why these things happen," she said.
"All lands which are public domain are under the DENR, unless it was turned over to other agencies," she added.
The 50-hectare land has been classified as timberland since 1940. The area was a fishpond before LS Properties acquired a title.
Lawyer Jan Elson Orquillas of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office-Misamis Oriental also disclosed that a temporary restraining order had been issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) in relation to the property. It was issued last January 19, 2018 and was in effect for 60 days.
Orquillas said they conducted an ocular inspection last month to see if Seven Seas stopped its operations as directed by the court through the TRO.
"But they continued their operations in that period. Supposedly, all activities should be suspended so as to preserve the status quo," he said.
A report was submitted to the Office of the Solicitor General and CA for the results of the ocular inspection.
Instead of owning the area, Lamason-Yap said the UC-1 could lease it for commercial use but "ownership is another story."
The only way for Seven Seas and other private companies wanting to own a public domain area is to go to Congress and petition to reclassify the land, she adds.
"But unless the Congress says otherwise, it will stay as timberland and as a public domain," Lamason-Yap said.
Asked for comment, Engineer Elpidio Paras, president of UC-1 Corporation, said they are leaving the matter for the court to decide.
“We were not invited, so I have no comment except the matter is for the courts to decide at the proper time and venue. As far as we are concerned, we have a judicial title which was acquired in a legal and proper way. The others who lay claim to it do not have any rights as far as we are concerned,” Paras said in a text message.
Seven Seas is a pirate-themed park with over 20 different slides, rides and attractions, as well as restaurants, cafes and food kiosks.
The theme park opened in December 2017 and draws thousands of tourists from all over the country.