An official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-10 (DENR-10) yesterday insisted that the Seven Seas Waterpark and Resort in Opol town, Misamis Oriental province stands on land classified by the government as timberland.
But Lawyer Florenda Lamason-Yap, DENR-Northern Mindanao chief legal officer, said UC-1 Corporation, owner of the pirate-themed waterpark, may enter into a land tenurial agreement with the government and apply for a forest land use agreement for tourism.
A land tenurial agreement does not signify ownership but allows the tenant the right to use the land on specified terms and conditions.
Lamason-Yap, however, clarified that DENR officials will have to process the application and reassess the property to determine the best option regarding the utilization of the area.
"But it will stay as a government-owned property, they will just have to rent it," she said.
Lamason-Yap said UC-1 Corporation allegedly knew of the issues hounding the previous property owner but chose to buy the 20-hectare property anyway.
She said theme park owner knew that previous owner LS Properties Inc. was involved in a legal battle with a group of claimants, identified as Tribal Communities Association of the Philippines (Tricap), which wrote to the Office of the Solicitor General in 2009 about the land dispute.
Lamason-Yap said Tricap questioned why LS Properties got a land title when the property was classified as timberland.
"The Solicitor General referred it to us, because the DENR is the caretaker of all of the land that is government-owned, so that's when we filed for the cancellation of the land title in 2010," she said in the round-table discussion last week.
LS Properties acquired the title as early as 2002, but it was only in 2012 when the UC-1 Corporation bought the land.
"This is why kami ang ga-file, the government represented by us from the DENR, against Branch 39 which is the court that issued the title, against the Land Registration Authority which issued the decree that led to the issuance of the title, the LS Properties who owned the property, and then the UC-1 later on because they bought the property," she said.
"We are after the cancellation of the original title covering the 50 hectares," Lamason-Yap said.
Meanwhile, the Provincial Board of Misamis Oriental wants the DENR to clarify the issues faced by resort owners in the province.
Board Member Gerardo Sabal, vice chairperson of the Provincial Board's Committee on Environment, said he wants the board’s committee on tourism and environment to look into the controversy.
"Ako ning i-endorso sunod semana ug posible nga ang committee sa tourism ug environment ang magtuki (I will endorse this next week and the committees on tourism and environment may likely tackle the issue),"Sabal said.
Sabal said resorts operators and the DENR-Northern Mindanao officials may likely face each other at an inquiry that will be initiated by the Provincial Board.
He said the inquiry will shed light whether resorts in the province have complied with environmental requirements or have violated regulations.
Sabal said they would also ask DENR if they issued Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) before the resorts were built.
"Kay dili lalim nga ang uban resorts nga dugay nang nag-operate unya all of a sudden ipasara lang (It's not easy that resorts which operate for so long will be closed down immediately),"Sabal said.
Elpie Paras, president of UC-1 Corporation, had earlier said he was surprised by the DENR’s statement that the property is still classified as timberland and said they were not informed about it when they were still applying for the title.