ALTHOUGH Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials assured Sto. Tomas and Tuba residents there will be no ejection at the Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve (STFR), residents are being asked to show their proof of prior rights or tax declarations to be reviewed by the DENR.
This was said during the presentation of the DENR Five Year Strategic Master Plan for the STFR at the Indigenous Peoples Forum at the St. Paul Parish Church hall on October 26.
Benguet Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Julio Lopez told representatives from different parish pastoral councils of Tuba and Benguet residents of Sto. Tomas should show their evidences that they and their families were residents prior to the 1940 declaration of the forest reserve.
These tax declarations and other evidences will be used to project the claims against the forest reserve in the area.
Lopez explained the residents would be able to know if their titles are within the alienable and disposable lands or are within the forest reserve.
DENR Division Officer Julius Cawilan added the papers would be recognized if there were prior rights issued to their ancestors. Baguio City Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) Rainier Balbuena told the residents that in the 1800s, there existed the encomienda system and the Spanish government issued titles to the farmers who paid taxes.
Even tax declarations prior to the proclamation of the forest reserve were recognized. Balbuena explained the DENR was looking for active partners to carry out the activities in the Strategic Master Plan.
Balbuena also clarified that ancestral land claims and ancestral domains were under the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and not the DENR.
Meanwhile, ENRO Lopez noted there are no ancestral lands and domains issued in Tuba, Benguet according to the Register of Deeds in Tuba. He said that among the municipalities of Benguet, Tuba is the only municipality without registered ancestral lands with the Registry of Deeds. (Nonnette C. Bennett)