The Protected Area Management Board voted 34-11, with one abstention, against the demolition of illegal structures in the multiple use zone of the Northern Negros Natural Park protected area at an emotional meeting at the Negros Occidental Capitol in Bacolod City yesterday.
Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., who voted for the demolition of the illegal structures, said the 34-11 vote endangers the province’s last frontier and water source, and that ultimately, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje could override the move.
“It is sad that we in government are legalizing what is illegal,” the governor said.
The vote against the demolition of the illegal structures is very painful, amid the campaign to protect the NNNP, he said.
The governor said he will spread the word throughout the province about the need to protect the NNNP for the future of all, instead of acting in the interest of a few protected people.
Most of the illegal structures in Salvador Benedicto town are alleged to be vacation homes of the wealthy.
PENRO Andres Untal had issued cease-and-desist orders to 91 individuals, including Murcia Mayor Andrew Montelibano and Salvador Benedicto Mayor Jose Max Ortiz, for allegedly having illegal structures in the Salvador Benedicto multiple use zone.
CONSTRUCTION CAN START NOW?
The Murcia mayor said the 34-11 vote overrides Untal’s CDOs, halting the construction of “illegal structures” in the multiple-use zone of Salvador Benedicto.
Montelibano said with the resolution approved by the PAMB yesterday, “I think construction can now start.”
“I guess the people have spoken, I think it is just right to respect that,” he added.
Untal, on the other hand, said the CDOs still hold, construction within the protected area needs PAMB clearance.
Mayors Montelibano, Ortiz, Gerardo Valmayor of San Carlos, Jose Montelibano – Silay, Eric Saratan – Talisay, and Araceli Somosa – Calatrava, barangay captains, and representatives of indigenous people voted against the demolition of illegal structures.
The mayors argued that many of their constituents occupy multiple use zones, and development and their tourism industries could be affected if they vote in favor of demolition.
They said a study should first be made and that they be allowed to complete their Forest Land Use Plans in close coordination with the DENR for clearer demarcation of areas to be affected.
The Murcia mayor said they are for the protection of the forests, too, and will abide by the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.
Marañon, Untal, Provincial Environment Management Officer Wilfred Ramon Peñalosa, Fr. Ernie Larida of the Diocese of Bacolod Social Action Center, Environment Officer Florentino Caceres Jr., who represented Cadiz Mayor Patrick Escalante, nongovernment organization representatives and members of the PAMB technical working group voted yes to the demolition of the illegal structures.
The representative of the Multisectoral Alliance for the Development of Negros abstained.
Larida said it appeared that many of those who voted against the demolition were not fully aware of what are considered illegal structures and how their removal would, in fact, benefit them.
Untal pointed out that those living in barangays in the protected area, who are tenured migrants and indigenous people, would not be affected by the demolition of illegal structures as they are protected under the NIPASAct.
What are considered illegal structures are those located in areas identified under the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act and do not have PAMB clearance, in consonance with the NIPAS Act, Untal said.
If illegal structures are allowed in the protected zone, it just like saying we are legalizing what is illegal that will set a precedent for future forests protection, he said.
SOURCE OF LIFE
“We have to distinguish what is important to Negrenses – water or vacation houses,” Untal said.
“What will be the use of these structures if we lose our source of life which is water,” he said.
Ortiz denied that their vote would lead to the destruction of the forest. In fact, on January 23, 2015, his town will work to break the Guinness World Record by planting 100,000 trees in a day, he said.
The opinion of the governor is as good as theirs, the demolition move needs further study and the law is defective, he said.
He is prepared to debate anyone on his position, Ortiz said.
Marañon said the NNNP is Negros Occidental’s last frontier, it used to have 100,000 hectares of forest and now, very little remains.
We must protect our last frontier for our grandchildren, he said, pointing out that it is the source of water for the province’s people and for the production of food.
The NNNP provides the water for the Bago irrigation system that covers 14,000 hectares of rice lands, the governor said.
It has been proven that poverty only worsens in areas where people fail to protect their natural resources, he added.
Singapore, that is smaller than Kabankalan City, has become rich because its residents have protected its environment and think of the future, the governor said.
He said the rich, who have built illegal structures, are depriving the poor of what little they have.
The Murcia mayor, noting that the governor appeared to have gotten emotional, said they were just stating their stand, they were not fighting with anyone.
“They did not have the numbers, they lost,” Ortiz said, adding that their voting against the demolition was not political or personal.
Representatives of non-government organization and environment groups slammed the vote against the demolition of illegal structures following the PAMB meeting.*CPG
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