Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson yesterday said he welcomes the legalization of illegal structures within identified multiple use zones within the Northern Negros Natural Park in Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental.
Environment Undersecretary Jim Sampulna, who was in Bacolod City Tuesday, said property owners can apply for a Special Agreement in Protected Areas (SAPA) to legalize their stay there.
“We will legalize their stay there. We can’t do anything. The structures were already cemented,” he said. “The structures per se, are illegal because they are at the natural park. But they can apply for SAPA,” he added
The national highway from the town proper of Salvador Benedicto going to Barangay Bunga is part of the NNNP which has been identified as a multiple use zone, former Salvador Benedicto Mayor Jose Max Ortiz said.
“Along the road I think we should allow business to prosper in Salvador Benedicto,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the national government has invested a lot in the highway that is very wide. If you introduce a road, definitely you can expect economic activities, he said.
“Let’s be more realistic, let us allow multi-use zones in that area to further develop economic activities in Salvador Benedicto,” he said, noting that on weekends there are a lot of visitors in the town that has restaurants and coffee shops.
He said the multiple use zonesshould already be identified for use by businesses, but the thick forest area should not be touched.
Randy James Rojo of the Group of Environmental Socialists said the DENR approves SAPA and MOA applications, it is tantamount to illegally arrogating upon itself a non-existent authority, that belongs only to Congress.
“It is our humble position that these SAPAs and MOAs are illegal schemes and devices that are designed by corrupt DENR officials to circumvent the NIPAS ( National Integrated Protected Areas System) Act,” he said.
“Allowing these powerful personalities to avail of SAPAs and MOAs will open the floodgates to more environmental violations in the NNNP, thus continuously endangering the lives of the inhabitants of Negros province and destroying the biggest watershed system,” Rojo added.
He said if the DENR officials pursue such plan, “We shall be constrained, much to our regret, to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”*
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