The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Thursday said it is ready to face the Provincial Board to answer the concerns raised by some board members on the ongoing cleanup of El Nido.
DENR MIMAROPA regional director Natividad Bernardino said her office is merely performing its mandate, following the administration’s thrust, and observing what is in the law in undertaking the cleanup of El Nido and other beach destinations in the region.
“We cannot be but fair in the application of the law. We have been issuing notices to vacate to all those encroaching on easement zones and timberlands. The burden of proof is on those who claim to have legal basis for occupation of timberland,” Bernardino said in a statement.
This is why even public structures, such as the El Nido National High School, was issued a notice to vacate.
“Of course, we are aware that the school provides a public good, that is why we will recommend that it secure a Presidential Proclamation to declare the area it occupies a civil reservation,” she clarified.
“But as a matter of course, we have to serve it a notice to vacate because it is built on timberland without any tenurial instrument,” she said.
Bernardino was responding to the criticism of Board Member David Francis Ponce de Leon, who challenged the DENR’s move as unfair by stating that those issued eviction notices have been occupying their lands for a long time.
The DENR also confirmed Board Member Winston Arzaga’s observation that the map it used as basis to issue the notices was an old map classifying Barangay Corong-Corong as timberland.
But Task Force El Nido chair Manuel Escasura explained that “the Land Classification Map of 1941 for Corong-Corong remains valid because there has been no congressional legislation that reclassifies the area.”
“We have no choice but to follow the existing map,” he said.
DENR likewise does not discount the possibility that some of the agency’s personnel may have been involved in illegal titling of El Nido’s timberland, which also contributed to the congestion of structures in the resort town.
“We will hold everyone accountable for the destruction of such a beautiful place that is El Nido,” Bernardino assured.
Following President Rodrigo Duterte and DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu’s priority thrusts to rehabilitate the country’s prime beach destinations, DENR MIMAROPA has created three task forces directed to lead in the clean-up of Bacuit Bay in El Nido, Sabang and White Beach in Puerto Galera, and Coron Bay.
“We hope that other public officials in Palawan can support us in this endeavor,” Bernardino said as she thanked Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez who had earlier vouched support for DENR’s efforts in El Nido.