Rep. Franz Alvarez (1st district Palawan) disclosed this week he is intending to file a bill in Congress that will push for the delineation of alienable and disposable lands in relation to public lands and protected areas in four municipalities under his district including the tourist hotspots of Coron and El Nido.
The measure is intended to resolve the long-running land tenure issues that have presumably stunted economic growth in built-up or developed areas of the province that presently remains classified as public lands or even protected areas in their entirety, as in the case of El Nido. This is also important, the proposed measure adds, in ensuring the protection of the environment by permanently delineating the boundaries of protected areas.
If approved, the measure will pave the way for the titling of erstwhile public lands in the municipalities of El Nido, Coron, Araceli, and Dumaran. It will also lift, particularly for the four municipalities, the province-wide ban imposed by the DENR in 2016 after discovering anomalies in the titling of public lands supposedly under protection coverage by existing environmental laws and international agreements on conservation.
The measure takes a step ahead of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ own effort to resolve the issue with the filing of a National Land Use and Management bill in Congress.
The situation of Palawan is particularly complex because of overlapping environmental laws, some uniquely applying only to the province, that complicates the delineation of alienable and disposable (A&D) lands. During last year’s environmental crackdown in El Nido, for example, over 40 establishments were ordered closed for squatting on supposed timberland areas.
By DENR’s own accounting that same year, former Regional Director Natividad Bernardino had admitted that their department was responsible for the issuance of over 2,000 spurious land titles over supposedly protected areas in El Nido.
The entire town of El Nido is a protected area, a status shared by large tracts of land and seas of Coron. Take note that the entire province of Palawan is a “man and biosphere reserve”, a distinction that commits the Philippine government to observe strict levels of protection and conservation of its biologically important areas, including El Nido and Coron.
The matter raised by Rep. Alvarez is a legitimate initiative at resolving key issues in El Nido and other parts of the province that are similarly situated. It requires, however, more than just a casual passage of a special law but also the identification and putting in place of safety measures to prevent the very same abuses that have already been committed in these areas.