Some 100 PALUPA members join the ocular inspection of the Department of Agrarian Reform on July 23 to verify the land area appealed to be included under EO 75 which is covered by the Iwahig Corrections Facility property. (Photos from ICF)

A group of urban poor settlers is attempting to occupy a portion of the Iwahig property under the Bureau of Corrections, invoking a presidential order which provides for the distribution of unutilized land to qualified beneficiaries.

ICF authorities, however, recently blocked the settlers from taking over an area between KM 21 and KM 22 in Barangay Iwahig, stating they have no valid claim to the property.

CTO II Levi Evangelista, penal prison information officer, said they came upon members of the Palawan Land for Unprivileged People Association or PALUPA last July 17 planning to occupy the property which they prevented.

“Wala silang pinakitang papeles kaya pinigilan natin sila. Dumating ang taga-DAR na nagsasabi na wala ngang authority ‘yong pagpasok nila. Maayos naman sila naglisan after the negotiation at maayos na pag-uusap sa kanilang grupo. Ang pinagtataka namin na napakarami nila. Sa ganitong panahon ng pandemya ay violation ‘yong ganon,” Evangelista said.

He added that the Iwahig Corrections Facility (ICF) already has plans to reforest its vacant land areas because it is part of the city’s water reservoir.

“Tataniman ang mga sinasabi nila na bakanteng lupa, we are expecting more or less 20,000 assorted trees. Patuloy pa rin, panahon lang ng pandemya pero marami na ang nagparating sa atin na certain groups na magkakaroon ng tree planting. Ang CENRO naman already committed na talaga and the city government of Puerto Princesa na ito ang magiging sentro ng tree planting because ng sa water district, water reservoir natin,” he added.

Evangelista said that the group told ICF that they were surveying the area on July 23 and also built makeshift shanties on July 17.

He stressed that it is part of the mandate of the ICF to protect their land properties under RA 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013. The vacant land areas are intended for horticulture, agricultural production, and pasture land, he added.

“Ano ba ang nais nilang gawin sa kalupaan ng Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm na wala silang kaukulang papeles. Sinasabi nila application pero ‘yong application na ‘yon ay subject for disapproval if ma-approve man ‘yon. Approve or disapprove, as of now, wala sila maipakita na matibay na ebidensya o katunayan na pwede sila pumasok sa kalupaan ng Iwahig,” he said.

Entering a prison reservation without notice is also unsafe for individuals if emergency operations are to be conducted, Evangelista stressed.

“Ini-expect namin na babalik sila pero naging vigilant kami because of that pangyayari. Naging more vigilant for their protection din. Kapag kami may operation sa area na ‘yan at sila ay maabutan so risky ‘yon. Sila rin ang pinoprotektahan natin na huwag na nila ulitin iyon at huwag sila pumasok ng walang authority,” he said.

PALUPA claims

Association president Ricky De Dios said that their claims are based on the Executive Order no. 75, ‘Directing all departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities of the government to identify lands owned by the government devoted to or suitable for agriculture for distribution to qualified beneficiaries’ in 2019.

“Doon kami nagkaroon ng interes na sumulat sa kaniya kasi although may kautusan si pangulo, sa observation namin, ang tendency ng mga agency ay hindi nagsasabi ng totoo na meron unutilized property sila. Pwedeng hindi nila sabihin ang totoo,” he said Friday.

“Ngayon, nagkaroon kami ng lakas ng loob na isulat kay pangulo na meron kaming nakita na nakatiwangwang na lupa ng Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm nang matagal na panahon and naniniwala kami na suited for agriculture na angkop don sa kaniyang kautusan,” he added.

De Dios believed that even if ICF did not surrender the land area where they claimed as unutilized property to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), that estimated 800-hectare land area must be used for agriculture purposes and be included under EO 75.  PALUPA is petitioning the land area from Iwahig firefly to the boundary of Montible, he said.

The association was established in 2019 and has been calling for the validation, segregation, and distribution the 800-hectare unutilized portion of the ICF IN 2021 after the land was categorized as “unclassified public forest” and not alienable and disposable land.

The group is already occupying a provincial government property in Barangay Irawan since 1998 which they also claimed as unutilized land.

He explained that on July 16, the provincial agrarian reform program office instructed Municipal Agrarian Reform Program Officer (MARPO) Remedios Bacuel to verify and inspect the requested land.

“Noong last Sunday (July 18) ay nagkaroon kami activity sa loob. Ang petition namin last year pa, wala kaming any activity na ginawa diyan. Bakit kami nagkaroon ng activity diyan? May kaugnayan ‘yan dito sa instruction, di ba magkakaroon ng inspection ang DAR,” he said.

“Nakakasakit isipin din na maraming tao ang walang lupa na ma-cultivate tapos ginagamit lang ng quarry. Nakinabang ba ang mga tao sa operation ng quarry? Ito, walang activity diyan ang BuCor. Sa kalapad-lapad na area na ‘yan para sabihin nila na hindi nakatiwangwang, nakatiwangwang ‘yan,” he added.

If the PALUPA’s petition will be granted, De Dios said that there will be 1,500 occupants that would saturate the area for residential purposes, 300 out of 1,500 will occupy the farm lot. PALUPA has now 500 existing members.

The group still plans to write a letter again directly address to president Rodrigo Duterte for the latter to release a presidential proclamation over the petitioned land area to include the portion of ICF under EO 75. De Dios stressed that they want to get the land area legally.

He stressed that PALUPA members also practiced social distancing during the day of inspection on July 23 where ICF saw 100 individuals at the land property at Km. 22.

On the other hand, MARPO Remedios Bacuel also confirmed that she joined the association in ocular inspection but the ICF denied the request as the letter was only addressed to the prison superintendent instead of addressing it to the central office.

“Kapag ang classification ng lupa ay public forest o timberland, hindi talaga siya masasakop ng CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program). Ang maka-cover lang namin ay alienable and disposable. Kung maaprubahan ni Duterte na talagang ma-cover siya under EO 75, dapat may intervention ang congress para ma-reclassify from unclassified public forest to A and D, saka pa lang maka-cover ng DAR,” she said.

“Kung ano ‘yong nakita namin from the national highway kasi more or less, ‘yon din ang nasa loob, iyon ang nilagay ko sa report ko. Ang report ko, submit ko sa provincial office namin, mag-CSW sila, complete staff work, submit sa region, region to central,” she added.

The central office of DAR will send feedback to the president about the inspection made over the appeal of PALUPA.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.