DENR chief breaks silence on reported family landholdings

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
DENR chief breaks silence on reported family landholdings
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga on Friday broke her silence on allegations that her position as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) chief clashes with her family’s vast landholdings.

In a statement, Loyzaga denied that her family owns at least 40,000 hectares of the Busuanga Pasture Reserve.

“I wish to clarify that the Busuanga Pasture Reserve has always been government-owned. The Yulo family has never owned this land and has no interest in owning it,” Loyzaga maintained.

In his “Gotcha” column in The STAR, Jarius Bondoc said the Yulo King Ranch (YKR) was accused of land grabbing, involving 40,000 hectares of forests and ancestral domains in the towns of Coron and Busuanga in Palawan.

Loyzaga dismissed allegations that her family is a party to the negotiations being undertaken by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for its utilization or distribution of the Busuanga Pasture Reserve.

“I hope that this puts to rest all false allegations that came out only after I joined the DENR and started cleaning up the place to make sure only public interest prevails and is served,” Loyzaga added.

Bondoc alleged that the Yulo family came to own the land in 1976, a year after former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. issued Proclamation 1387 on the Busuanga Pasture Reserve.

He said the proclamation withdrew the 40,000 hectares from sale, settlement or any other exploitation.

“That contradicted Proclamation 1387. Government sequestrations and ill-gotten wealth cases ensued starting 1986. YKR’s cattle ranch was branded the largest agrarian anomaly,” Bondoc said.

He noted that the court appointed Loyzaga as the family estate executor.

“That role puts her in opposition to Proclamation 1387, NIPAS (1992 National Integrated Protected Areas System Act), E-NIPAS (2018 Expanded NIPAS Act). Her ability to make unbiased decisions on similar environmental and land-use issues is compromised. How can she fight for ownership of a protected area when the law forbids its private titling and exploitation?” Bondoc asked.

“Long-drawn legal battles surrounding YKR illustrate Yulo-Loyzaga’s untenable position. Presenting titles to 888 hectares, the Philippine Agri-Business Center contests the Yulo family’s use of the land and YKR’s occupation,” he added.

Bondoc said Loyzaga’s handling of the recent Chocolate Hills resort controversy highlighted her quandary.

“She defended the resort owners’ prior rights in the protected area, despite lack of DENR clearances. That shows disturbing prioritizing of private interests over environment protection. The stance mirrors her own in YKR, where her family’s land claim trumps the area’s protected status,” he said.

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