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Opinion

30 claimants occupy watershed; their structures cause Metro floods

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

At least 30 individuals and groups claim ownership of swathes of Upper Marikina Watershed. Their claims contravene two laws that declare the area off limits.

The 30 have no land titles. Claims hang only on lot surveys issued by Department of Environment and Natural Resources officers.

The claims cover 1,774.71 hectares – 40,682 basketball courts. Nearly half of Manila.

Using the surveys, claimants sell or lease out plots. Two mansions have been erected, plus a dozen picnic resorts that divert river flow into swimming pools. All have no building or occupancy permits.

Forests were despoiled, roads illegally paved, decades-old trees chainsawed for construction materials, saplings slashed and burnt for charcoal.

Killer floods result from watershed denudation. Every year heavy rains and mud cascade down to Antipolo, Marikina, San Mateo, Cainta, Taytay, San Juan, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Pateros, Taguig and Quezon City.

Deluges collapse bridges and powerlines; submerge homes, shops, schools, hospitals, churches; destroy vehicles, furniture, appliances, clothing, personal memorabilia. Dozens drowned during 2009’s Superstorm Yolanda and 2020’s Typhoon Ulysses.

Certain DENR geodetic engineers, cartographers, technicians and lawyers issued lot surveys to the claimants between 1997 and 2004. Some are presently being updated. For how much, only they know.

Purported legality is Ferdinand E. Marcos’ Presidential Decree 324, October 1973. The edict excluded from Marikina Watershed mountainside portions of Barrios Pinugay and Kayumbay of Teresa and Baras towns, Rizal province.

P.D. 324 is defective. It spelled out the coverage: 17,287,460 square meters. Then it said in figures, “or 1,728,746 hectares” (Official Gazette). Wrongly the P.D. converted one hectare into ten square meters.

But a hectare equals 10,000 square meters. The stated coverage should thus be 1,728.746 hectares.

Two subsequent decrees repeal P.D. 324, moreover. The Forestry Code, P.D. 705, May 1975, declared:

“No land of the public domain 18 percent [10.2 degrees] in slope or over shall be classified as alienable and disposable, nor any forest land 50 percent [26.57 degrees] in slope or over, as grazing land.

“Lands 18 percent in slope or over which have already been declared as alienable and disposable shall be reverted to the classification of forest lands by the Department Head, to form part of the forest reserves, unless they are already covered by existing titles or approved public land application, or actually occupied openly, continuously, adversely and publicly for a period of not less than 30 years as of the effectivity of this Code.”

The Forestry Code invalidates P.D. 324 due to: (1) 18-percent topographic limit, and (2) reversion as forest land. The 1,728.746 hectares are on steep slopes. No title, approved public land application or occupant existed for more than 30 years because P.D. 324 was only a year and a half prior.

There’s also Presidential Proclamation 1636, April 1977. It declared as “National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary and Game Preserve” 146,310 hectares of mountains in Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Quezon. No hunting, tree cutting, commercial development allowed.

P.P. 1636 includes Marikina Watershed: “Destruction of any vegetation or any act causing disturbances to the habitat of the wildlife herein protected [is] hereby prohibited.”

Masungi Georeserve Foundation brought these up at the Jan. 27 hearing of the House of Representatives committee on natural resources. But some congressmen cut off MGF founder Ben Dumaliang, telling him to just submit a position paper. Rizal congressmen initiated the hearing.

Then DENR Sec. Gina Lopez had assigned Masungi in 2017 to rewild 3,000 of the watershed’s 26,126 hectares. It has completed 2,000 hectares.

Goons of the claimants, including two police generals, harass Masungi park rangers. Thugs maul and fire at the unarmed reforesters. Latest was on Aug. 26 and 27.

Four-fifths of watershed is bald. But in Masungi Geopark Project monkeys, wild boar, reptiles, rare birds and insects have returned. Over a hundred thousand native trees were planted. Experts recorded more than 500 species of flora and fauna.

Masungi has reaped global and national awards for environment protection. Officers Ann and Billie Dumaliang frequently are invited to address international forums on protecting limestone karst. Dumagat tribesmen in adjoining Kaliwa Watershed Forest hail their work.

But the 30 claimants, backed by politicos, want Masungi out. DENR offers no help to the earth savers, nor care for the yearly ruinous floods.

*      *      *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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