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Disputed ‘Turtle Island’ is state-owned – DENR

Juancho R. Gallarde, Judy Flores Partlow (The Freeman) - June 10, 2017 - 4:00pm

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines — A peninsula, unofficially known as "Turtle Island," which is bounded by Zamboanguita town in the east and Siaton town in the west, in southern Negros Oriental, is a state-owned land, and that any of the disputing claimants could not claim ownership of it yet.

This was the pronouncement of Viernov Grefalde, acting provincial chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Negros Oriental, amid the ongoing ownership dispute between a Capitol official in his private capacity and the local government unit of Siaton, headed by Mayor Fritz Diaz.

To date, the so-called Turtle Island (or Polo as known by locals), is still the property of national government even though the political jurisdiction has been settled previously, explained Grefalde on Friday.

The DENR has not issued anything or any document with regard to the disputed portion of this island. Both claimants are trading counter charges in courts and before the Ombudsman in the Visayas.

Per records of the local DENR office, it has not received any application from both parties, the area being a public land, in the absence of any cadastral survey.

Grefalde said he is unaware of possessory rights as claimed by Enojo after buying it from a site claimant, identified as Tomas Japole, since there is no record of purchase with the DENR here.

Grefalde further said that, since 2008, the so-called Siit Bay Development Authority (SBDA) in Siaton has not reported to DENR any activity following its formation. This is the same document that Mayor Diaz presented as proof that the LGU has authority to develop the catchment areas of Siit Bay.

Political jurisdiction of Polo or 'Turtle Island' has been resolved in 2012 yet through a private contractor, which was commissioned by National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to conduct the survey. After determination of the boundaries, establishment of the Municipal Boundary Monument (MBM) was witnessed by local officials from both LGUs.

Since it is under the political jurisdiction of Siaton, all activity like payment of tax declaration, registration and all others should be with the LGU. But "it does not mean that Siaton is automatically the owner and they have to apply for tenure considering that it is classified as Alienable and Disposable land or owned by the state," said Grefalde.

Grefalde said he was glad that SBDA was formed because the next step would probably be to secure a tenure from the DENR, which would be a very long process.

Enojo contended that location was different from ownership, so cases were filed for the courts to decide, which was also gladly welcomed by Mayor Diaz who had the backing of the municipal officials, the barangay captains and all Siatanons.

Enojo had earlier said even if he only acquired the possessory rights a few weeks ago, its effect would start from the time the area was occupied by the inhabitants from 1983 or 34 years ago.

Mayor Diaz countered, however, that Japole (the supposed seller) was nowhere to be found in the island for more than 10 years, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Siaton said residents of the island have been relocated during the time of former Mayor Albert Ator for safety reasons and that each family then were paid P15,000. Only Elizabeth Zafra remains on the island as the caretaker.

The mayor also confirmed plans to develop the island a few years back by requesting the Office of the Governor for a P3-million fund to be used in the construction of a tourist center near Siit, among others.

However, Grefalde said that, while the political jurisdiction with an imaginary line had delineated the areas of “Turtle Island” belonging to the LGUs of Zamboanguita and Siaton, still, no development there could be done unless a tenure will be secured from the DENR secretary.

Meanwhile, the area in question is not an island but a peninsula that is connected to the mainland of Zamboanguita town by an isthmus, Grefalde clarified. —PNA (FREEMAN)

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