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Residents, property owners sued for using forestlands

Republika

The National Bureau of Investigation, some two months ago lodged complaints against 10 residents and property owners in Boracay, for allegedly occupying forestland areas, which violated environmental laws.
The respondents, which included a Belgian national, a Filipino-Australian and two Britons, were arrested prior to getting charged.


According to Rizaldy Rivera, special investigator of the NBI Crime Division, all were charged for violating Presidential Decree No. 705, or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines while only two were additionally charged for flouting PD No. 1067, or the Water Code, as well as a municipal ordinance requiring a 30-meter beach easement.


The recommended bail was P36,000 for each accused of violating PD No. 705 and a total of P75,000 for each of the two respondents facing all three complaints.


The arrests, although without warrant, were “lawful”, said Rivera, due to “actual occupation of forestlands.” He added: “They have ignored notices to self-demolish and to vacate forestlands and we continuously appeal to them to comply.”


However, lawyer Emmanuel Sodusta, legal counsel to some of the respondents, questioned the manner and timing in which these arrests were made. An unnamed source also revealed that the arrested were handcuffed and boarded onto two vans. Rivera denied that they were cuffed but admitted that operatives did carry rifles and handguns in the course of their duties.


The arrests surprised other Boracay residents, who considered some of them longtime settlers. One even remarked that they were given building permits and paid taxes, only to find that their properties were supposedly built on forestland.


The classification of areas, particularly forestland, has been an issue for many years. in 2008, the Supreme Court upheld then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1064, which declared all of Boracay as property of the state, excluding those holding titles. About a third of the entire island is titled; many land claimants have tax declarations and have been paying realty taxes for over 30 years as proof of ownership.


The island was closed for rehabilitation for six months from April to October 2018.


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