Occupancy in Northern Negros Natural Park
One crucial issue in the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental is the reported buying and selling of lands between occupants and those from Bacolod City and other parts of the province, who are planning to construct vacation houses in the area.
Actually, this issue is not new since similar cases have already been verified in Barangay Patag in Silay City, involving holders of the Certificate of Stewardship Contracts issued under the Integrated Social Forestry Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. A large portion of Patag is still part of the NNNP.
Several ISF beneficiaries sold their CSCs to non-residents of Patag, which is basically a violation of the terms and conditions of the stewardship contract. The CSC is a land tenure instrument issued to forest dwellers covering a 25-year period and renewable for another 25 years. The main purpose of the CSC is to legitimize the occupancy of settlers in classified timberlands, and for them to supposedly become partners in forest management. The ISF program in Negros Occidental has been devolved by the DENR to the provincial government.
While the DENR and the provincial government have still to initiate specific action on CSC violations in Barangay Patag, similar cases are now happening in parts of NNNP covering the town of Don Salvador Benedicto. In October last year, we initiated two separate activities with some representatives of the different people’s organizations in NNNP, and one of the concerns raised was the recent occupancy of migrants who are planning to construct resort and vacation houses in the protected area. In fact, some structures, like fences and roads, have already been established, according to community folks.
The DAILY STAR reported that a businessman from Escalante City purchased the 700-hectare reforestation project in Barangay Bagong Silang, Don Salvador Benedicto from illegal settlers in the area. This site is still inside the NNNP. The businessman has reportedly constructed barbed wire fences to secure the lot he had purchased. The provincial government and the DENR are now investigating this case, and I am hopeful that appropriate charges will be filed in court.
The interest of lowlanders in Don Salvador Benedicto became evident when it was declared as the summer capital of Negros Occidental by virtue of a provincial ordinance. The good road network has provided easy access from Bacolod and San Carlos cities to this upland municipality, which is actually one of the most scenic parts of the NNNP. Don Salvador Benedicto has a very cool temperature and is gifted with several natural features, like waterfalls, lush forest and refreshing rivers and creeks.
It should be noted, however, that NNNP is a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines, as contained in Republic Act 7586. More than its recreational values, NNNP is an important life support system, because it is basically a critical watershed of the province, and at the same time, a habitat of numerous endemic species, many of which are already classified as threatened species. It also accounts for the largest forest cover, not only in Negros Island, but the entire West Visayas Biogeographic Zone, too.
As specified in RA 7586, only tenured migrants may be allowed to stay in the designated multiple-use zone of the protected area. Tenured migrant refers to a protected area occupant, who has been actually and continuously occupying portion of the protected area for five years before the designation of the same as a component of the NIPAS, and is solely dependent on it for subsistence.
Therefore, occupancy by non-tenured migrants in protected areas, like the NNNP, is illegal. On the other hand, tenured migrants may avail of land tenure security over the area they are actually occupying. This land tenure, however, is not issued individually but collectively, through the Protected Area Community Based Resource Management Agreement. It is very necessary that illegal occupancy in NNNP should be acted upon by concerned agencies, otherwise, more people will settle in this protected area.
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