Officials, residents assail DENR order

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Officials, residents assail DENR order

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A controversial order pitting the protection of the province unique geological monument against the survival of residents main source of livelihood and the Local Government Unit’s (LGU’s) economic development has raised deep concerns among stakeholders affected by the government order.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ordered the proclamation of coastal areas “that rose from the sea” during the October 15, 2013 earthquake as a geological monument despite widespread opposition from municipal officials and residents of the affected area.

DENR Secretary Ramon Paje signed DENR Administrative Order No. 2015-08 on May 14, 2015 declaring 137.0031 hectares covering the “uplifted coast” of the municipalities of Loon and Maribojoc as a geological monument to be known as the Loon-Maribojoc Geological Monument.

According to the technical description of the area encompassing the geological monument contained in the administrative order, Loon’s uplifted coast was measured at 90 hectares while Maribojoc’s coast increased by 45 hectares.

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But the order did not sit well with the officials and affected residents of the municipalities of Loon and Maribojoc fearing that the use and enjoyment of the area will be limited to academic pursuits and will seriously curtail whatever development plans put in place by the LGU’s.

Wordings of the DENR AO has drawn shivers among the families as, nobody knows the implication of an area declared as a geological monument  and how it will affect their daily lives, considering that the area will be devoted to academic research.

Local officials and residents voiced fears over the far reaching negative effects of the proclamation on their means of livelihood.

The AO further states that the Geological Monument shall be preserved and protected as a park while the MGB, DENR and the LGU shall prepare and implement a management plan to include the conduct of geological researches and the promotion of the Monument as an eco-tourism destination.

Loon Mayor Lloyd Peter Lopez, M.D. denounced the order as confiscatory, smelling something fishy over the issuance of the order as “maneuvers by the DENR to assert control on the area through the administrative order”.

A bristling Lopez told the Chronicle “before the earthquake the area was under the territorial jurisdiction of the LGU but when it became dryland control is now with the national government thru the DENR”

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Lopez lamented that “they took away our land notwithstanding that we are earthquake victims” adding “we will never give up our ownership rights over the uplifted coast”.

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The National Committee on Geological Sciences (NCGS) created under the Office of the President lists the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes, Montalban Gorge, Taal Volcano and the Chocolate Hills as geological monuments.

BLINDSIDED

Lopez and Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco were one in denouncing the DENR for the lack of prior consultation saying “we were taken by surprise when informed about the order despite their knowledge about our reservations on the  planned administrative order”.

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In an exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Lopez decried  the manner the DENR Administrative Order was issued saying “we wrote the Office of the President, the  DENR and the Department of Tourism about our reservations on the proposed declaration as early as last year”.

Evasco also told the Chronicle “we should have been consulted before the order was issued since our municipality has put in place plans and programs to mitigate the hardships encountered by the residents due to the devastation we suffered during the earthquake”.

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NEW HORIZON

The fate of an LGU initiated barangay based discussion on the management of the added land area of Loon is now in jeopardy considering that the uplifted area of it’s intertidal zone has drawn the interest of private individuals, land use planners and scientists, according to Lopez.

In a paper presented by Lopez on “The Aftermath of a Disaster, A Challenge to Local Legislation” during the 5th National Executive Board Conference of the Philippine League of Secretaries to the Sanggunniang, Inc. (PLEASES, INC) outlined the effects of the seismic uplift in his municipality.

According to Lopez “it is of utmost concern for the LGU to develop the area” while resolutions from the barangay councils urging the municipal government to “take the lead in planning for and managing the implementation of projects on the site”.

The DENR, banking on the advise of the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) has determined that certain coastal areas of Loon and Maribojoc “rose from the sea and were uplifted by up to about 1.2 meters, thereby forming unique geological features” that has to be preserved and protected.

The DENR administrative order declared that the uplift constitutes an irreplaceable segment of earth’s history and geological heritage should also be maintained for scientific, educational and tourism purposes.

The Loon – Maribojoc coast which experienced a co-seismic uplift is now known as an emergent coast, an area that was formerly under water and has gradually risen above sea level through a geologic uplift of the land.

BLEAK  FUTURE

The coastal barangays of Song-on and Canhangdon Occidental in Loon with 494 fisher folk families are deeply distressed about the DENR order and are facing an uncertain future, according to Lopez.

Nine other coastal barangays – Tontonan, Cuasi, Tangnan, Pig-ot, Basdacu, Lintuan, Napo, Cogon Norte and Basac will be affected by the declaration.

Fishermen in the  fishing village of Punta Cruz in Maribojoc with it’s altered shore now marked by a shoreline 50 meters farthest seaward is now fishing in the deep seas of Maribojoc Bay while the LGU has provided  fish cages (payaws) to sustain their livelihood according to Evasco.

But the DENR speaking thru Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Nestor Canda told the Chronicle “the fears of the LGU are misplaced since the issuance of the AO is not final” adding “consultations will be conducted with the affected parties before the issuance of a Presidential Proclamation (PP)”.

According to Canda, provisions of the existing AO can still be revised depending on the inputs of the consultation with the stakeholders before it will be finalized and submitted to the Office of the President for the issuance of a Presidential Proclamation and the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).

But Lopez maintained that based on the Local Government Code periodic consultations with the LGU and concerned sectors of the community shall be conducted by national agencies before any project or program is implemented.

Citing the more than 1,270 Chocolate Hills in Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan spread over 50 square kilometers which was declared as the country’s third Natural Monument on June 28, 1988, Canda said “this is the best argument for protected areas that has contributed to the local economy thru tourism”.

The issuance of the DENR order has thrown a monkey wrench on the LGU of Loon and Maribojoc’s development plans for their added land areas, pushing the Sanggunniang’s of both municipalities to call for a joint session on Monday, June 1, 2015 at the Loon Session Hall.

Marginalized fishermen who previously relied on municipal waters for their diet and livelihood has cast their lot on new livelihood opportunities provided by these “seismic uplifted dry lands” deemed very important by municipal officials to poor coastal communities with minimal options for formal employment.

Local officials fear that the DENR order could put the future of their development plans in peril while fundamental issues needs to be addressed by the DENR through a consultation process that should have been conducted before the issuance of the administrative order.(CMV)

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