NBI sues 10 Boracay property owners for occupying forestland

DEMOLISHED Debris from demolished boarding house rooms are left at a wetland on Boracay Island during clearing operations in May 2018. Removal of illegal structures and road and drainage repairs have yet to be completed more than two years after the government started the island’s environmental rehabilitation. —NESTOR P. BURGOS JR.

ILOILO CITY, Iloilo, Philippines — The National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday filed criminal complaints against 10 residents and property owners in Boracay who were arrested on Tuesday for alleged violation of environmental laws when they occupied forestland areas on the island.

Rizaldy Rivera, special investigator of the NBI’s Environment Crime Division, said the respondents included a Belgian, a Filipino-Australian and two Britons.

The complaints were filed in the Aklan provincial prosecutor’s office against all respondents for violating Presidential Decree No. 705 (Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines) while two were also charged with violation of Presidential Decree No. 1067 (Water Code) and a municipal ordinance mandating a 30-meter beach easement.

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

They were arrested on Mt. Luho and Sitio Diniwid in Barangay Balabag and detained overnight at the Boracay police station before they were taken to the capital town of Kalibo where the complaints were filed.

‘Lawful’

Rivera said the warrantless arrest of the respondents were “lawful” because “there is actual occupation of forestlands.”

More arrests are expected as part of enforcement of environmental laws on the island which is undergoing rehabilitation, he said.

“They have ignored notices to self-demolish and to vacate forestlands and we continuously appeal to them to comply,” Rivera told the AdChoiceTV News.

Lawyer Czar Eric Nuqui, chief of the NBI’s Environmental Crime Division, said the respondents “have been repeatedly warned and sent notices of violations for several years but they chose to ignore. This is their day of reckoning.”

Manner, timing of arrest

But lawyer Emmanuel Sodusta, who is providing legal assistance to some of the respondents, questioned the manner and timing of the arrests.

“They were ‘invited’ for a discussion but were later brought to the police station. Why do this at the height of a pandemic?” he said.

A source in Boracay, who asked not to be named, told the Inquirer that the residents, including the foreigners, were cuffed and were taken to the police station onboard at least two vans.

Rivera denied that those arrested were handcuffed but admitted that the operatives were carrying rifles and handguns as part of their normal operations.

The arrests surprised several residents and property owners in Boracay.

“Some of those arrested were longtime residents who have settled here. They were issued building permits and paid taxes only to be told later that their properties were on forestlands,” a resident told the Inquirer.

Property of the state

Several property owners and longtime residents, including expatriates, have been questioning the classification of areas on the island, especially those considered as forestland.

On Oct. 8, 2008, the Supreme Court upheld Proclamation No. 1064 issued by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, declaring the entire island a property of the state, except those with titles.

Only about a third of the 1,032-hectare island is titled and most land claimants hold tax declarations and pay realty taxes, many for more than 30 years, as proof of possession or right over properties.

The island was closed to tourists for six months from April 25, 2018 to Oct. 25, 2018 to undergo rehabilitation.

The rehabilitation activities were supposed to be concluded in two years but President Duterte issued Executive Order No. 115 on May 11, extending the term of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) to a third year until May 8, 2021.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, the BIATF chair, said in March that around 1,100 illegal structures built on forestlands and on beach and road easements had yet to be removed.

He said the implementation of rehabilitation activities had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. — via Sean Tyler Chan/AdChoiceTV News

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