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Council appeals for freeze on land use conversion in Puerto Princesa

Friday, August 01, 2008 [ manilatimes.net ]

PUERTO PRINCESA: Fearing approval of a huge number of applications to convert valuable forest and timberland which they had nurtured and protected from destruction for decades to alienable and disposable land, the Puerto Princesa City Council has asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to order a moratorium in processing of these land applications and the issuance of special land use permits.

Now a highly-urbanized city, Puerto Princesa has a land area of 254,000 hectares making it the biggest city in the country in terms of land area. However, most of its land area is comprised of lush tropical forests rich in wildlife and natural resources. “These tropical forests and our other natural resources are being seriously threatened for take-over by land speculators and predatory big business interests with strong political ties who now want to reclassify, alienate and declare these priceless forest lands free for commercial exploitation and abuse,” Vice Mayor Lucilo Bayron said as he expressed the united stand of the city council.

The Puerto Princesa City Council unanimously approved resolution No. 303-2008v “strongly urging the DENR, Provincial Environment Office and the city environment and natural resources office to declare a moratorium in the processing of applications for the reclassification of land from forest and timberland to alienable and disposable land, including the issuance of socialized industrial forest management agreements and other special land use permits and agreements in the city.

The council resolution explained that “the moratorium is required and it is urgent and necessary to have a total inventory and evaluation of land under the political boundaries of the city to obtain a complete picture of where to conserve land for future use and those that could be utilized today to develop and promote growth areas for socio-economic activities that are “environment-friendly, sustainable and conform to the long term or strategic development plan of the city.”

The city environment officer is in the process of conducting a general survey of all types of lands in the city—private or government-owned, lands under special use agreements, lands under the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association—in order to fix monuments to identify, establish or set the boundaries of the different land uses from one another.

“It is indeed ironic, the city does not know the exact boundaries and status of all the land under its jurisdiction yet there are already various attempts to alienate and declare these forest areas free for exploitation and ownership by greedy land speculators and predatory business groups,” Mayor Edward Hagedorn said.

In its resolution, the council said the city government is in the process of finally deploying landmarks though the Global Positioning System coordinates that will help identify and mark boundaries and which shall finally help resolve the numerous barangay boundary disputes in the city.

For his part, Hagedorn said the city’s leadership is proud of the honor and distinction received by Puerto Princesa for “being named the last environmental frontier of the Philippines”.

Hagedorn said it is incumbent on the present leaders of the city and country to help ensure that the city’ s and the country’s timberlands as a whole remain as timberlands in order to minimize the encroachment of people that often lead to the denudation and eventual decimation of our forests. In the case of Puerto Princesa, we are economically dependent on eco-tourism, agriculture, fishing and aqua-culture. Any widespread destruction of our natural resources will adversely affect the well-being and future of the city and its residents,” Hagedorn said.

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