LA TRINIDAD, Benguet (Jan. 23) – Affected residents in Itogon and Benguet local officials criticized the Land Management Services of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (LMS-DENR)-Cordillera for approving the survey plan of a housing cooperative involving some officials and employees of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) over a portion of land in Itogon despite overlapping land claims over the area.
The Headquarters Support Group PMA Housing Cooperative applied for the reclassification of a 30-hectare land between Barangay Gumatdang and Ucab, Itogon but was met with opposition from affected residents and municipal officials.
Clarita Ampagey-Bumidang, an affected resident who has been applying for the titling of her land since 1975 said the LMS-DENR denied her applications on grounds that the area was classified as forest reserve. She added that her land claim has been tax declared for decades.
“When we were applying for titling, LMS-DENR simply cancelled our applications saying that we can not apply for titling in the area because it is part of a forest reservation. They (LMS-DENR officials) did not tell us that we should apply for reclassification first,” Bumidang said in Ilocano.
Lucy Ampagey, also an affected claimant questioned the procedures of the LMS-DENR, saying it was unfair. She said, the said office could have at least consulted the land claimants before approving the housing cooperative’s survey plan.
Lulu Gimenez of the Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit Tako)-Benguet also questioned the hasty facilitation of the PMA housing cooperative’s application despite the DENR’s knowledge of the overlapping proclamations over the contested area. She added that aside from the forest reservation and mineral land proclamation the whole of Itogon is also a watershed reservation for the San Roque dam, downstream in the Benguet-Pangasinan border.
“If DENR follows the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS), being the agency tasked to implement land laws, it should have not entertained PMA’s (housing cooperative) application in the first place,” Gimenez explained.
Gimenez further said that under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) the DENR should have conducted consultations with affected indigenous peoples whether or not the area is already awarded a certificate of ancestral land title (CALT) or certificate of certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT). “The IPRA does not say that IPs need to secure CALTs or CADTs before their rights over their land be recognized,” she stressed.
Itogon Councilor Michael Tauli said the PMA housing cooperative’s survey plan covers portions of Sitio Tupdac, Peday and Karayan Kanog all of Barangay Ucab and Sitio Bisil in Barangay Gumatdang. He added that there are around 20 affected families in the contested area.
Tauli agreed with Gimenez that the said parcel of land is also covered by several proclamations that include forest reserve and mineral lands aside from overlapping land claims that include several mining claims. He said LMS-DENR should be aware of the status of the said area because it is assisting the municipal task force created to resolve land tenure problems in Itogon.
Revocation of survey plan
Board Member Aloysius Kato filed a resolution asking LMS-DENR to revoke the survey plan of the PMA housing cooperative.
Kato stressed that the approval of the PMA housing cooperative’s survey plan reveals the inconsistencies of the LMS-DENR. “Why did they (LMS-DENR) not give the residents the same assistance they gave the HSG-PMA housing cooperative?” he stressed.
Board Member Juan Nazaro filed a related resolution condemning the alleged use of uniformed PMA officers during the plotting of monuments for the survey plan in the area.
Regional Surveys Division-DENR Chief Benjamin Ventura admitted the approval of the HSG-PMA housing cooperative survey plan on October 10, 2006 despite discovering the overlapping claims earlier on September 7, 2006.
Ventura said they were just following proper procedures. He said the approval of the survey plan is the first step towards reclassification.
Helma Aboy, OIC of the Reservation and Land Grant Section-LMS said they stopped processing the housing cooperative’s application after receiving the Itogon municipal council resolution endorsing the opposition of affected residents. She assured the affected residents and Benguet officials that LMS-DENR would not continue processing the HSG-PMA application until all isuues are resolved.
Capt. Alex Resinto, a board member of the HSG PMA housing cooperative iterated that the cooperative is a separate entity from the country’s premier military school. # Kim Quitasol for NORDIS