The Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Palawan province ordered the group of billionaire Beatriz Zobel de Ayala to vacate a timberland they occupied in Taytay town, which is covered by the Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape.
Eriberto Saños, officer-in-charge of Palawan’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), said community environment and natural resources officer Allan Valle on March 9 issued a notice to vacate to the group of Zobel de Ayala for alleged violation of Republic Act No. 11038, or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or E-NIPAS Act of 2018.
“There was an investigation made by CENRO, and we received reports and communication about the case. Based on the investigation, it was found out that the property they occupied was in conflict [with the law], which means not all of the property was agricultural, or we can say alienable and disposable. A large portion is timberland,” Saños said.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by a tribal group about the alleged illegal occupation of and construction of structures by the group of Zobel de Ayala in Sitio Maypa, Barangay Pancol, Taytay, Palawan.
The property is a part of Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape which covers 200,115 hectares of both aquatic and terrestrial environment with diverse ecosystems in Palawan. It was declared a marine protected area in 2000.
Christopher Louie Ocampo, the legal counsel of Zobel de Ayala, said the original complainant “has withdrawn that complaint and the Council of Elders of NTTPB (Nagkakaisang Tribu Tandolanon Barangay Pancol) issued Resolution No. 37, Series of 2020 disowning the complaint for having been filed without its knowledge and authority”.
“Ms. Zobel de Ayala is a law-abiding citizen and respects the people of Taytay, Palawan, which is evident from her dealings with them. She will continue her endeavors in supporting the community. She is ensuring that all permits, clearances or applications for her lawful use of the property are in order. Ms. Zobel de Ayala has engaged counsel to advise and assist her on this matter and to coordinate with the authorities,” Ocampo said.
Saños said that after issuing the notice to vacate, his agency is observing the due process. He said a final notice to vacate would be issued to Zobel de Ayala in observance of the administrative procedure required by the Prosecutor’s Office.
"Based on our experience, the Prosecutor's Office usually determines if the administrative procedures have been exhausted. So we issued the notice to vacate, before the case of illegal occupation can be filed," he said.
He said the next step is to wait for applications from the Zobel de Ayala camp such as tenurial instruments for the timberland and public clearance for the alienable and disposable land. "What we can do is to complete the process. On our part, we issued the stop work order. Our higher office will then decide," he said.
While the Nagkakaisang Tribu Tandolanon Barangay Pancol, an indigenous group, reportedly withdrew its complaint against the group of Zobel de Ayala, Puerto Princesa City-Environmental Legal Assistance Center Inc. asked the DENR to dig deeper into the alleged use and occupation of untitled lands in the area.
“We respectfully request the DENR to look into reclamation activities and tourism-related construction activities in El Nido and Coron, Palawan which apparently have not undergone the appropriate consultations, environmental impact assessments/studies and have led, among others, the destruction of mangrove areas [particularly in El Nido],” Environmental Legal Assistance Center Inc. (ELAC) executive director Grizela Mayo-Anda said in a letter to DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu on June 5.
Mayo-Anda said ELAC was in possession of two letters signed by a leader of Nagkakaisang Tribu Tandolanon Barangay Pancol. A certain Felipe Valones, chieftain of NTTBP and a member of the Protected Area Management Board, asked the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office of Taytay to look into the alleged permanent concrete buildings erected in Sitio Maypa upon the orders of Zobel de Ayala.
ELAC expressed concern that the entry and occupation of untitled properties in protected areas and in ancestral domains in Palawan would continue unless the DENR began to intervene and initiate the appropriate legal actions.
“We initially gathered information from concerned community leaders and other citizens that the concerned DENR-CENRO and PAMB offices were aware of these developments but have not done any concrete actions to address these problems,” the NGO said.