300 families in Boracay wetlands to be affected by demolition

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) — "Are you aware this is disposable and alienable?"

Margina Daña posed this question to a community environment officer who was inspecting a wetland that's been identified in barangay Balabag in Boracay Island.

Atty. Richard Fabila, officer-in-charge of the local Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) says Daña's lot could be part of a wetland and would have to be demolished.

But Daña insists the land she built her house on was not part of a wetland when she bought it in 1984 from one of the known political families in Aklan. She adds she has been filing tax declarations since as proof of her claim of ownership over the property. "The first time we were here in 1984… All of that are dry land. Magwe-wet lang siya during rainy season but it will just go down to the beach side," Daña says.

Alienable and disposable lands are part of the public domain, but can be the subject of re-classification, including private ownership, according to Fabila. He notes, "Kahit po siya ay alienable and disposable pero wala pa naman private ownership by virtue of a title at especially naging body of water siya, maari siya i-reclaim ng government. This still belongs to the government. "

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu says five of Boracay's nine wetlands would have to be reclaimed from encroachment of residential and commercial structures.

One of the wetlands is located on the island's main road, surrounded by commercial buildings, including D'Mall — a popular area for tourists.

A big area of another wetland in Bgy. Manoc-Manoc is already filled with shanties. It also has a dead forest, with dried up and fossilized trees.

Cimatu stimates there are around 100 illegal settlers occupying wetlands but a separate survey by the Department of Social Welfare and Development shows more than 300 families in wetlands could be affected by the demolition.

Fabila explains, "Itong structures na ito kung titignan natin, nuisance siya — as far as public safety is considered, as far as municipal ordinance is concerned … Kasi may municipal ordinance na bawal sa forestland, o wetland man siya. It is still within the power of the local government unit to remove these structures."

The DENR's Biodiversity Management Bureau explains why it is important to clean up and rehabilitate the wetlands. Director Krisma Rodriguez says, "Sa anim na buwan magiging focus malinis ito, for wetlands na nakakulong ang inflow and outflow, para free ang daloy ng tubig. Ang isa sa pinaka-important function ng wetland ay natural filter po siya. Pangalawa, regulatory function — i-regulate ang daloy ng tubig at pagbaha sa isang lugar." [For six months, our focus will be to clean the wetlands, and ensure the inflow and outflow of water. One of the most important functions of a wetland is as a natural filter. Second, it has a regulatory function, to regulate the flow of water and floods in one area.]

Cimatu assures families in wetland areas that their homes won't be demolished until a relocation area has been found. He adds a site has already been identified. Affected families can also avail of the DSWD's cash-for-work program and other forms of assistance. They can be tapped to take part in the rehabilitation work, "Our job in the wetlands will be manual. Di pwede equipment, so you have to have a small boat. Pinuno na nila ng debris dun sa wetlands eh. They can stay for meantime so they can also work in the wetlands. We will be needing 50-100 people to be working in wetlands," says Cimatu.