KABAYAN, Benguet – The municipal government is proposing that concerned government agencies that have jurisdiction on the disposition of lands should formulate unified rules governing protected areas to prevent further encroachments in forest and watershed reservations as well as safeguarded areas to prevent further encroachments that will compromise the country’s state of environment.
Mayor Florante Bantales, Jr. underscored the confusion that emanated in the case of Mount Pulag National Park, the country’s second highest mountain peak, in the enforcement of forestry laws by the environment department and Republic Act (RA) 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) because of the conflict in the implementation of the said laws.
He claimed that there have been instances that the ENR strictly prohibited the habitation of forest and watershed reservations because they are not alienable and disposable but in the case of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), there are areas that are considered as the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples which is allegedly being taken advantage by certain individuals to encroach some portions of Mount Pulag.
“It should be the DENR that will take the lead in the filing of cases against those identified individuals who encroached in portions of Mount Pulag and that the apprehending law enforcers will serve as witnesses because they were arrested while performing their illegal acts within the reservation. We need to have a unified stand and collective effort to be able to put a stop on the denudation of our sacred mountain,” Mayor Bantales stressed.
The municipal chief executive claimed there had also been instances in the past where the law enforcers filed cases against illegal loggers and those who were involved in the expansion of commercial farms but they were allegedly abandoned by their witnesses and the concerned government agencies that caused the dismissal of the cases filed against the arrested persons.
According to him, the illegal loggers and owners of commercial vegetable farms are reportedly armed, aside from using units of heavy equipment, to pursue the expansion of the commercial vegetable farms into the forested areas which need urgent drastic action from the concerned government agencies.
Bantales admitted that the expanded commercial farms are slowly encroaching into the protected area of Mount Pulag that is why it is important that there are unified rules governing the protected areas to avoid confusion among local governments and concerned government agencies on how to address the situation within their respective areas of jurisdiction.
The mayor also proposed to the DENR to already turnover to the municipal government the management of tourist arrivals in Mount Pulag so that it will be able to regulate the entry of visitors within the reservation and formulate the necessary plans to contain the further encroachments and expansion of commercial vegetable farms into the protected areas.
Local governments in Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya and Ifugao host various portions of the Mount Pulag National Park which owns the distinction of being the highest mountain peak in Luzon and the second highest mountain in the country.