Even the 700-hectare government reforestation area in Brgy. Bagong, Silang, Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental, that is located inside the Northern Negros Natural Park, has not been spared by private individuals, who had purchased the rights from illegal settlers living inside the park.
The Bagong Silang Binhi Association, reported to the Provincial Environment Management Office, through its Task Force Ilahas, that they are now barred from the area by an Escalante businessman, who claims to have bought the rights to occupy the area from residents residing at the park, even without tenurial instruments.
The BSBA is a people's organization contracted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Energy Development Corporation to reforest and protect the 700-hectare area in Brgy. Bagong Silang, Don Salvador Benedicto.
Sunny Duran Antonio, its chairperson, and its project manager, Kenneth Nicor, told TFI investigators, who were accompanied by Bacolod CENRO forest rangers during a site inspection, that five of the 700-hectare Community-Based Forest Management Area they are planting with endemic trees, have already been encroached on by this businessman from Escalante.
In his report to TFI executive officer Jose Maria Valencia, Chief Inspector Gabriel Gutierrez, TFI Action Officer, said they are now barred from entering the area, which form part of their CBFMA agreement.
The complainants also submitted a formal complaint to the Bacolod CENR Office on Oct. 11, and are requesting assistance for the dismantling of barbed wire fences put up by the businessman, whose identity is being withheld, while his answer to the allegations against him is awaited.
The businessman allegedly ignored the warnings of the complainants and continued the clearing operations, which has already damaged the endemic trees planted.
Antonio also reported that a portion of their area at Spur 7 was also encroached on by this businessman, and fencing activities are visible, although no structures have been constructed yet, Gutierrez, in his report, said.
More farm lots, outside of CBFMA, but located inside the NNNP, especially in Sitio Dahonan, Brgy. Bagong Silang, Don Salvador Benedicto, are also occupied by some private individuals, and transformed into piggery and fishponds, he added.
Barangay residents are also prevented from passing the farm lots, on orders of the owners, who reportedly bought the lots from illegal settlers for millions of pesos, Gutierrez also said.
Nicor and Antonio, and some concerned citizens, are willing to act as witnesses, of charges will be filed against the buyers and sellers of government property inside the park.
The barangay of Bagong Silang is the watershed area of Don Salvador Benedicto town. If encroachment activities continue, the source of potable water for personal and agricultural use will be in peril, Gutierrez said.
Because of the cool weather and its tourism potentials, the national highway traversing Bagong Silang of Don Salvador Benedicto and Sagay City attract more buyers to purchase property in the area, he added.
Gutierrez suggested that concrete and cohesive actions should be undertaken by government agencies to stop the buying and selling of farm lots inside the NNNP.
He recommended the filing of charges against the identified buyers and sellers of public land, to send a strong message that government is very serious in environmental protection.
More than a decade ago, massive timber poaching activities were also discovered inside the NNNP in Brgy. Bagong Silang, Don Salvador Benedicto,with more than 800,000 board feet of lumber and timber cut and taken from the park.*GPB