This is with reference to the ABS-CBN News article, “Gov’t finances 344 illegal reclamation: COA,” published on September 30, 2019. The headline is misleading as it conveys the impression that it is the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) which bankrolls these illegal reclamation when the real story should be that PRA is spending to apprehend, inspect, and monitor illegally reclaimed lands all over the country. The PRA would like to clarify that it is its mandate to regulate land reclamation. Hence, PRA allocates and spends operational funds to investigate and forfeit lands reclaimed without undergoing the required legal procedures. The forfeited land shall be titled under the name of PRA in behalf of the Philippine government.

This exercise of mandate and fund spending does not in any way translate to a private developer’s direct financial gain from PRA. On the contrary, PRA and the Philippine government benefit from the penalties and filing and processing fees imposed on illegal reclaimers. When the PRA launched amnesty programs for regularization of illegally reclaimed lands in 2005 and 2008, it resulted to a collection of PhP 28 million received from the years 2005 to 2018 in terms of penalties and filing fees. The PRA is likewise entitled to get a minimum of 30% land share from these illegal reclamation who availed of the amnesty/regularization programs in 2005 and 2008. On the other hand, those who failed or refused to avail of the amnesty/regularization programs in 2005 and 2008, would be subject to total forfeiture in favor of the state. Most importantly, the sale and/or lease of forfeited land is projected to provide weighty income for the government. For two illegally reclaimed lands alone, the combined projected value of PRA land share is at PhP 180 million.

Out of the 292 sites of illegally reclaimed land mentioned in the article, only 109 remain under the jurisdiction of PRA as 104 of which availed of the amnesty program in 2005 and five in 2008. The remaining 183 sites that neither underwent amnesty nor regularization procedures were endorsed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as per the environmental agency’s rules and regulations.

However, regularization and forfeiture of illegally reclaimed land is not an instant procedure. PRA follows not only its own administrative orders (AO) but DENR rules as well. The developers of the 109 sites’ delayed completion of documents can be attributed to the numerous but necessary “no objection clearances” required to be secured from the Department of Health, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Tourism, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the concerned LGUs. The DENR and its regional offices likewise impose additional requirement/s depending on the site characteristics. After the illegal reclaimers’ completion of requirements and its subsequent submission to PRA, the PRA conducts review and evaluation prior to board approval. The PRA thereafter endorses it to the DENR for processing leading to the issuance of Presidential Proclamation (PP), Special Patent, and Original Certificate of Title. Only then can PRA determine a land share that should be advantageous to the government.

Out of the 104 illegal reclamation that availed of the amnesty program in 2005, only 38 have completed the requirements and were subsequently reviewed and approved by PRA. Twenty-five out of the 38 were endorsed to the DENR from the years 2007 to 2018 for issuance of PP. To date, only two out of 25 were issued a PP. The PRA’s land share for one of the two sites was finalized while the other one is being discussed.

On the issue of the developers’ continued economic gains despite being situated on an illegally reclaimed land, the PRA stresses that it is beyond its mandate to revoke business permits and clearances pertaining to commercial and industrial operations. These regulations are within the powers of the LGUs and other government agencies who issue business licenses and permits to operate. Further, most of these illegally reclaimed lands are covered by tenurial instruments or lease agreements with the DENR. The government, through the said offices, gain from regulating these economic activities.

It is also important to consider that not all illegally reclaimed lands are for industrial and commercial purposes. Some sites were reclaimed and are being used by local government units and other government agencies for public use, social services, and institutional purposes. Some of these are being used as sites for public parks, barangay halls, municipal hall, community fish landing, day care centers, and public market.

While it is beyond PRA’s mandate to terminate operations on illegally reclaimed lands, PRA is doing its role to prevent commencement and continuation of illegal reclamation activities. As mentioned in the article, PRA has issued Cease and Desist Orders (CDO) to 52 newly discovered illegal reclamation sites all over the country as of 2018. The CDOs aim to prevent an individual or a company’s prospect to gain economic benefits from an illegally reclaimed land. More importantly, the CDOs intend to prevent negative environmental impact that the unauthorized reclamation may cause to its surroundings.  

Original signed
Atty. Janilo E. Rubiato
General Manager & CEO
Philippine Reclamation Authority