This is with reference to the Malaya Business Insight article, “PRA has not acted on 344 illegal reclamations: COA,” published on September 30, 2019.

The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) would like to clarify that it is untrue that this agency has not acted on illegal reclamations as it was upon PRA’s initiative that these illegal reclamation cases were recorded. In fact, the Commission on Audit’s observation stemmed from PRA’s operational funds that were legitimately utilized in the investigation, inspection, and monitoring of illegally reclaimed lands all over the country. The PRA, nevertheless, remains firm that the expenses are necessary in the exercise of its mandate to regulate land reclamation and forfeit illegally reclaimed lands.

However, the regularization and forfeiture of illegally reclaimed land is not an instant undertaking. The PRA follows not only its own administrative orders (AO) but the rules of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as well. The delay in processing of illegal reclamations can be attributed to the numerous but necessary “no objection clearances” from other government agencies. Without these, the PRA cannot proceed with its review and evaluation of the subject illegal reclamation.

Out of the 344 illegal reclamations mentioned in the article, 292 were said to have pending applications. This is an outdated information since from the 292, only 109 remain under the jurisdiction of PRA; 104 of which availed of the amnesty program in 2005 and five in 2008. The violators pertaining to the remaining 183 sites were unresponsive or did not signify their intention to pursue their application despite a number of notices from PRA. Hence, they were endorsed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) back in the year 2013 as per the environmental agency’s rules and regulations.

As for the 52 illegally reclaimed lands, the violators related to these cases were issued cease and desist orders (CDO) as a product of PRA’s efforts.   

Titling and forfeiture processes

As mentioned in the article, the titling processes of the said reclamations have remained unresolved. For the PRA to review and evaluate illegal reclamation, the illegal reclaimer must submit documentary requirements. Among these are “no objection clearances” 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.

The PRA then 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 109 illegal reclamation under PRA’s jurisdiction, only 38 have so far completed the application requirements. They were reviewed and Board-approved by PRA. These 38 illegal reclamation were then subjected to another round of requirements for the issuance of Presidential Proclamation as per DENR rules and regulations. To date, only two successfully complied with the DENR requirements and were subsequently issued Presidential Proclamation. The PRA’s land share for one of the two sites was finalized while the other one is being discussed.

Issuance of CDOs

Aside from processing amnesty applications, PRA is doing its role to prevent the commencement and continuation of illegal reclamation activities. As mentioned in the article, PRA has issued CDOs 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.   

Government gain 

In contrast to the COA observation that the government has not benefited from the 344 reclaimed lands, the PRA clarifies that the Philippine government benefits 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 reclamations 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 least PhP 180 million.

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.

Actions needed

Based on existing laws, the forfeiture process of illegally reclaimed lands cannot be done by the PRA alone. It requires partnership with the DENR. In 2012, the PRA and the DENR signed a Memoradum of Agreement (MOA) to establish guidelines on the forfeiture proceedings of illegally reclaimed lands. However, in 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an opinion that in effect required amendment on the subject MOA. The DENR proposed amendments and the PRA subsequently integrated these amendments in a draft supplemental MOA. The PRA repeatedly followed up the status of the MOA with the DENR through letters dated 29 July 2016 and 07 March 2018. Unfortunately, no concrete action on the part of the DENR was communicated to PRA. 

 

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