By Jonathan L. Mayuga & Bernadette Nicolas
BEFORE President Duterte’s plane soared to the sky and beamed toward China, he was thinking of Boracay. In fact, the Chief Executive expressed his thoughts on putting the world-famous beach destination under agrarian reform.
The President’s pronouncement prompted officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to immediately look into the island’s land classification for purpose of land distribution under Republic Act 6657, specifically, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), as amended by Republic Act 9007, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform (CARPer).
The pollution-challenged Boracay Island in the Municipality of Malay, Aklan, is a world-renowned tourist destination that was recently ordered closed to tourism activities for six months. The closure, which started on April 26, is expected to fast-track rehabilitation and to allow the island’s degraded environment to recuperate.
Being a public statement coming from the highest official of the land, the President’s public pronouncement and the idea of placing Boracay Island under CARP have generated a lot of questions.
The main question is: Could Boracay be placed under Carp?
To CARP or not to CARP
BORACAY’S land currently has two classifications by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1064 signed in 2006 by then President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Proclamation 1064 declared 628.96 hectares of Boracay Island’s total 1,006.64-hectare land area as agricultural land, hence alienable and disposable, and the remaining 377.68 hectares forest lands for protection purposes.
The legality of Proclamation 1064 was affirmed by a Supreme Court decision, invalidating all existing land ownership claims prior to the proclamation, in effect declaring the entire island as state-owned.
This decision from the High Tribunal affirmed Proclamation 1064 issued by Arroyo, classifying Boracay Island as both a forestland, which is for “protection purposes,” and an agricultural land, which is “alienable and disposable.”
The case for the Court decision stemmed from the petitions filed by two groups of resort owners.
The decision underscored that the private claimants failed to prove the first element of continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of their lands on Boracay since June 12, 1945.
Castriciones explained that those classified as “alienable and disposable” can be distributed to farmer beneficiaries.
ACCORDING to the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) of Aklan, Boracay only has natural forest, which means there is no production forest or tree plantation on the island.
Boracay Island is comprised of three barangays—Manoc-Manoc, Balbag and Yapak. It is within the Municipality of Malay, one of the 17 towns that comprise the Province of Aklan.
Being partly an agricultural land, part of Boracay can technically be covered by Carp, according to officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). DAR is the lead implementing agency of the law that gave birth to the first Aquino administration’s social justice program, which aims to provide land to the landless farmers.
Proclamation 1064 takes its roots from Presidential Proclamation (PP) 1801, which was issued in 1978 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. PP 1801 ruled that certain islands, coves and peninsulas in the Philippines, which include Boracay Island, were declared as tourist zones and marine reserves under the administration and control of the Philippine Tourism Authority.
However, being previously an island which has been separated from the land mass and with no legal classification, lands on the island were treated as forestland by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), said Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones, the spokesman of Secretary Roy A. Cimatu.
THE DAR’s own accomplishment report said all CARPable lands in Malay have been distributed as of last year. The CARPable land covers a total of 1,882 hectares, which were distributed to a total of 2,795.
This, however, should not have ended CARP implementation, as Carp is a continuing social justice program that aims to distribute land to the landless.
Prior to Duterte’s pronouncement, there is no CARP-covered land on Boracay Island.
This was debunked by officials of the DAR. In fact, some parts of Boracay can now be added as land distribution balance under the program.
During a news conference in Quezon City on April 30, DAR officials led by Secretary John R. Castriciones and Undersecretary David D. Erro said agrarian reform was implemented on the island even prior to the CARP.
While saying Duterte has no marching orders yet to place Boracay’s agricultural land under CARP, if so ordered by the President, the DAR is ready to implement the order, which he said “stands on valid and legal grounds.”
“There was agrarian reform on Boracay Island before,” says Erro, “so the President is correct in placing Boracay under land reform.”
“There’s a leasehold contract. Sometime in March 1992, there’s already a leasehold contract under PD 27, the land reform version of [then President] Marcos,” he said. “There is 0.5 hectare covered by a leasehold contract in Barangay Manoc-Manoc.”
There are also approved land conversion applications that exempted a total of 80.61 hectares of agricultural land from CARP.
These are the 80.11-hectare land in Barangay Yapak, filed by the heirs of Federico Sarabia and Salvacion Sarabia, the owners of Sarabia Optical which is now part of the Fairways & Blue Water, a famous resort on the island; and a 0.5-hectare lot assigned to Ignacio Colesio of Boracay Island Water Inc., a subsidiary of the Ayala-led Manila Water in Barangay Manoc-Manoc.
On top of these approved land conversions is a 139.83-hectare agricultural land in Barangay Yapak, filed by Fil-Estate Properties Inc., which was approved by the DAR on June 2, 1998.
DAR officials undertook a site inspection on Boracay a few days after Duterte publicly announced his plan to put Boracay under Carp.
According to Castriciones, the DAR was able to establish that a total of 15.5 hectares of agricultural land on the island can be immediately covered by land reform.
But he said there remain 408.51 hectares that were exempted and converted under CARP with “illegal structures” that can be covered and added to the balance for land distribution under CARP and CARPer. These could and would be distributed “if the President so orders.”’
The two officials noted that out of 31 homestead or free patents issued on Boracay, 21 were subjected already to reversion proceedings.
According to the two officials, the indigenous people (IP) living on the island will be the priority beneficiaries in case of CARP implementation.
There are several IP tribes living on the island, but they are now concentrated in a two-hectare beachfront in Barangay Manoc-Manoc, protected by a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).
“These Atis of Boracay were farmers who were driven away from their ancestral land,” Castriciones said.
The DAR in Region 4, he added, identified 84 possible agrarian reform beneficiaries on the island.
PLACING Boracay under CARP and CARPer is also covered by existing policies.
A research conducted by the BusinessMirror revealed that Executive Order (EO) 407, as amended by EO 448 and EO 506, is applicable.
Under such policy, there is no need to issue a notice of coverage (NOC) but the government will just turn over the land and document ownership for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries. EO 407, as amended, was issued during the effectivity of RA 6657.
RA 9700, to note, did not totally repeal RA 6657 as it is merely an amendatory law.
For government-owned agricultural land, alienable and disposable untitled public agricultural land (Upal), or even titled agricultural land foreclosed by government financial institutions, land reserved for public purposes covered by proclamation but no longer alienable and disposable for the purposes of reservation may all be covered under EO 407 and there would be no need for a notice of coverage.
As for privately owned titled agricultural land, the CARPer deadline of June 30, 2014, for the issuance of a notice of coverage applies.
But those who may be affected in Boracay are applicants of alienable and disposable UPALs if there is any.
UPALs and alienable and disposable lands, technically, are within the jurisdiction of the DENR.
The President, however, should issue a proclamation declaring these lands as land reform area for distribution to qualified farmer-beneficiaries.
But there are other existing policies related to CARP and CARPer that need to be further studied.
WEIGHING in on the issue of Boracay being placed under CARP, government officials and an expert are supportive of the plan.
Castriciones said, “If that is the policy directive of the President, we will follow suit.”
“Well, I am here as a soldier of the President. If the President says so, I will implement it,” he said, adding that not the entire Boracay land may be distributed to farmers since not all areas can be farmed, such as beachfronts.
Leones said that if ever the government pushes through with the land reform plan, it would be possible that Boracay will still be a tourism zone while it maintains farms.
“That is the ideal direction. We call that sustainable development,” he said, noting that it would be great if the island can also maintain a source of food production within the area.
“The status of Boracay will be great because you will be able to manage and maximize and optimize the benefit within the island rather than just having mostly buildings and tourists,” Leones added.
IN a Palace briefing earlier this month, DILG Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III said the country will be losing an estimated P18 billion to P20 billion in gross tourism receipts if Boracay will be closed for the whole six months.
That is why they are targeting to finish it within three months to four months.
Asked if what the country will be losing in tourism receipts can be regained in what the country will be gaining from utilizing the agricultural lands in Boracay, Leones said: “Yeah, who knows?”
“We have too much gross [tourism] receipts and we have gained a lot of revenues. There are many buildings there even in forestland if you put buildings there,” he said. “But will that ensure the stability of the island?”
Leones added the DENR believes converting Boracay “into something stable, sustainable, the profit will not be that immediate.”
“But in the long run…because of sustainability of the island in the long run, we will be benefitting more,” he said.
LEONES said mid-April that the President has directed the interagency to conduct a land audit in Boracay to determine the status of the land and to identify which parts of the agricultural land can be distributed to farmers.
Leones said they are already undertaking a land audit.
“We need to know what can be given to farms, although we already know that there are 600 hectares of agricultural land,” Leones said. “But what is the status of the area? What are the lands available for distribution to farmers?”
According to Leones, some of these areas have been occupied by buildings, occupied by other infrastructure.
“So we need now an audit of this agricultural land,” he said, noting that the DAR should be requested to be involved in determining the areas that may possibly be given to farmers.
ROLANDO Dy, executive director of the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Center for Food and Agribusiness, said the loss in gross tourism receipts cannot be compensated with the possible revenues from maintaining farms in Boracay.
Dy also suggested that Boracay should instead be transformed into an agri-tourism spot and that the government should have a comprehensive plan for such vision.
“There should be a manager for agri-tourism. There is a need for professional managers because tourists are a big market,” Dy said, citing agri-tourism examples such as the butterfly farm in Penang, Malaysia.
“You can also do an aviary farm. Maybe that has more high value than just planting corn.”
Dy, however, noted there were only subsistence farms before Boracay boomed into a world-famous tourist spot.
It was the indigenous people who were into subsistence farming, he added.
Dy said subsistence farming is different from commercial farming as subsistence farming refers to self-sufficiency farming.
The Philippines was among the top eight agri-tourism destinations in the world at the Mother Nature Network’s website. Other destinations included on the list were Taiwan, Brazil, California, Hawaii, Grenada in the Caribbean, Mallorca in Spain and Tuscany in Italy.
BORACAY, however, is now heavily populated since the tourism boom that started in the 1980s and 1990s.
Many lands on the island, both forestland and agricultural land, have been built with commercial and residential buildings.
In 2000 there are only around 12,000 residents on the island. In 2015 the population grew to 32, 267, accounting for more than 60.9 percent of the population of the Municipality of Malay.
Tourism on the island employs around 17,000 individuals from Boracay and mainland Malay, according to the Malay-LGU records.
Together with the informally employed, Boracay Island provides employment to more than 35,000 people—including vendors, sand-castle builders, tattoo artists and entertainers.
Malay’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism activities on the island.
There have been no farming activities on the island for a very long time, according to persons familiar to the matter. They added tourism has been their way of life for a very long time.
AS it already is, Boracay is becoming overcrowded, with residential and commercial buildings even encroaching on supposedly no-build zones like forestland, wetland and even coastal areas or beaches.
Even Boracay’s main roads are not spared from illegal construction activities, with a total of 679 structures having been listed as violators of the 12-meter road easement rule.
But Cimatu said about 98 percent of those with structures that need to be removed from the roads have agreed to self-demolish.
Meanwhile, owners of 948 structures—business establishments, commercial, commercial-residential, and residential buildings—were issued show-cause orders for violation of the Forestry Code of the Philippines so far. The DENR is expected to evaluate all documentary evidence to be presented by those accused of violating the Forestry Code to prevent eviction and the demolition of their illegal structures.
The latest list obtained by the BusinessMirror revealed that many of these “illegal occupants” have justified their construction, although it has issued a total of 161 notices to vacate to those who failed to show proof that they are legal occupants.
THE militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or movement of peasants in the Philippines) led by Danilo Ramos told the BusinessMirror they are more concerned about the potential economic impact of the loss of jobs and livelihood on the island because of the six-month arbitrary closure imposed by the Duterte administration.
Ramos argued that even if there are productive agricultural lands left on the island, they may not even qualify under CARP, because of the elevation or slope, which is above 18 degrees.
Even if a piece of land is classified as agricultural, he said, there is an existing guideline that restricts CARP coverage to productive agricultural land with tenants or qualified beneficiaries.
“We are more concerned about the fishermen who will be affected by the closure. These fishermen provide services to tourists [divers] who want to go boating,” Ramos said.
Asked how they are planning to remove “illegal structures” built on agricultural lands on the island, Castriciones said it will be the job of other national government agencies, including the local government of Malay.
BORACAY has a fragile ecosystem. In fact, the DENR led by Cimatu has already put in place a policy that will enhance the management of a portion of the island through the declaration of a “critical habitat” under RA 9147, or the Wildlife Act.
Cimatu is expected to sign a Department Administrative Order establishing 750 hectares as part of the Boracay Island Critical Habitat.
This is to protect three species of flying foxes, also called fruit bats, cave-dwelling insect bats, and marine turtles that frequent its beaches, particularly the Puka Shell Beach.
Aside from the Boracay Island Critical Habitat, there are also missing wetlands which the DENR chief wants to recover from illegal structures.
Agriculture is known to have an adverse impact not only on biodiversity in the upland areas but also in the coastal and marine environment.
Already challenged by pollution, the wisdom of encouraging agricultural production on an already fragile island is again put to fore.
Everybody has a piece to say about what should be done to Boracay. But nobody seemed to take time to listen and listen closely as to what its stakeholders really want.
From the beginning, many Boracay stakeholders have expressed support to rehabilitate Boracay—but they never agreed to shut it down because of its adverse economic impact to the entire town.
ON April 25, a day before Boracay’s closure, two workers and a tourist filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the government’s decision to close Boracay to tourism activities.
Filed before the SC are petitions for prohibition and mandamus against President Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
Sandcastle-builder Mark Anthony Zabal, driver Thiting Jacosalem and Odon Bandiola, a tourist, sought for a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and/or a status quo ante order from the SC.
They said that the closure order is “a patent abuse of power and reckless disregard of the law” and “infringes on their Constitutional rights to travel and due process.”
Their argument is also aired by various stakeholders on the island since Duterte first brought up the plan to close Boracay, which he described as a “cesspool”. They said unlike those who were found to have violated environmental laws, they are being punished for acts which they did not commit.
Some businessmen are supportive even of the plan to declare certain areas part of a critical habitat, noting that the problem on Boracay has grown from bad to worse. Still, they argue it is not “that worse” to merit closure—and for six months at that.
ACCORDING to the DENR, among various violations committed on the island are illegal construction of buildings on no-build zones, conduct of business operations without necessary permits, and discharge of untreated wastewater directly or indirectly into water bodies and aquifers, causing water pollution.
Despite their protests, the closure, nevertheless, pushed through and, just a week into the planned rehabilitation, comes now the proposal: declare certain areas of Boracay’s lands that are classified as “agricultural” as CARP area and give it to qualified farmer-beneficiaries.
Now, some of the island’s residents are wondering: What have we done wrong?