As early as March this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has ordered a scion of the wealthy Zobel de Ayala clan and her group to vacate timberlands that they have illegally occupied and built structures within a protected area in Taytay town, Palawan province.

The DENR regional office in MIMAROPA made this clarification in the wake of misleading news reports that the agency, particularly the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) and the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the Malampaya Sound Protected Landscape and Seascape (MSPLS), had not acted on the matter.

DENR-MIMAROPA Regional Executive Director Henry Adornado said the DENR—through CENR Officer Allan Valle—issued last March 3 a notice to vacate to the group of philanthropist Beatriz Zobel de Ayala for violating the provisions of Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System or E-NIPAS Act of 2018.

The law prohibits occupation or dwelling in any public land within a protected area, in this case the MSPLS, without clearance from the PAMB. It also forbids construction and maintenance of any kind of structure, fence and enclosure, as well as conducting any business enterprise within the protected area without prior clearance from the PAMB and permit from DENR.

“The PAMB has neither accepted from the respondents any application for tenurial instrument nor approved any construction of structures in the said area,” Adornado said.

The DENR regional director said the respondents also violated Presidential Decree 705, or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, which prohibits occupation of timberland areas without proper tenurial instrument issued by the DENR.

Adornado said Zobel de Ayala and her group were given 30 days from receipt of the notice to comply, “otherwise further legal actions shall be taken against them.”

He said the DENR had been monitoring the compliance with the eviction notice, but was restricted due to the quarantine measures imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Adornado, meanwhile, took exception to a claim by the Palawan-based Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) that the CENRO and PAMB were aware of the developments in MSPLS “but have not done any concrete actions to address these problems.”

He also pointed out that Felipe Valones, the chieftain of an indigenous peoples group who had written the DENR about the cutting of century-old trees within the protected area, was even furnished a copy of the notice to vacate issued by the CENRO.

“Records and the date of the issued notice show that even before receipt of the said letter from Mr. Valones, the DENR has already conducted investigation and has taken appropriate actions against the respondents, contrary to what came out in the news reports,” Adornado said.

He added: “We earnestly hope that with the above-mentioned details, we have given ELAC and the general public, the clear course of actions that we have undertaken to address the matter. Our office is open for clarification so that confusion shall be avoided in publishing wrong information.” #