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HomeFront PageResidents oppose inclusion of watershed from ancestral domain title

Residents oppose inclusion of watershed from ancestral domain title

SAN Francisco, Agusan del Sur–Opposition has been mounted against the inclusion of the protected Mt. Magdiwata Watershed here from the 7,800 hectares Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) applied for by a local Manobo tribal group.

The San Francisco Water District has initiated legal actions to prohibit the inclusion of the 1,658-hectare watershed from the CADT application of Oyay Mansaloay Antod Ogow Bando Ugong (OMAUBAO) Tribal Clan Organization which already completed perimeter survey and community map validation.

Elmer Luzon, SFWD general manager, said they already sought legal assistance from the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel in Quezon City to defer the processing of the CADT while they are protesting against the intrusion of the watershed fearing this will pave the way to the resumption of large-scale mining activities within the protected area.

“We fear that if the CADT application will be approved by higher authorities, mining companies would take advantage and start to sprawl with OMAUBAO since Application for Production Sharing Agreement and Exploration Permit Application are adjacent to the watershed,” Luzon said in his letter to government counsel.

Attached with the letter was a Mining Tenements Control Map as of July 31 of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Caraga Regional Office in Surigao City which shows plots for exploration that circle around Mt. Magdiwata Watershed area.

Protected area

The watershed which is the only source of potable water for the 18 villages of this town has been declared as forest reserve by former president Fidel Ramos through Presidential Proclamation 282 dated October 25, 1993.

SFWD has been in the forefront of protecting and rehabilitating the watershed over the last three decades from what used to be an endangered 41percent forest cover to 95 percent lush and green forest.

The forest used to be denuded, with about 900 ha that had turned into an open area grassland after large-scale logging in the 1960s up to 1970s and the unabated tree-cutting activities in the 1980s to supply lumber-milling plants that proliferated around town.

According to SFWD studies, only 695 hectares of natural forest (41 percent) was left in the Mt. Magdiwata watershed in December 1997 since around 1,200 ha had been considered inadequate forest, open area grasslands, and small portions of manmade forest, palm oil and abaca farms.

Protest in the past

A protest rally participated by local residents, local government officials, church parishioners, priests and the local media was held in 2010 to vehemently oppose the advent of mining operations believed to be a joint venture of a local businessman and a Chinese investor.

The town council had been consistent on their stand against inclusion of Mt. Magdiwata Watershed from the CADT claim.

Former town councillor Lerriza de Leon has sponsored several resolutions since 2010 strongly objecting the inclusion of the watershed from the CADT.

De Leon has fought hard during her three terms at the town council to object the CADT inside the watershed even if she was booted out as chair of environment committee during her second term.

Father Marlon Nacal, parish priest of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, is another strong advocate against the inclusion of the watershed in the CADT claim.

He spearheaded a candidates forum during the last campaign period of the local elections urging poll bets to commit their stand during the candidates forum inside the church and the signing of the covenant at a large streamer outside along the national highway.

Assurance

Bardo “Datu Hag-um” Bando, one of OMAUBAO leaders who is also Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative of the town council here, however assured that they will not damage Mt. Magdiwata which is the source of water of local residents.

Lawyer Marceliano Monato, provincial legal officer of National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), stood pat that they should not be stopped the processing of the CADT since they are just following guidelines unless there will be a court order.

Monato said once the CADT will be registered with the Land Registration Authority , there is a one year grace period for those who will contest and wanted to cancel the portion of the CADT area.

For his part, Ferdausi Cerna, NCIP Caraga Regional Director, said CADT will always prevail over any presidential proclamation since this claim of ownership has been honored since time immemorial.

“The tribe has their rights and they have also an obligation to protect the environment that should not cut trees and engage in mining activities inside the CADT area,” Cerna said.

He said the CADT application is already on the finishing stage but refused to disclose as to when exactly the documents will be approved.

Sit down needed

Mayor Solomon Rufila has agreed that Mt. Magdiwata watershed  should be excluded from CADT.

He recommended that both SFWD and OMAUBAO should sit down to discuss and reach a fair agreement.

He said the lumads should not be blamed in the illegal cutting of trees and illegal mining in the past since they do not have the capacity to do so. “They are just laborers of the financiers engaged in illegal logging and mining.”

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