DAR eyes Boracay forestlands for farming

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) - Representatives from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) are set to join rehabilitation efforts on the island of Boracay to look into the possibility of distributing farm lands to displaced residents.

Currently, the remaining four hectares of farm lands on the island can only benefit one to two farmers. But DAR said forestlands can be reclassified as agricultural land.

 "Kung may mga magsasaka na nandun sa Boracay, maaaring sila ang gamitin o mangalaga sa forestland. 'Yung mga magsasaka ho bibigyan ng ligalidad ng DENR (Department of Environment and National Resources) upang pangalagaan ang kabundukan o forestland sa loob ng Boracay (The island's farmers, who would be accredited by the DENR, can take care of forestlands). " said DAR Usec. David Erro.

A local official of Boracay told CNN Philippines the prospect of putting the island under agrarian reform is creating anxiety among the locals.

"Ala na nag-fa-farm dito kasi nga mas madali mag-cater sa tourism (Nobody farms here anymore because people earm more through tourism)," said Rowen Aguirre, Municipal Executive Assistant for Boracay Affairs.

Meanwhile, the government is set to recover by the end of July or early August at least three of the five wetlands on Boracay that have been reclaimed and where illegal structures have been built.

In Sitio Cagban-Bubon in Barangay Manoc-Manoc, the DENR has sent notices to residents to vacate 60 houses in the area. Some residents are still in shock that what they believed were ancestral lands can be taken away from them.

"Ang bahay na ito, pinaghihirapan ko ito. Pinagttrabahuhan ko ito bago ako magkabahay. Ngayon sa isang bigla lang, mawawala (I worked hard to build this house. Now, I'm going to lose this in an instant)," said Argie Ostan, a tricycle driver who took pride in religiously paying annual taxes.

But the annual payments are not enough to stake a claim on a protected area. The Environment Department is asking Ostan to voluntarily demolish the house he painstakingly built through the years, otherwise the agency's workers will do the demolition and he will face charges.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said  tax declarations do not prove land ownership in Boracay.

"The decision is clear, it is owned by the state. If the President wants he could declare everyone to leave. He will not, because he wants everyone to benefit," Roque said.

He said the President wants to protect the environment, restore wetlands, and preserve the beach for future generations.

The President's point, however, doesn't resonate with Ostan and some longtime residents of Boracay who are about to lose their homes and no option for a roof above their head.