MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/22 February) – Officials of Bukidnon rose in arms when some sectors in Cagayan de Oro City blamed supposed destructive activities in the mountainous province as a major factor in the killer floods brought by storm Sendong last December. There may be some truth to this allegation, although it is unfair to blame the people of Bukidnon in general and not pinpoint specific individuals or companies involved.
However, a recent trip to Barangay Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich town in Bukidnon revealed some facts that may make conscientious Cagayanons cover their face in embarrassment.
Dahilayan is nestled in the foot slopes of Mt. Kitanglad Range, a protected area established by Republic Act 8978. At least until the early part of the past decade the buffer zone in the area had been well preserved, thanks to the vigilance of predominantly Lumad volunteers who have guarded it against timber poaching and other illegal activities despite threats to their lives.
The barangay captain then, Emeliano Sahonlay, was also steadfast in his commitment to protect the forest as a Lumad and as a member of the Protected Area Management Board. (RA 8978 provides that the barangay captains of all barangays whose territories cover portions of the protected area shall be members of the PAMB.)
Unfortunately, this is no longer the case now. Money, influence and power have run roughshod against the efforts to conserve the forest.
My source said selling of lands within the buffer zone, which is blatantly illegal, has become rampant, and the going rate is at least 70,000 pesos per hectare. He alleged that some barangay officials have earned big from this illegal act by acting as brokers or dealers. One of these officials, he added, now owns three houses.
A town official I interviewed earlier also said that he received reports that a barangay official is engaged in selling lands in Dahilayan.
This practice notably became rampant with the entry of rich outsiders who have either established businesses or built vacation houses in the area. At present, most of these investments and structures are located in timberlands outside the buffer zone but near it.
My source feared that since many portions of the buffer zone have been “sold”, the forest will soon be gone as investments come in.
Apparently, the investors who are buying up lands in the buffer zone are interested in setting up recreation resorts similar to the Paras-owned Dahilayan Adventure Park, famous for its 840-meter zip line, reputedly Asia’s longest.
Like the Paras family, many of these investors are rich people from Cagayan de Oro. In fact, my source said he got information that two politicians from that city are among those who have acquired lands in Dahilayan. He named these two politicians, but I have to withhold their identities as there is no proof [yet] to show that they have indeed bought lands.
That should make the people of Cagayan de Oro think twice before pointing an accusing finger at Bukidnon in case – God forbid – another major disaster occurs in the future. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)