1,740 hectares given to private hands
Bohol’s lost forest exposed!
EXCLUSIVE to THE BOHOL TRIBUNE – Unknown to the 1.3 million inhabitants here, some 1,740 hectares of forest land in the province of Bohol had been turned over to a private corporation for “management and utilization,” leaving local government units (LGUs) and the provincial government itself “strangers” to their own land.
Now ordinary Boholanos have come out and expressed strong intent to repossess the land which rightly belongs to the people of Bohol.
Consisting of 1,740 hectares, the forest land that had been lost to a private entity identified as Highland Agro-Ecosystem Management, Inc. (HAM Inc.), allegedly represented by its president, Norris C. Oculam, covers the municipalities of Ubay, Mabini, and Alicia.
On May 25, 2009, apparently without public hearing and consultation with LGU officials, and during the incumbency of the late Gov. Erico B. Aumentado, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Jose L. Atienza Jr. entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with HAM Inc. “for the development and management of 1,740 hectares of forest land located in the Municipalities of Ubay, Alicia, and Mabini, Bohol for a period of 25 years and renewable for another 25 years.”
The forest land deal, according to sources, is somewhat similar to the botched Cantakoy hydro-power project in Inabanga town – and the aborted project to reclaim 500 hectares of seas off Panglao Island for commercial purposes under another name of a private corporation, all hatched during the administration of the late Gov. Aumentado.
According to government documents exclusively obtained by The Bohol Tribune, HAM Inc. was given the full responsibility to develop and manage such vast region of forest land “within the upland agro-forestry area.”
It was not known whether there were monetary considerations involved during the signing of the deal, but the contract must be shrouded with extreme secrecy as there is no available information about it that can be accessed by the public online or offline.
Members of The Bohol Tribune Research Team had deployed all complex methods of online data-mining, but as of press time, no single news story about the mysterious agreement was published in 2009 or onwards.
DENR’s official website does not also contain any publicly available document regarding the enormous deal.
Even the name of the company, Highland Agro-Ecosystem Management, Inc., cannot be found in any public domain in the world wide web, let alone in the website of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Six years after the deal, officials of Barangay San Jose, Mabini finally uncovered the secret, and now they are appealing to DENR Sec. Gina Lopez for help.
In a resolution dated Sept. 5, 2016, the Barangay Council of San Jose, Mabini, had requested Sec. Lopez “to lobby to DENR to rescind its MOA with HAM, Inc.”
According to the barangay officials, as stated in the resolution, “the HAM, Inc. did not start any development activities in the area which violates the intent of the MOA.”
Sources said local officials and the general public have been barred to develop and utilize the area being turned over to HAM, Inc. because of the existing MOA with DENR.
Even the National Greening Program (NGP) project of the national government cannot be implemented in those vast hectares of forest lands due to the existing MOA with HAM, Inc.
On October 4, 2016, this time the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Mabini passed a separate resolution asking DENR Sec. Lopez to “rescind the contract with HAM, Inc.”
Earlier, the people’s organization of San Jose, Mabini had also passed a separate resolution calling for Sec. Lopez to look into the contract, alleging that the people had been deprived of justice.
The SB resolution said that a provision of the MOA states that if HAM, Inc. fails to develop the area five years after the signing of the agreement, such failure can be used to nullify the contract.
“The DENR Joint Investigation Team conducted an evaluation of the development introduced to HAM to the above-mentioned agreement and it was found that no development was introduced even the lapse of 7 years after the date of award…,” the SB resolution stated.
Reports said there were Boholano people who had been compelled to join the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in 2009 when they were told that they could no longer touch the forest land claimed by HAM, Inc. (TO BE CONTINUED)