D.E.N.R. and Philippine Congress Debate Fate of Bantayan Island

A new proposal by Attorney Oposa in his continuing effort to restrict building on Bantayan Island, may actually have the effect of robbing residents of this tiny island of their personal property and homes.

Beginning over two years ago, all building on the shoreline of Bantayan Island has been restricted from obtaining a building permit, even for private citizens who own the land and wish to build a home on their own property.

The effects of the proposal before Philippine Congress would be to pass a law that would make the boundary for the shoreline on Bantayan Island, 40 Meters. For more than 40 years the boundary has been recognized as being 20 meters, with all homes and businesses being permitted to build within the 20 meter boundary. Now Oposa wants to take an additional 20 meters from those who own property on the island.

For many property owners on Bantayan Island who own small parcels along the shore of Bantayan Island of 100-400 square meters, this new law will rob them of more than 200 square meters of their personal property. All land of less than 200 square meters will be completely lost. Land of 400 square meters will be cut in half. In many cases, this land was previously deeded to the land owners by the Philippine government and has been held in ownership for more than 40 years.

If this law is passed it will certainly cause great harm to Philippine citizens on Bantayan Island who will be the real losers in this debate.

The purpose of human government, in any country, is to protect the property and homes of the people, not to take their homes and land. In this case on Bantayan Island, the government would be the perpetrator of the loss of property of private citizens and their homes.

What is not being openly stated, is the fact that if this law of a 40 meter water boundary is allowed to pass by those in leadership in the Philippines, the government and DENR will have the authority to bulldoze and destroy all homes closer that 40 meters to the shoreline of Bantayan Island.

The basis for this new law is the fact that Bantayan Island was originally set up as a “wilderness area” and therefore should have had the enforcement of 40 meters applied to all property along the shores of the island. The problem is that the Philippine Government and the DENR has already allowed that boundary to be 20 meters for more than 40 years. By the mere fact that the island is now inhabited by more than 129,000 people who have been permitted to build as close as 20 meters to the shore, the government has established what the boundary is recognized as.

It is unfair, and immoral for the government to now state that they will enforce the boundary of 40 meters, when they have already acknowledged that it is 20 meters for more than 40 years. Everyone on Bantayan Island knows that the water boundary is 20 meters, survey markers are set up all along the shoreline at 20 meters, not 40 meters, being placed there by DENR.

This insistence that the law has always been 40 meters is due to the efforts of one environmentalist attorney (Oposa) who objects to building and development on Bantayan Island shores.

All environmental issues for any island should be balanced with what the effects would be for an environmental law being passed that will hurt human beings. Laws are for the benefit of people first, the environment second. In the case of Bantayan Island, catastrophic harm will be committed against people on this tiny island who own property and homes closer than 20 meters to the shore, should the Congress pass a law changing the water boundary to 40 meters.

As far as Bantayan Island being classified as a “wilderness area”, it is clear by the development of the island as a residential area, tourist destination, and hundreds of businesses being built along the shore of the island, that it has not been a wilderness area for a very long time. With 129,00o people living in homes on an island of just 7 by 10 miles, it is clearly not a wilderness area.

It would be wise to lift this classification from the island, protect personal property and homes that are beyond the existing 20 meters of the shoreline, and allow all future development on Bantayan Island to have restrictions and guidelines  that will protect the shores. How septic systems are constructed, fresh water is acquired, and how homes are built, are the kinds of guidelines that should be implemented. The 20 meter water boundary should be enforced, and allowance made for any homes or businesses currently closer than 40 meters, to be untouched by the government.

Surprisingly, this issue has not been on any Philippine television or radio station, or seen in any newspaper publication. Can you imagine the Philippine government being given the authority to take property and homes from Philippine citizens, and no one knows anything about it?

I would hope that someone with influence and authority will make this issue known to the public in the Philippines. It is for certain than should this 40 meter water boundary be enforced on Bantayan Island, all homes and property in the Philippines will then be in jeopardy. If the government and DENR are allowed to destroy homes on Bantayan Island and take property from private citizens on this small island, then all property and homes on all 7,200 island in the Philippines will be at risk.