Thursday, December 20, 2012

LGU Mahinog wins unlawful occupation case against Mantigue residents

Mahinog, Camiguin, December 20, 2012 - THE Local Government Unit of Mahinog won the unlawful occupation case filed against the remaining 23 households living in Mantigue island, after the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Mahinog found all accused guilty of violation of Section 69 of Presidential Decree No. 1559 amending PD 705 or Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.

In 18-page decision promulgated this morning December 20, 2012 penned by MCTC Judge Eduardo E. Chan, the trial court found all the remaining residents in Mantigue island "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" and sentenced all the accused to suffer the penalty of six months imprisonment and pay a fine in the amount of P1,000.00.

All the accused are further ordered evicted from the island, the court declared in its Decision.

This, after the LGU Mahinog represented by Mayor Alex R. Jajalla with the coordination of the office of the DENR spearheaded a campaign drive to free Mantigue island from illegal settlers and preserve the natural beauty and richness of this 6.9-hectare island which is 20-minute boat ride from barangay San Roque in the municipality of Mahinog.

LGU officials claimed growing population in the area is the primary cause of Mantigue Island’s environmental degradation and that drastic steps should be taken to save the environment. 

Based on the records, in 1926, Mantigue island was already declared as an unclassified public forest. In 1987 the island was declared alienable and disposable until in 1998 when the Secretary of DENR issued a reversion order declaring the island again as public forest land.

Citing the Regalian doctrine, the court said the classification of Mantigue island remained a forest land belonging to the state which placed the island “beyond the commerce of man.”

The court called it “inherently weak” accused defense of prior occupancy that they are already living the island even before 1975.

Citing a Supreme Court decision in the case of  Public Estates Authority v. Court of Appeals, the court ruled “where the land is not alienable and disposable, possession of the land, no matter how long, cannot confer ownership or possessory rights.”

The court declared although Mantigue island was declared alienable and disposable in 1987, still, the occupants “did not acquire vested right” to appropriate the area as their own.

The court stressed there was no evidence presented that their predecessors applied for a free patent with the government to support their private ownership over the portion they have occupied.

“Matters of private ownership call for proofs, it cannot be assumed,” the court ruled.

The court said while it sympathizes with the accused-occupants’ plight, it is bound to apply the law “strictly and judiciously.”

“The law is harsh, but it is the law,” the court explained.

The accused has fifteen days to appeal the decision.

Of the 40 households living in the Mantigue island, only 17 households had agreed to move out from the island to the new relocation site offered by the municipal government. The 23 households who insisted not to leave the island are the accused in this case.

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