CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—A Japanese-funded bridge project of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) at the boundary of Dingalan, Aurora, and General Nakar, Quezon, poses more harm than good to farmers and indigenous peoples in those provinces, two nongovernment organizations said.
The Umiray Bridge project, which broke ground last week, can trigger the revival of a plan to develop a private investment hub for Metro Manila or push the Philippine Army to recover areas of Fort Magsaysay, said Alfonso van Zijl, executive director of Bataris. Based in Baler, Aurora, Bataris assists agrarian and indigenous villages.
“[There are] other issues in the historical context of the so-called development in this area,” Van Zijl told the Inquirer by e-mail on Friday.
The first refers to the Green Circle Properties and Resources Inc. (Green Circle), owned by Romeo Roxas. In 1999, Roxas obtained a special private land timber license (SPLTL) over 14,975.21 hectares in General Nakar and 12,895.58 ha in Dingalan.
The Umiray River flows between the two Umiray villages in General Nakar and Dingalan and drains toward the Pacific Ocean. The bulk of its water feeds the Angat Dam in Bulacan, which supplies Metro Manila.
Before the five-year SPLTL expired in 2005, Van Zijl said the administration of former President Joseph Estrada declared the Green Circle area a special economic and tourism zone. Called the Pacific Coast City Ecozone, this came ahead of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport in northern Aurora.
“The project was envisioned to build an alternative [investment area] for Quezon City as the place is only 80 to 100 kilometers from Metro Manila. To open up the area, roads were planned: Umiray to Dingalan, Umiray to Infanta and Umiray to Montalban to Metro Manila. And of course, the crucial connector, the bridge over the Umiray River,” Van Zijl said, citing a review of the development plans.
A project proposal for this purpose was submitted, through the DAR, to the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2002, he said.
But ahead of this, he said, Green Circle lands previously owned by the Gopuansoy family were placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in the late 1990s, benefiting 1,500 farmers.
“When Roxas became the owner, he filed a case for cancellation of the [certificate of land ownership awards] against the farmer-beneficiaries,” Van Zijl said.
The Integrated Rural Development Foundation (IRDF) said Green Circle sits on an ancestral domain of the Dumagat and its logging activities there destroyed the tribe’s land.
But Roxas disputed these allegations in a report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in 2005.
Earlier, the DAR allayed fears that the project would displace indigenous peoples in Aurora and Quezon. The project, the agency said, is in a titled private property.
No case was filed against Roxas or Green Circle following the deadly landslides in November and December 2004 that were blamed on logging activities.
Reports from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed that illegal logging continued in the area in 2011. DENR said Green Circle provided equipment and guards to augment the agency’s forest protection teams.
“It is very obvious that the DAR justified this project as part of the CARP,” Van Zijl said.
“The reality is that no people living in Barangays Umiray, Ibuna, Matawi and Butas na Bato in Dingalan will use this bridge as the trade route is from Umiray to the north to Dingalan and then to Cabanatuan City [in Nueva Ecija]. Only people living in the other side, in Barangay Umiray in General Nakar, will use the bridge in going to Dingalan because there is no … road from Dingalan to General Nakar and Infanta,” he said.
He said the government should have prioritized the construction of a bridge in Barangay Paltic in Dingalan because 3,000 residents had petitioned for this infrastructure after the landslides.
Six groups of farmers with 730 members in the villages of Matawe, Ibona, Butas na Bato and Caragsacan have pending appeals with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to grant their claims over 4,000 ha of Fort Magsaysay in Dingalan. They said their families have been tilling the land since the 1960s. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon