On government’s ‘no build zones’ and ‘no dwelling zones’ mandates

Watching the video, it appears it’s the government who needs to get it’s act together.  They are the originators of the ‘no build zones’ and ‘no dwelling zones’ policies and it is their duty to know what these are about and inform the public about them.  If LGUs don’t understand the documents given to them from the top, then it’s their responsibility to ask for clarification.  The reasoning given by the interviewee from the City Government that they themselves are confused exposes him to public shame and ridicule as well as frustrating the public who’s paying for the salary.  It shows I’m not doing my job.  I personally wouldn’t dare come up with that reasoning in front of my boss, even if it’s just the two of us in the room.  Giving the boss this excuse is like telling him he’s a moron and I’m without respect for both of us.  If I have to extricate myself from a faux pax I’d think of a cleverer excuse.

On the side of  local property owners who continue to live on the Tacloban City shoreline, they appear OK with giving up their residence there, if, as the woman interviewee says, “the price is right”.  Her words direct us toward laws applicable to the matter and which both sides have legal recourse to, such as Republic Act 8974 (An Act to Facilitate the Acquisition of Right-of-Way, Site or Location for National Government Infrastructure Projects and For Other Purposes), if the government is to build disaster mitigation projects along this shoreline (which it should, after the experience of Haiyan).

Article III, Section 9 of the Constitution states that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. Towards this end, the State shall ensure that owners of real property acquired for national government infrastructure projects are promptly paid just compensation.

In case the completion of a government infrastructure project is of utmost urgency and importance, and there is no existing valuation of the area concerned, the implementing agency shall immediately pay the owner of the property its proffered value taking into consideration the standards prescribed in Section 5 hereof.

The government through the National Housing Authority, in coordination with the local government units and implementing agencies concerned, shall establish and develop squatter relocation sites, including the provision of adequate utilities and services, in anticipation of squatters that have to be removed from the right-of-way or site of future infrastructure projects.

In case the expropriated land is occupied by squatters, the court shall issue the necessary “Writ of Demolition” for the purpose of dismantling any and all structures found within the subject property.  The implementing agency shall take into account and observe diligently the procedure provided for in…Republic Act No. 7279, otherwise known as the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.

On one hand, it is disturbing to note in the video that there are private owners of the Tacloban City shore land especially the areas under public domain.  In a similar video from a previous article here, the aerial photo shows buildings are, as I said, right on the water – the foreshore.  One wonders how these individuals came to own private titles to these public lands. The public should know that the coast is further subdivided into zones, and a less complicated definition of foreshore is provided on Wikipedia: “the area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide”.

A diagrammatic representation of the foreshore area and other features of the coastal zone. Land Management Bureau. Managing the Philippine Foreshore: A Guide for Local Governments.
A diagrammatic representation of the foreshore area and other features of the coastal zone. Land Management Bureau

In the report, The Emerging Challenges of Foreshore Management: A Review of Foreshore Laws and Policies, Institutional Arrangements and Issues, done for the DENR, the consultants cited several legal bases around coastal management issues:

The case of Republic vs. CA & Republic Real Estate Corporation, Nov. 25, 1998 in which the Supreme Court Supreme Court said that foreshore lands normally extend only from 10 to 20 meters along the coast.

Under the Philippine Fisheries Code (or Republic Act No. 8550), foreshore lands are identified as among those areas which cannot be disposed and alienated.

Riparian or littoral owners of lands adjoining the shore have no right to own the lands deposited by the movements of the sea or possessory right unless upon application, the government, through the then Bureau of Lands (now LMB), had granted them a permit (SPS PelagioGulla vs. Heirs of Alejandro Labrador, July 27, 2006).

They do not even have greater rights than any other individual in regard to the use of the shore (Kock Wing vs. Phil. Railway Co. February 14, 1930).

Under CA 141, the Secretary of Agricultural and Commerce (now the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources) may grant temporary permission to qualified persons the use of foreshore areas, upon payment of a reasonable charge, for any lawful private purpose, subject to revocation at any time when, in his judgment, the public interest shall require it.

The issuance of titles over alienable and disposable public lands is a function of the executive branch of government, specifically the Director of Lands (now the Land Management Bureau or LMB). The decision of such Director, when approved by the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)as to questions of fact, is conclusive upon the court. (RP vs Felix Emperial, Feb 11, 1999)

Further, in 2004, the then DENR Secretary declared that

…a strip of fifty (50) meters in wide fronting the sea, ocean or other bodies of water and twenty (20) meters wide on both sides of river or creek are reserved as forestlands and must be maintained under permanent forest cover in line with the government’s environment protection and natural resources conservation program. (DAO 2004-44)

In the same year, the LGUs, purportedly, were provided with the handbook, Managing the Philippine Foreshore: A Guide for Local Governments, funded under the DENR-USAID EcoGovernance Project. 

Lately, DENR has reiterated government’s regulation of the coasts, especially the foreshore, and enjoined LGUs, particularly those in Cebu, to help the agency enforce it on the ground.  In the same venue, the agency met with local governments in that region in the drafting of a foreshore area master plan.

On the matter of dwellings or buildings, whether for private, public, or commercial use, the National Building Code applies.  The first few paragraphs of the law clarify matters pertaining to minimum quality standards head on:

The design and construction requirements of this Code shall not apply to any traditional indigenous family dwelling costing not more than five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) and intended for use and occupancy of the family of the owner only. The traditional type of family dwellings are those that are constructed of native materials such as bamboo, nipa, logs, or lumber, wherein the distance between vertical supports or suportales does not exceed 3.00 meters (10 feet); and if masonry walls or socalos are used, such shall not be more than 1.00 meter (3 feet, 3 inches) from the ground: Provided, however, That such traditional indigenous family dwelling will not constitute a danger to life or limb of its occupants or of the public; will not be fire hazard or an eyesore to the community; and does not contravene any fire zoning regulation of the city or municipality in which it is located.

The land or site upon which will be constructed any building or structure, or any ancillary or auxillary facility thereto, shall be sanitary , hygienic or safe. Where the land or site is polluted, insanitary, unhygienic, unsafe, or hazardous, conditions contributing to or causing its being polluted, insanitary, unhygienic, unsafe, or hazardous shall be reasonably improved or corrected, or proper remedial measures shall be prescribed or incorporated in the design or construction of the building or structure in accordance with the provisions of this Code.

The land or site upon which be constructed a building of structure or any ancillary or accessory facility thereto, for use of human habitation or abode, shall be at a safe distance from streamers or bodies of water and/source of air considered to be polluted, volcano or volcanic site, and building or structure considered to be a potential source of fire or explosion, such as ammunitions factory or dump and storage place for highly inflammable material.

The provisions of this Code shall apply to all dangerous buildings, as herein defined, which are now in existence or which may hereafter be constructed, as well as to ruinous buildings as defined in Article 482 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.

Dangerous buildings are those which are structurally unsafe or not provided with safe egrees, or which constitute a fire hazard, or are otherwise dangerous to human life, or which in relation to existing use constitute a hazard to safety or health or public welfare, by reason of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence, fire hazard, or abandonment; or which otherwise contribute to the pollution of the site or the community to an intolerable degree.

From the I/NGO side, the Inter-Cluster Advisory to the HCT February 13, 2014 report on the provision of assistance in proposed ‘no dwelling zones’, noted

Concern has been raised by communities that if they are residing in a proposed no dwelling zone and do not get relocated to a bunkhouse then they will no longer be eligible for any further shelter assistance. 198 bunkhouses have been completed by DPWH, of a possible 242 (including approx. 20 in Region VI) and there is a current estimate of approximately 60,000 families residing in no dwelling zones in Region VI, VII and VIII for whom municipalities are considering relocation (including approximately 28,000 in Region VII), consequently there is a need for the Government to communicate its strategy to the affected population to avoid misinformed resettlement and conflict amongst the affected population.

Furthermore, with only three sites identified for permanent relocation, accommodating approximately 12,000 families, what is proposed for the remaining 18,000 families in Region VIII let alone other Regions who are saying that there is not enough available land to accommodate such plans. The HCT should work with the Government to establish a durable relocation plan for each Region.

Furthermore a number of issues are arising in Region VI and VII whereby people who are residing in proposed no dwelling zones and who have either not been affected by the Typhoon or at risk are being relocated for reasons other than their safety. These concerns should be investigated further with the LGUs and if required raised at the national level.

People are just waiting for the government to take a knowledgeable, firm, and consistent hand on things, especially that there are several post-disaster players on the ground – supranationals, I/NGOs, other external groups and orgs – hence various concerns all needing immediate attention and address.

Government should take a decisive and sincere leadership role. Politicians should, after the scale of the disaster that happened, put a truce on their usual pulled-out-of-the-magic-hat solutions designed to boost their images and nothing else.

Also there are plenty of innovative planning and mapping going on in Tacloban City, with technical assistance from international organizations and the challenge is how to transfer these learning and knowledge to other cities of the country who are as vulnerable so that city governments can also start similar works (I’m sure most if not all of the CLUPs and CDPs need to be revised to reflect disaster and climate risks and their address).  Who’s to facilitate transfer of this knowledge?

Tacloban City is an important regional center.  A beacon of hope so to speak, by bringing in trade and tourism into the region which remains to be the poorest in the country. Right now, it’s port and airport are barely functional. Roads, which are cleared most of the way, need repairs. If the City and region is a human being, it’s still in critical emergency care. To not fast track revival of commerce in this City is to jeopardize the future of millions of poor people in the region.

National experts like Mr. Palafox has proposed an uber vision of the City as a place modelling climate change adaptation technologies.  I agree.  If we are to rebuild a regional city from scrap we might as well do it with passion, the best.  Holland built the Maeslantkering to protect it’s shoreline and communities.  After the horrific Haiyan experience the government should undertake similar projects, in the City and other high risk areas (Manila Bay protection comes to mind) in the country.

The most important eye-opener to take away from Haiyan is that a similar (or perhaps worse) event could strike again anytime. By then we should’ve already agreed on what ‘no build zones’ and ‘no dwelling zones’ are and made considerable progress.

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