By NITZ ARANCON
and SHIELA MAE BUTLIG
A LAWYER from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) yesterday suggested a solution to the legal dispute over the Barra, Opol town property where Seven Seas Waterpark and Resort stands: go to Congress.
The suggested solution from the DENR came as the provincial board started an inquiry into the controversy yesterday afternoon.
Florenda Lamason-Yap, DENR legal officer for Region 10, said Congress has the power to reclassify the 59-hectare property from timberland to agricultural.
The DENR has maintained that the area is classified as timberland.
Nearly five hectares of the Sarmiento-owned LS Property Corp. were bought by Engr. Elpidio Paras, president of UC-1 Corp. that owns the Opol theme park.
Yap suggested the solution after Vice Gov. Jose Mari Pelaez and provincial board members expressed their support for UC-1 Corp. and questioned the DENR’s legal move that now threatens Seven Seas.
Pelaez asked DENR to yield and recognize the area where Paras built Seven Seas as a commercial area.
“Let’s help each other. Just give the five hectares. There are many problems on the environment out there. Go easy on this because it’s there already,” Pelaez told Yap.
Yap responded by suggesting that the provincial board help DENR in convincing Congress to reclassify the entire area as agricultural. From an agricultural status, it can be then reclassified as commercial in the local level.
Hearing this, provincial board member Vincent Pelaez asked the provincial legislature to pass a resolution that would request Congress to reclassify the Barra property.
Board member Gerardo Sabal questioned the DENR’s actions, saying it took it at least nine years to point out legal infirmities and to take legal action.
Yap told the provincial board that the DENR’s actions were made on orders from the Office of Solicitor General. She said the order was for DENR to investigate and then move for the cancellation of land title.
Edgar Olaco, municipal assessor of Opol town, said the town council reclassified the area from agricultural to commercial but the DENR said what was really needed is an act of Congress.
Paras, for his part, said he was leaving matters to the decision of the Court of Appeals.
He maintained that legal processes were followed when his family bought the property.
Paras said he secured an environment compliance certificate from the environment department, and the Department of Agriculture even approved the property’s reclassification from agricultural to commercial.
He said when he bought the property in 2012, “I was not aware of any of this.”
Paras said the petition came only after he has already invested much in developing the theme park that since its opening last year, has made a strong impact in this part of the country in terms of tourism.