The waterfalls in Badian town was declared open again for visitors yesterday, six months after Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia ordered the nature spot off limits to tourists in order to demolish picnic huts and concrete facilities that encroached the waterways .
She signed an order yesterday “temporarily” lifting the closure order.
Executive Order No. 12 series of 2012 will be in full force only when Kawasan residents comply with pledges made to clean up the area for tourism.
Resort and recreation operators signed a Memorandum of Agreeement (MOA) pledging to remove their illegal structures over the next six months.
In April last year, Gover Garcia swung a sledge hammer at a concrete pillar to signal the start of demolishing illegal structures which she said were part of the “crass commercialism” in Kawasan Falls, a popular site that is advertised in tour guides for foreign and domestic visitors to Cebu.
The governor was in Badian town yesterday to attend the oath-taking of One Cebu party members for the 2013 elections and distributed checks worth P2.3 million as aid to Badian. Part of the amount or P950,000 was given to Mayor Robburt Librando for more demolition work near the waterfalls.
She also signed the MOA for “conservation, enhancement and development” of the area.
Cebu Daily News noticed that two-story buildings beside the Matutinao River near the waterfalls, a bone of contention with Capitol officials, were still standing yesterday.
A court case filed by defiant building owners led by resort owner Wilhelmino Saldua is still pending with the Barili Regional Trial Court. Other buildings are operated by the Kawasan Nature Park Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
A representative of the cooperative appeared for the MOA signing yesterday but was not recognized.
In a meeting last Oct. 10, cooperative president Myrna Divinagracia said they would not vacate the area unless the Capitol compensates them for destroying the building and replaces it with a new one outside the easement area.
Governor Garcia rejected the conditions, saying the occupants violated a national law on easement zones.
Under the Water Code of the Philippines or Persidential Decree No. 1067, the area near a waterway is supposted to be reserved for public use and remain free of obstrution: 20 meters in agricultural areas, three meters for urban areas and 40 meters for forest areas.
Badian Mayor Librando yesterday welcomed the reopening of the falls, saying it comes during peak tourist season where the municipal government earns P50,000 a month in entrance fees alone.
He said tourists can't stay overnight near the water anymore but said there are resorts outside the entrance of the Kawasan Falls which offer room accommodations for visitors.
A development plan submitted by the Badian municipal government is still under review by the Capitol.
In the MOA signed yesterday, the provincial government pledged to fully lift the closure order on the Kawasan Falls and allow resort owners to resume their business activities as long as they follow rules and regulations.
A ground survey last May by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed that three remaining buildings of Saluda and the cooperative partly stand on private land and violate the 20-meter easement zone.
A one-storey kitchen building is built within the waterways.
Saldua's concrete three-storey resort near the waterfalls is built inside a titled property within the 20-meter easement of the river.
The building's front extends outside the titled land and the 20-meter easement but encroaches the waterways leading to the Kawasan Falls.
A convenience store is built within the titled land and within the 20-meter easement of the river. The front portion also encroaches the waterways, the DENR-7 said.
Saldua’s titled land was formerly registered in the names of heirs of Gervacio Deluvio.
Another structure owned by the Kawasan Nature Park Multi-Purpose Cooperative was found inside the 20-meter easement zone.
The front of the building is outside the titled land and easement zone but has encroached the waterway of the waterfalls by 11 square meters.
The building lot of the cooperative is owned by heirs of Matero Deluveo.
Last April, Saldua asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the demolition but it was considered moot and academic since demolition by Capitol work crews had already started.
Provincial Legal Officer Marino Martinquilla said their case against Saldua is set for mediation next month in court.
Under the MOA, structure owners will build native picnic huts/ sheds to be paid through a "Build Now, Pay Later" scheme.
Landscaping and beautification will be pursued through planting of native ornamental plants and trees.
A comprehensive waste management facility will also be operated while the Badian municipal government will enact and enforce ordinances to protect the surrounding area.
The signing included Dante Africano of Glicer’s Cottages, Anecita Lastimosa of Anecita’s Picnic Huts, Maria Delia Capacio of Duque’s Cottages and a representative of Dionesia Africano, president of the Matutinao Farmers and Fishermen’s Association. /Carmel Loise Matus, Correspondent
CEBU DAILY NEWS