GOVERNMENT auditors have slammed the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) for inaction on 344 cases of unauthorized or illegal reclamation of land all over the country, including those that were documented more than 10 years ago.
In the 2018 report on the PRA, the Commission on Audit noted that there are 292 pending applications for titling of completed reclamations filed dating back to 2005 and 2008.
Of these, 183 are awaiting endorsement to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for forfeiture and other legal actions.
Apart from the 292 cases, the PRA has also issued cease and desist orders on 52 other detected unauthorized reclamations, warning proponents against undertaking further development within the area unless necessary clearances are obtained from the agency.
However, titling processes have also remained unresolved.
Flagged reclamation works include port projects, mixed commercial/industrial components, eco-tourism development, and even schools.
Auditors reminded the PRA that delayed completion of legalization processes or of forfeiture of illegally reclaimed lands are a violation of PRA Administrative order 2008-3 which requires timely action to protect the interest of the government.
“The illegal acts of reclaiming shorelands without permit from the National Government cannot be undone, hence the immediate forfeiture of such property, and subsequent titling thereof in favor of the government appears to be the logical solution which rests with the PRA, DENR, and the Office of the President,” the COA pointed out.
It noted that through the years of delay, people and companies behind the illegal activities have reaped benefits when they should be facing sanctions for violating the law.
“The government has not benefited from the 344 reclaimed lands, instead government expenses such as traveling were incurred in conducting inspections and monitoring activities since CY 2005. The illegal reclaimers, however, seem to enjoy all the economic benefits,” the audit team said.
The COA recommended that the PRA review its existing policies to include timebound actions, faster implementation of forfeiture proceedings, penalties/fees to be charged pending legalization, and shut down of business operations on illegally reclaimed land.
Likewise, it urged coordination with the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and the DENR to facilitate acquisition by the government of illegally reclaimed land.
Reacting to the audit observation, the PRA management agreed to make representations with the OGCC to speed up legal options.
At the same time, it blamed the DENR for the delays saying the latter has not acted on its request for comments on the amended memorandum of agreement for the forfeiture of unauthorized/illegal reclaimed lands.