All Out to Damage Yogyakarta’s Protected Karst Region

Some companies have damaged the karst conservation area in the south of Yogyakarta for real estate projects. The Yogyakarta Keraton Palace has facilitated the issuance of rental usage licenses in that region.

The karst region on the south shores of Yogyakarta. (Photo: Documentation from the "Investigation With Tempo")

The heavy duty vehicle lumbered through the slopes between two karst hills in the valley heading towards Seruni Beach. The natural contours of the hillsides of Tepus, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, have disappeared since July. No longer are there any trees or grassland.

Excavators have leveled the ground and shaped the hills’ gradient into giant steps. From these man-made stairs looking southwards, one can see the beach of pristine sand slowly being lapped by the waves of the Indian Ocean hitting the southern Java coastline.

The local population fish and throw their nets on this shore. Women search for wild seaweed that grow freely on the damp rocks. These rock expanses of seaweed create a natural border between the west and east ends of the sandy beach. “Some of our residents seek their livelihood from the Seruni coast,” said Tepus village head, Supardi.

Seruni is also a favorite spot for turtles, those guardians of the sea’s ecosystem, to lay their eggs. The remains of the algae turtles leave after a messy dinner are fed upon by tiny fish, allowing them to flourish.

On usually placid Seruni Beach, whose only noise comes from the sound of waves, the whistling wind and the chirping of birds, a hotel and resort project is getting underway, named South Mountain Paradise, owned by PT Gunung Samudera Tirtomas headed by Robinson Saalino. Saalino is the CEO of a company that deals in construction, property and tourism. According to its master plan, Gunung Samudera Tirtomas will build three constructions with a main swimming pool at the center, surrounded by a resort facing towards the beach

The karst valley is being conjured into a project not unlike the Atlantis Beach Tower Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The project covers an area of 76 hectares. The project mockup and blueprint have been put up on Seruni Beach.

One block of the resort, the security post and the entrance gateway heading out to Seruni Beach have been constructed since January 2017. A panel brandishing the name “South Mountain Paradise” in gold lettering has been put up on the entrance gates.

A resort at Seruni Beach. (Photo: Documentation from the "Investigation With Tempo")

Though only yet in its initial stages, the project is already being marketed online, both on the company’s website and through other property markets’ websites. for instance, is offering South Mountain Paradise as an investment and as an asset for personal use.

The property promises stunning coastal views for families and honeymooners to get away from it all. Starting from Rp700 million per unit, the project will construct 390 condotel units, 80 resort structures, and 70 villas.

Robinson is investing Rp200 billion into the project. To date, he claims to have forked out Rp20 billion for the initial phase. He plans to have completed the project by the end of 2019. “By 2020, we will be ready for operation,” he said.


In Violation

South Mountain Paradise marketing efforts aside, the project is being objected to by the Coalition of Communities to Protect the Sewu Mountain Range. The coalition, comprising, among others, the Yogyakarta Walhi Environmental Forum, the Yogyakarta NGO Forum, the Association of Gunungkidul Students, the Jogja Agraria Emergency, and the Kalijaga Islamic Boarding School, submitted a subpoena against the project to the Gunungkidul Regency Government on August 2.

According to Walhi Yogyakarta executive director Halik Sandera, Seruni Beach is part of the Gunungsewu karst landscape, a protected geological area under the national protected regions. The South Mountain Paradise, he said, is being constructed on protected area and threatens to damage the environment. “UNESCO and the Republic of Indonesia have determined the area to be protected geological landscape to be conserved in the interests of ecological balance and scientific research,” he said.

Based on Law number 26/2017 concerning Spatial Area, and Government Ruling number 15/2010 concerning Management of Spatial Area, the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources issued a letter of decision concerning the region. Letter number 3045/2014 declared the Gunungsewu karst landscape as protected region covering 1.100,17 square kilometers encompassing the areas of the Gunungkidul, Bantul, Wonogiri, and Pacitan Regencies.

Prior, the ministry had issued Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ruling number 17/2012 on karst landscapes. Determining karst landscape regions aims to protect karst areas which function as natural water table regulators.

A protected karst region in Yogyakarta.

Moreover, said Halik, the region was declared protected to conserve karst landscapes which are unique and have scientific research value. The ruling also declared the karst landscape was reserved for scientific activity.

Halik noted that the Province of the Yogyakarta Special Region issued Regional Ruling number 2/2010 on Spatial Planning and Regional Spatial Management of the Province of Yogyakarta. The Regional Ruling had declared Gunungsewu a protected nature sanctuary and prohibits inflecting changes on the natural landscape.

“Pada kawasan cagar alam...melarang mengubah bentang alam, penggunaan lahan, dan ekosistem yang ada.”

Perda Nomor 2 Tahun 2010
tentang Rencana Tata Ruang dan Tata Wilayah
Provinsi D.I.Y.

(Illustrative photo: Shutterstock)

Halik has harsh criticism for the Gunungkidul Regency Government for allowing South Mountain Paradise to violate its own ruling. Gunungkidul Regional Ruling number 6/2011 on Spatial Planning and Regional Spatial Management of Gunungsewu Regency stated that the Pegunungan Sewu karst area is protected space and allows no activity to change its landscape and ecosystem.

Robinson Saalino is refuting the accusation that the South Mountain Paradise project violated any rulings. He claims to have permits from the Gunugkidul Regency Government comprising a location permit, a principal permit, and a spatial permit.

For Robinson, the permits he has obtained are adequate for him to continue developing South Mountain Paradise. He admitted he has yet to obtain a permit to conduct an environmental impact analysis (Amdal) and a Permit to Build Constructions (IMB). “We are in the process of getting the Amdal and the IMB permits. We already have an office on site, the infrastructure has been done, and water and electricity are already in place,” he said.


All Out

South Mountain Paradise is not the only project to hit on the karst landscape of the Gungkidul, Yogyakarta, southern coastline. Still in the Tepus area, in the Purwodadi village, the Gunungkidul Regency Government also issued a spatial area recommendation to PT Jogan Properti in July 2016. The company is building a resort on one hectare of land.

Some 11 kilometers to the west from Tepus and South Mountain Paradise, entrepreneur Enny Supiani has acquired land on Watukodok Beach since 2011. Her company, PT Suara Samudera Selatan, will also build a resort, on a seven- hectare plot of land.

A resort owned by Enny Supiani on Watukodok Beach. (Photo: Documentation from the "Investigation With Tempo")

The Panitikismo, His Highness Prince (KGPH) Haryo Hadiwinoto -- the brother of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X—admits to having been approached several times by Enny Supiani to obtain the letter of agreement concerning Watukodok. Said Hadiwinoto, Enny obtained the agreement with rental payment of Rp160 million for 10 years. “She plans to build a resort,” said Hadiwinoto. “In Bali, you can imagine how she would have to pay many tens of millions just for rent in a single year.”

Three times Tempo went to Enny Supiani’s house in Jalan Permata Timur, Pondok Kelapa, Duren Sawit, East Jakarta, to submit a letter requesting an interview. “Madame is not at home,” said a person claiming to be Enny’s household help. Enny is yet to respond.

There is yet another company managing a tourist area based on a letter of recommendation from the Gunungkidul Regency Land and Spatial Area Office. PT Pantai Baron obtained a zoning recommendation to build a hotel, villas, tourist huts, and camping grounds in January 2015.

The company owned by Dicky Tjokrosaputra is developing a tourist destination worth Rp336 billion on the Baron Beach in Kanigoro village in the Saptosari Subdistrict, on an area of 28 hectares. Kanigoro village chief, Santoso, said Dicky has indeed submitted his zoning permit for land in the village’s vicinity. “Pak Dicky plans to build a starred hotel here,” he said.

Yet another company, PT Muncul Properti Group, is developing a hotel on protected land amounting to 12 hectares in Girijati, Purwosari Subdistrict. The Gunungkidul Regency issued a letter of recommendation for the Muncul company owned by businessperson Soekeno on May 5, 2015. In February, Tempo succeeded in contacting Soekeno. On the phone, he asked that Tempo send the list of questions to his email address. “To,” he said. Yet, afterwards, Soekeno has not a given a single answer to any of Tempo’s questions seeking to make confirmation of the company’s doings.

Still in Girijati, yet another company, PT Garuda Parang Samudera, also obtained a spatial recommendation from the Gunungkidul Regency Government in July 2014. PT Garuda is building a hotel and resort on 6,5 hectares of land.

PT Argenta Persada Selaras also obtained a zoning recommendation to build a resort on Drini Beach, in 2013. Argenta owned by Agung Tobing is building a resort worth around Rp17,5 billion. Said Joko, chair of the Tourism Awareness Community of Pantai Drini, Agung Tobing is developing a plot to the east of Drini Beach to make good the zoning permit he has obtained.

Land owned by Agung Tobing on Drini Beach. (Photo: Documentation from the "Investigation With Tempo")

Tempo attempted to have a peek at this plot of land. A portal obstructs entrance into the area. Near the portal is a copy of the project blueprint. “Even Drini residents are prohibited from entering the spot,” said Joko. Tempo had made an appointment to meet with Agung Tobing to obtain confirmation concerning the land permit. He promised to meet with Tempo in May. But to date, no meeting has occurred, because Agung keeps on canceling. “I am out of town,” said Agung.

In January 2016, the Gunungkidul Regency Government issued a zoning recommendation for PT Anugerah Heha Jaya on a one-hectare plot. The company has built a guard look-out in Patuk. “These companies submitted requests for recommendations to obtain rental use rights on Sultan Grounds,” said Gunungkidul Regent, Badingah.

Legal counsel for the Coalition of Communities to Protect the Sewu Mountain Range, Adnan Pambudi, said, the wholesale issuance of recommendations by the Gunungkidul Regency Government is hastening damage to the protected Gunungsewu karst region. All these activities to build hotels, resorts and the like on the Gunungkidul southern coast, said Adnan, is violating the constitution and regional laws and rulings. “These projects must be halted. The Gunungsewu karst bears legal status as a protected region. It’s spatial territory and its contours may not be tampered with,” he said.

The locations of projects on the coastal karst region in Yogyakarta (click on the coconut tree icon to see details).

The Gunungkidul Regency Government has issued recommendations on protected regions for land plots with the status of Sultan Grounds, in other words, land owned by the Royal Court. The Court holds to the ordinance that fallow land not owned by citizens of the Yogyakarta Special Territory is land owned by the Court.

The Court’s legal basis is Rijksblad Kasultanan, or Sultanate Gazette number 16 year 1918, and Rijksblad Paku Alaman Paku Alaman Gazette number 18 year 1918. Documents at the Gunungkidul Land and Spatial Office state that nearly the entire land area in the vicinity of the southern coast is Sultan Ground. “Practically the entire shoreline of the Gunungkidul region is Sultan Ground,” said Head of the Gunungkidul Land and Spatial Area Office, Winaryo.


People Close to the Keraton Palace

Adnan Pambudi, the legal counsel for the Coalition of Communities to Protect the Sewu Montain Range thinks the Gunungkidul Regency Government facilitates recommendations so readily because it is helpless in face of requests by the Panitikismo. He deduces, business people already close to the Yogyakarta Royal Court process their recommendations to the Gunungkidul Regency Government after getting a go-ahead from a Royal Court officer. “With no go-ahead from the Royal Court, I don’t think the Gunungkidul Government would dare issue a recommendation,” he said. Adnan stated he has no idea about the details of the lobbying process by business people with Court officials to obtain management permits.

A business envoy supports Adnan’s suspicions. This source was appointed the task of seeking a recommendation from the regency government by a business entity wanting to make use of the protected region on Sultan Grounds. He chased after the recommendation only after his boss had obtained an Agreement known as Kekancingan from a Court official with authority over land holdings. “We give them bribes, Sir. If not, neither the recommendation permit nor the letter of agreement would ever be issued,” he said.

Gunung Samudera Tirtomas' boss, Robinson Saalino, claims to have met with officials of the Gunungkidul Regency Government to process the permits necessary for the South Mountain Paradise project. But he did not name the officials whom he met with. Robinson explained that the entire beach area of Gunungkidul is owned by the Royal Court, not the state. Robin refuted the allegation of bribery occurring to expedite spatial zoning recommendations and Kekancingan agreements from the Royal Court. He claims to only have spent money to, “Sip some coffee and to reimburse transportation costs.”

Hadiwinoto’s involvement in seeking permits to manage land plots owned by the Royal Court under a rental use status was revealed by Head of the Gunungkidul Land Agency, Achmad Suraya. “PT Samudera Gunung Tirtomas’s business license was requested by His Highness Haryo Hadiwinoto through an envoy,” said Achmad.

Hadiwinoto admitted to requesting the business license of the company as proof of their serious intention to process a land rental use permit on Sultan Grounds. The business license was necessary for him to find out the owner and the CEO of the company wishing to forge a joint venture with the Sultanate. “It’s so everything is clear,” said Hadiwinoto.

Ia denied being acquainted with Agung Tobing, Soekeno, and Dicky Tjokrosaputra who each have obtained recommendations from the Gununfkidul Regency Government to manage protected landscapes which happen to fall on Sultan Grounds. “I don’t know them. There have been no requests from those names,” he said. Hadiwinoto declared, the kekancingan is issued under the requirement the entity in question has already processed a land use spatial zoning recommendation from the regency government.


Interview with KGPH Hadiwinoto:
The Sultan Ground Land Is Under My Authority.

The Gunungsewu karst landscape falls on land belonging to the Royal Court of Yogyakarta, known as Sultan Grounds. The region designated protected by the central government, is being partly rented out to business people through land rent use permits issued by the Royal Court through letters of agreement known as kekancingan.

To dig into a number of issues related to the protected region on Sultan Grounds, Abdus Somad of Tempo interviewed His Highness Prince Haryo (KGPH) Hadiwinoto. He is the brother of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, the Governor of the Special Yogyakarta Territory. Hadiwinoto is the son of the late Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX from wife Windyaningrum.

In the Yogyakarta Sultanate Courts, Hadiwinoto holds the title of Penghageng Kawedanan Hageng Punakawan Parastra Budaya and Penghageng Tepas Panitikismo. One of his main duties in the royal court structure is to manage the land plots on Sultan Grounds.

Follows excerpts from an interview held at Hadiwinoto’s office in the Jogja City Mall, Jalan Magelang, Yogyakarta, on February 27.

You are the Royal Court’s officer in charge of handling plots of land. How does the Court execute the Sultan Grounds and Kekancingan?

Before the Special Law (UUK), before the Regional Ruling of Special Territory (Perdais), before there were technical guidelines, the Court had already been conducting authority for a long time, though the form was different. Before the UUK, the kekancingan was a loan to use land owned by the Court. The title was different. Later, there are three rights accessible by the citizenry and institutions. Rights of use is connected to clan relations and the Court. There is the anggaduh right for the people, which can be in the form of an empty plot and the building erected will still be owned by the person who made the request. The there is the anganggo right, this is where land and the building becomes the property of the Sultanate.

In the Soecial Region of Yogyakarta, since 1920, data about Court assets were very complete. In the villages there is the ledger. A village map describing plots rented out for use. In the city, complete data and certification was issued for land use since 1920. For rights for Westeners, there is the gebrai, there is RVO or eigendom, and rights for Foreign Easterners, usually reserved for the Chinese community.

Are there enough funds from Kekancingan to fund court activities?

Of course not. Even if only for renovations, there are not enough funds. In a single year, we only receive so much.

Besides Enny Supeni, there are other investors such as Agung Tobing, Soekeno, Dicky Tjokrosaputra, who are also renting Sultan Grounds. They are business people close to the Royal Court, so the Gunungkidul Government had to bow down to pressure from the Court.


You do know them, right?


They already are developing their plots, have they applied for kekancingan?

No, not yet.

Some say bribery is necessary to obtain kekancingan?