Masungi Georeserve denies agreeing to BuCor plan to develop area
MANILA, Philippines — The private caretaker of the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province has denied conceding to the plan of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to develop 270 hectares of the 400-ha protected area as the new site for its headquarters.
In a statement on Saturday, BuCor said the Masungi Georeserve Foundation had agreed to its five-year development plan after a “fruitful” meeting on Wednesday between BuCor acting Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr. and Foundation trustees Ann and her sister Billie Dumaliang, together with their lawyers and officials of the Department of Justice and the Land Registration Authority (LRA), among others.
“The Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. acknowledged and recognized that the subject land belongs to the BuCor,” the statement said, adding that the foundation “came to a mutual agreement and understanding [with the agency] that BuCor and Masungi Georeserve adheres [sic] to safeguarding the land’s biodiversity and geological structures which led to a fruitful discussion of creating linkages toward environment protection.”
The foundation, however, denied BuCor’s claim. In its statement on its Facebook page posted on Saturday, the foundation said it “stands firm and continues to urge the government to reconsider plans to build Bureau of Corrections facilities inside the georeserve.”
In a text message to the Inquirer, Ann Dumaliang said: “It was a good first touch base and we are happy we finally met the BuCor leadership — but no such conclusions were agreed on.”
“We stand by our position and that of other environmental groups that BuCor should not build in this area,” she said.
According to the BuCor statement, lawyer Teodoro Bonifacio Jr. of the LRA “enlightened [the Masungi caretakers about] the history of the claimants and clearly emphasized that the 270 hectares [are] solely owned by BuCor, [which] has all the right to develop any activities in accordance with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) guidelines [on] preserving [the] environment.”
BuCor said it acquired the right to the 270-ha portion of the conservation site when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1158 on Sept. 9, 2006, reserving that area as a new site for the bureau.
That portion was designated as “Lot 10,” the same area where armed men had set up camp in September last year, reviving public attention to the endangered conservation site.
But Arroyo’s proclamation makes no reference to Proclamation No. 1636 of 1977 and Proclamation No. 573 of 1969, issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. reserving the Masungi area as a national park and wildlife sanctuary.
Another statute before Arroyo’s order is the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 (Republic Act No. 7586), which further establishes the legal mechanism for the preservation of protected areas.
In 2009, then-Environment Secretary Lito Atienza issued a memorandum ordering his agency’s Calabarzon office to present an alternative relocation site for BuCor.
In 2017, the foundation entered into an agreement with DENR (then on the watch of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez) regarding Masungi’s preservation and maintenance.
It was only in September last year that BuCor was able to receive the transfer of certificate title of the property.
Catapang had said earlier that “BuCor will always protect and continue to support the advocacy of environmental preservation.”
But he also has other plans, saying that he is considering the area as a potential site for its Corrections National Training Institute as well as for the housing of the bureau’s current and retired officials, among other purposes.
He and other BuCor officials are scheduled to visit Masungi on March 12, Ann Dumaliang said.
She said she hoped that BuCor would realize “that it would not be fiscally sound or feasible to implement their plans without destroying the environment.”