Masungi straddles other protected lands – DENR
MANILA, Philippines — The fate of the 2017 deal between the government and the foundation overseeing the internationally acclaimed Masungi conservation project in Rizal province now hangs after an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday said that the land area it covered overlapped with three other areas protected under previous laws.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. (MGFI) and the late Gina Lopez, then environment secretary, had entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on the protection and conservation of a 2,700-hectare property that has since been plagued by incidents of violence, alleged land grabbing, and illegal logging and quarrying.
Nilo Tamoria, DENR regional executive director of Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon), said during Tuesday’s hearing of the House committee on natural resources that the area covered by the 2017 MOA straddled three existing protected areas under two earlier presidential proclamations and a law.
According to Tamoria, these are the Marikina watershed, the Kaliwa River forest reserve, and an unnamed larger area declared protected by Presidential Proclamation No. 1636 issued in the 1970s.
He said the area covered under the 2017 pact likewise overlapped with an ancestral domain title for 21,183 ha issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), noting that 67 percent of Masungi’s total land area was covered by a certificate of ancestral domain title issued by the NCIP.
Tamoria maintained that the DENR had “no input as to the technical description of the area covered” by the 2017 agreement, thus, there was “no specific metes and bounds” on the 2,700 ha.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., who chairs the panel, remarked: “Unfortunately no career employee or civil service employee of DENR participated in the execution of the MOA with Secretary Lopez.”
“Procedure-wise, any proposal should be validated by the field office. There is no record in the regional and even in the central office as to the complete staff work regarding the formulation and even we are not aware [as to] when it was signed and where it was signed,” Tamoria pointed out.
“We’re just looking at where it was notarized. The complete documentation, especially on the aspect of the technical description, we had no participation,” he told the committee.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), which is planning to build either a penitentiary or the main office of the Bureau of Corrections on a 270-ha property within the protected area, has also claimed that the 2017 agreement of “perpetual trust” between the government and MGFI violated the Constitution.
Based on Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, agreements entered into by the government on codevelopment of the country’s natural resources can only last for up to 25 years, Justice Undersecretary Raul Vasquez told Barzaga in a letter dated Feb. 15.
“Any such agreement involving natural resources should thus comply with this constitutional requirement. In light of this, it appears that the perpetual trust conferred to MGFI runs counter to Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez relayed the DOJ’s position on the matter at the request of the House committee, which is investigating alleged illegal activities in the Masungi Georeserve.
The DOJ added that some parts of a protected area could be used by the government in partnership with private Filipino organizations and individuals as long as it would be given an environmental compliance certificate by the DENR and pay the corresponding user fees as provided by Republic Act No. 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992.
MGFI has countered that its agreement with the DENR should be read as an agreement for a “perpetual land trust for conservation” and not as a perpetual license.
In its position paper submitted on April 11 to the House committee, MGFI said the MOA “should be read in its entirety” and not reduced to a single phrase of “perpetual land trust.”
“Otherwise, the 2017 MOA will not only disregard the premium given to the intent of the contracting parties or ignore the most basic rules on interpretation of contracts, but will also diminish the express constitutional provisions in relation to environmental protection and conservation,” the foundation said in the document obtained by the Inquirer on Tuesday.
MGFI argued that there was a substantial difference between “exploration, development, utilization” and “conservation,” saying that the law defines the latter as “preservation and sustainable utilization of wildlife and/or maintenance, restoration and enhancement of a habitat.”
“It is the wise use of natural resources that assures regeneration and replenishment for continuous benefit,” it said.
These definitions, according to MGFI, were the opposite of the activities related to “exploration, development, and utilization” as development was defined as the work being done to explore and prepare an ore body or mineral deposit for mining.