The Regional Trial Court of Morong dismissed the civil case filed by three individuals which asked for the nullification of a 2017 Protection and Conservation Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. (MGFI) in parts of the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) in Baras, Rizal.
The Court Order dated 15 April 2021 dismissed the case for the absence of capacity to sue, particularly that the authority and legitimacy of the complainants to represent an alleged indigenous tribe from Antipolo was doubtful. The case was seen as a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate environmentalists and claim parts of the protected area for private interests by fronting an indigenous community.
The case was filed after the award-winning environmental group from Masungi raised alarm about the fencing, installation of armed guards, and harassment by Rublou Inc. and its subsidiary Green Atom Renewable Energy Corporation in large tracts of the protected area in late 2020.
The complainants claimed they represented the Dumagat-Remontado tribe of Antipolo and the lawyer claiming to represent the tribe holds financial interests in these companies. These companies previously claimed their chairman, retired police general Luizo Ticman, bought a minimum of 300 hectares of the critical watershed for P5 per square meter from settlers and indigenous persons.
“This is a win for the environment, its defenders, as well as our natural allies, the indigenous people, who may often fall victim to misrepresentation, manipulations of their traditional governance, and unauthorized negotiations by both internal and external powers. We welcome the decision by the Court which protects the future of our abused watershed and biodiversity, and the integrity of the tribe being fronted,” an official of the Masungi Foundation commented.
Elders and members of the Dumagat-Remontado tribe of Antipolo also pushed back on claims the recently dismissed case represented the tribe’s position. “Wala kaming alam dyan [sa mga kaso against MGFI and DENR] (We don’t know anything about those [cases and press releases],” an elder of the Dumagat-Remontado tribe of Antipolo, who agreed to be quoted on the condition of anonymity, said.
“Minsan pinapapirma lang kami pero hindi pinapakita ang papel. ‘Wag naman nilang gamitin lang ang komunidad at ang mga matatanda, para maisulong lang ang kanilang personal na interes. (Sometimes they just make us sign something without showing the contents. They shouldn’t use the community or elders to advance their personal interests.)”
Consensus-building among elders and members is a vital part of the customary decision-making processes of the said indigenous community.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation and environmental advocates have been vocal against the presence of quarry operators, land grabbers, illegal loggers, and other protected area violators inside the URMBPL. The degradation of the watershed, which only has some 20% of forest left, was identified as a driver of the massive flooding and landslides during Typhoon Ulysses in 2020 and Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. The Foundation continues to hold genuine dialogues with surrounding indigenous communities for innovative partnerships in landscape restoration and reforestation.
Meanwhile, Rublou Inc. and Green Atom Renewable Energy Corporation are facing complaints and accusations from Sangguniang Bayan of Laoac, Pangasinan for alleged irregularities in a PHP4.5-billion Waste-to-Energy incineration project in the town. Their chairman faces multiple graft charges from the Ombudsman involving the purchase of overpriced rubber boats and helicopters.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. runs and conserves the globally acclaimed Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal through research, education, and sustainable development. After twenty years of protection from various threats such as illegal logging and quarrying, it is now home to historic limestone formations and hundreds of native and endemic flora and fauna. In 2017, the Foundation was tasked by the Philippine Government to help similarly restore and reforest degraded areas around Masungi’s limestone formations, which includes parts of the URMBPL or Upper Marikina Watershed, at no cost to the government.