MASUNGI GEORESERVE’S OFFICIAL STATEMENT (December 15, 2020)

December 15, 2020 11:00 am

OFFICIAL STATEMENT

December 15, 2020

Hiring marginalized people as a front for destructive interests: a classic tactic for encroachments into protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

BARAS, RIZAL – Following statements made in a reported Zoom media conference organized by Rublou Inc., retired General Luizo Ticman, certain members of the Kaksaan (Indigenous Peoples Organization of the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo), and a certain Atty. Juancho Botor, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation states for the record that:

1. The Masungi Georeserve Foundation reiterates its full commitment to respect indigenous rights in reforestation areas under the Masungi Geopark Project which are found to be covered by ancestral claims. It is the shameless exploitation of indigenous groups for private interests that we deplore. The Masungi Geopark Project, recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Commission on Protected Areas, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, seeks to restore some 3,000 hectares of degraded and illegally logged land
around the Masungi limestone formations within the Upper Marikina Watershed, Kaliwa Watershed, and the Masungi Strict Nature Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. This work helps protect millions of Filipinos from floods and disasters, restore clean and accessible water for surrounding communities, and address climate change.

2. We believe that conservation groups and indigenous peoples are natural and key allies in environment protection and restoration, and not adversaries as some interests wish to set up. We strongly condemn any attempt to sow discord and orchestrate conflicts between conservation and indigenous groups especially at a time when strong collaborations are needed.

3. The fact remains that former Gen. Ticman and his companies, Rublou Inc. and Green Atom Renewable Energy Corp., entered and occupied declared protected area and watershed without any permits from or agreements with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which administers the land. The Masungi Georeserve Foundation sought the help of authorities against Rublou Inc.’s entry, occupation, and continuous deployment of armed guards, who have been harassing and intimidating our park rangers and officers. These guards, as seen on a video taken on October 23, 2020, fenced off some 1,000 hectares of the watershed that they claimed was the “private property” of former General Ticman.

4. Masungi has never complained of the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo. It was former General Ticman’s party which dragged the Dumagat tribe into this issue. Fake news and misinformation may have been peddled to influence certain members of the tribe and sow discontent against Masungi. Sadly, we have also received reports of
2 corruption, bribery, and political pressure, which we fear may compromise the integrity of certain individuals at the expense of the entire tribe, in an attempt to exploit the ancestral domain in favor of outside private business interests. We hope for their authentic empowerment which will enable them to avoid exploitation. We are ready to help them in this journey if they allow us to.

5. On October 30, 2020, the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo released a statement signed by 24 elders, chieftains, and officers (“Annex A”), belying the claims of Rublou Inc. Reflecting tribal consensus, the Dumagat tribe as a whole denied any involvement in the actions of Rublou inside the watershed. They confirmed that the armed guards are not the tribe’s but those of Rublou / Green Atom. They also denied that an Atty. Juancho Botor is the tribe’s legal counsel. For certain members of the tribe to make a turnaround after their original consensus statement is highly disturbing and questionable. We strongly condemn any possible manipulation and exploitation of the plight of indigenous persons.

6. Rublou Inc. does not have proof of necessary consensus-building and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), to invoke an arrangement with the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo as the basis of their occupation and deployment of armed guards (IPRA Law).

 

7. On October 23, 2020, Rublou Inc. barricaded some 1,000 hectares of the protected watershed, brandished “private property” signages, and installed armed guards. On the video, these armed guards claimed that former Gen. Ticman “owns” 1,000 hectares of the Upper Marikina Watershed. This practice by Gen. Ticman of claiming land and
installing armed men is well-known in the immediate community of Sitio San Roque.

8. When Rublou’s attempt to seal off the protected area for private interests was thwarted, it suddenly changed its script and said it was merely acting on behalf of the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo. Overnight, the “private property” signages of Rublou Inc. became Dumagat ancestral domain signages. As earlier discussed, the Dumagat tribe denied they engaged Rublou to protect their interests.

 

9. The guards and the tribe identified Rublou, Inc. / Green Atom / Ticman as the principal party occupying the subject area. This, together with the fact that the tribe has disclosed that there is still no clear map of the ancestral claim of the tribe, creates an impression that the sudden turnaround by Rublou Inc., and certain members of the tribe, is a mere afterthought to create an illusion of legitimacy and conceal the illegal occupation committed by Rublou, Inc. / Green Atom through its guards. Wary of tactics commonly used by land grabbing entities, Masungi diligently exerted all efforts to verify the facts from the parties involved.

10. Whether under forest land laws or the IPRA law, commerce of land to non-tribe members is prohibited. In the media conference, former Gen. Ticman’s party claimed to have purchased some 300 hectares of the watershed at PHP 5 per square meter but failed to show any proof of ownership. If it is true that he is buying land within the
protected area and ancestral domain, then he is openly violating the law. The area has been a watershed reservation since 1904 and was strengthened by multiple protected area declarations and policies prohibiting settlement and sale. Indigenous peoples are also prohibited from selling ancestral land to non-tribe members as it defeats the purpose of protecting their rights and culture.

11. Masungi Park Rangers intensified monitoring and forest protection efforts in the subject area just in September 2020 and supplemented this with checkpoints in logging trails, after the discovery of wholesale tree cutting and other illegal activities in the area. Rublou Inc’s claim to be protecting the land from illegal loggers is demonstrably
false. It is also false that any Dumagat-Remontado was prevented from entering the area. In fact, Alex Bendana, one of the tribe members in the media conference, visited the subject area in October 2020, in coordination with Masungi’s officers.

 

12. On October 28, 2020, upon learning that the area may have ancestral domain claims, the Masungi team met with the tribe in Antipolo to verify the facts and discuss the next steps towards collaboration. It was only during the said meeting that Masungi came to learn from members of the tribe itself that a certain part of Masungi’s reforestation area may be covered by the Dumagat Antipolo’s Ancestral Domain claim, which is in the application for an Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). Masungi thereafter requested for a map of their claim so that it can proceed to identify any overlap and go through the necessary arrangements and certifications needed, in close coordination
with the tribe (“Annex B” and recorded on video). The tribe said that it also does not have a clear map of their claim and that they will share this to us once they can.

 

13. Unfortunately, indigenous communities are sometimes exploited to usher in vested interests in protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries. Conservation groups all over the world, from Cambodia to Ecuador, have raised the alarm on increasing land grabs during the pandemic, which are seemingly sporadic but are actually organized activity, often involving politically-connected businesspeople:

• In Reserva Youth Land Trust’s project area in Ecuador, they noted that “Promining politicians have accused our partner [conservation organization] of sowing discontent in the community. This is a classic tactic to intimidate groups working against the interests of mining companies.”

• In the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, “Poor people are hired as a front to hide business interests,” Marcus Hardtke, an expert on forest issues said. “But ultimately the land ends up in the hands of the organizers. Many of these land grabs are then later legalized in ‘compromises’.” (Humphrey, Mongabay, 2020). We, too, have seen this plot employed many times through decades of defending Masungi’s limestones and forests on the ground.

14. Masungi Georeserve has been restored into a thriving wildlife sanctuary after twenty years of dedicated protection efforts against quarrying, land speculation, and illegal logging. This has only been possible through sheer willpower and courage against powerful interests. Its conservation model has been awarded by three of the 4
world’s leading conservation organizations: the United Nations Environment Program, the World Commission on Protected Areas, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Masungi’s track record in engaging and involving different stakeholders in conservation work is widely known and documented.

15. It was on the basis of the above performance and track record, that the government engaged Masungi Georeserve Foundation to undertake the Masungi Geopark Project in an innovative landmark project to engage civil society and non-government actors in reforesting degraded lands and rewilding them. With an 80% funding gap for
biodiversity conservation in the Philippines, the need for the contributions of these sectors in conservation cannot be overemphasized.

16. The truth about the 2016 shooting incident in a different section of Masungi is that rogue elements of the military together with a security agency and a mob of 40 men, attacked park rangers protecting the conservation area from professional land grabbers, not unlike those we continue to face. After the truth was revealed, the next year in 2017, Masungi Georeserve Foundation and the Second Infantry Division signed a partnership agreement to help in the enforcement of environmental laws in the Masungi Geopark Project. Masungi Georeserve continues to cooperate with various arms of government in a tireless and concerted effort to protect the land from occupation by armed, private interests under various pretexts.

17. The Masungi Geopark Project is a national government project of the Duterte Administration initiated by then DENR Secretary Gina Lopez. It aims to restore denuded forests around Masungi Georeserve at no cost to the government and in response to the sorry and dangerous state of the Upper Marikina Watershed, which contributes to deadly floods in Metro Manila and surrounding areas. It has now been able to engage up to 100 full-time park rangers using funds self-generated from low volume, sustainable, and value-based geotourism in its first conservation site, the Masungi Georeserve. Masungi Georeserve Foundation and its legal teams are ready to defend its actions in court.

18. The guards shown in the press conference of Rublou who are allegedly Dumagat tribe members are NOT the guards present in the subject area. No indigenous people have been displaced. Only Rublou’s armed guards have been patrolling the area. These are clear attempts to mislead the public and gain sympathy.

19. The fact that Atty. Juancho Botor, who claims to be advising the tribe on legal matters, is also former General Ticman’s personal lawyer on various cases he is involved in is highly suspicious and very telling of the current dynamics at play.

20. We respect the rights of indigenous people. The armed guards only serve to disrupt urgent restoration work in the watershed and harass the park rangers with their show of force. We reiterate our appeal for their immediate removal from the protected area.

21. We request our leaders and the public not to indulge in these machinations and diversions from the main issues, which are the large-scale illegal and destructive activities and interests inside the Upper Marikina Watershed. We need to solve these urgently and courageously to protect the future of millions of Filipinos.

Contact the Team:
communications@masungigeoreserve.com

ANNEX A: Official Statement of the Dumagat-Remontados of Antipolo on 30 October
020 denying their involvement with Rublou/Green Atom and deployment of guards

“Annex B”: Masungi Georeserve Foundation met with the tribe as a whole on 28
October 2020 where they denied involvement with Rublou Inc. The next steps for
harmonization of plans and collaborations were also discussed.