Saving Masungi Together; Condemning Harassments, Disinformation, and Division Tactics
January 7, 2021
1. Masungi Georeserve Foundation’s reforestation project in surrounding degraded lands of the georeserve, the Masungi Geopark Project, continues to be threatened by many vested and destructive interests in the Upper Marikina Watershed. These vested interests would want genuine environmental conservation efforts stopped and communities divided, so that selfish and short-sighted interests may flourish unimpeded.
2. Following our sharing of environmental injustices throughout the pandemic, such as land grabbing, quarrying, and timber-poaching, we have seen thinly veiled and desperate attempts by vested interests to harass and intimidate environmentalists protecting the Upper Marikina Watershed, the degradation of which is one of the causes of massive flooding and disasters such as those recently brought by Typhoon Ulysses. This includes disinformation, fake news, false pages, and trolling, sowing of discord in communities, various forms of harassment and threats, and other malicious maneuvers.
3. On October 23, 2020, armed guards claiming to work for a retired police general, under private firms Rublou Inc. and Green Atom Renewable Energy Corporation, barricaded large tracts of the watershed and claimed some 1,000 hectares of it as “private property” of their principal, without presenting any proof of ownership or permits. Brandishing high-powered guns, the guards threatened and stopped Masungi’s park rangers, who were only there to conduct peaceful reforestation work. A few days after being exposed to the media, their “private property” signages became “ancestral domain” signages.
4. Hiring disadvantaged and vulnerable people as a front to hide private business interests is a common strategy for illicit encroachments and land grabbing in protected areas and forest lands. We request the public and media not be fooled or indulge in these ploys.
5. Masungi reached out to several members of an indigenous tribe from Antipolo implicated by the claimant, who denied knowing about or consenting to moves by certain members. It is dubious and disturbing that consensus-building among the tribe’s elders, the customary and rightful decision-makers of the tribe, appears to be disrespected. Likewise, authentic advocates of indigenous people’s rights believe that such moves will only serve the vested interests in the land and will ultimately put the welfare of the indigenous people at stake.
6. The Masungi Georeserve Foundation strongly condemns any manipulation and exploitation of disadvantaged and vulnerable people for private business interests, as it reiterates its full commitment in respecting ancestral rights and working with indigenous people to reforest the degraded watershed. We believe indigenous people and conservation groups are natural and key allies for environment protection and the upliftment of communities, and not adversaries as some outside interests wish to orchestrate.
7. Cristina Quierre, a Dumagat tribe leader from Rizal, sends her message of support and collaboration, “Ang mensahe ko lang sa Masungi ay ipagpatuloy ang pagprotekta sa mga lupain at huwag susuko. Laban lang. Tulong-tulong tayo para umunlad at maprotektahan and ating mga kahoy, mga ibon, mga hayop, at ang mga ancestral land.” [My message to Masungi is to continue protecting the forests and not give up. We will continue to fight. We will work together to uplift and protect our forests, biodiversity, and ancestral lands.”]
Masungi denounces the foolish and cowardly disinformation campaigns and sowing of intrigue against its reforestation project
1. On January 4, 2021, Biodiversity Management Bureau Director Ricardo Calderon clarified that his only intent is to strengthen Masungi’s defense against vested interests in its reforestation areas through an economic case for conservation. It was also clarified that reforestation projects such as the intent of Masungi’s 2017 MOA with DENR would generally not require a SAPA (Special Use Agreement for Protected Areas) and related fees and taxes. Meanwhile, the Masungi Georeserve and its trail visit activities are found in a different area governed by a distinct project.
2. “I have reviewed the reforestation agreement between Masungi Georeserve and the DENR and find that it is legally valid as well as not disadvantageous to the government. In fact, this is more than an ordinary agreement but a partnership between the DENR which invited the Masungi Georeserve to work with it. As far as I have seen, the latter has been working closely with the indigenous peoples in the area and will continually do so,” remarked former DENR Undersecretary Atty. Tony La Viña, who assisted in the creation of the Georeserve in the 1990s and who is a strong advocate of indigenous peoples’ rights.
3. The Masungi Geopark Project is not a business or a profit-making enterprise. It is a public-interest conservation project meant to restore and rewild the forest, where activities include native tree planting and nurturing, maintenance, community development, and advocacy. It is financed and done by the foundation and its partners from different sectors, at no cost to the government. To date, it engages up to 100 local park rangers with meaningful work, engages 200 private and public partners in the restoration endeavor and has planted and nurtured more than 57,000 native trees.
4. The Masungi Georeserve and the Masungi Geopark Project are globally acclaimed initiatives by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for their innovations in conservation resourcing and financing.
5. The reforestation project seeks to restore some 3,000 hectares of degraded and abused 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.