Statement: On Landgrabbing and Political Harassment by the Tanay LGU at Masungi Georeserve

April 18, 2016 12:16 pm

 

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We condemn the landgrabbing and political harassment committed against Masungi, a place dedicated to the conservation and appreciation of our natural heritage. It is unfortunate that just when public interest went up in the past few months, so did the interest of local public officials, led by Mayor Tanjuatco, and private individuals who have no concern for the environment.

None of them have lifted a finger to stop the rampant cutting of trees and hunting of wildlife, nor planted a single tree, picked up a single piece of trash or built a single compost pile in Masungi. To us, actions speak louder than words and our work in Masungi speaks for itself.

In the past few months, there has been an inordinate amount of effort from the Tanay LGU led by Mayor Tanjuatco to take down the protective fences and signages of Masungi Conservation Area. All this to re-install professional landgrabbers on hundreds of hectares of titled government property compromising no less a conservation zone.

Yet, the Tanay LGU has also decreed in SB Resolution Nos. 2013-01 and Ordinance 2012-08 that illegal occupation and removal of boundary marks and signages is prohibited within the area. What could be so special about these landgrabbing families that they are above the law which the LGU itself created and and is mandated to uphold?

Because of the misplaced support of the local government and inaction by the local police, landgrabbers continue to encroach upon the fringes of Masungi Conservation Area and threaten its existence until today.

This begs the question, is the LGU under Mayor Tanjuatco truly for the conservation of Masungi? Or is it merely protecting the private interests of a few big families who use the name of the Dumagats to claim land?

To update the public, we are delighted that the Ombudsman has given due course to various cases filed by staunch anti-corruption NGO ZeroTolerance.org against Mayor Tanjuatco, Tanay Sanggunian Bayan, and Masungi Rock Management Council for their abuses at Masungi, including usurpation of authority, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, graft and corruption, among others. We are confident that justice will be served against those who have abandoned the law in favor of private interests, to the damage and prejudice of the public and of the environment.

 

Background: What is Masungi?

Masungi Conservation Area is a 1,600-hectare local conservation area in Rizal that protects the limestone formations, flora and fauna within it. It is a unique limestone formation in the Philippines with exposed Paleocene rocks from 50-60 million years ago. It also houses numerous endemic and endangered species including the North Luzon Giant Cloud Rat, rare Jade Vine and Titan Arum.

Blue Star Construction & Development Corporation (BSCDC) holds a joint venture agreement with the National Government (DENR) to manage over 300 hectares of this area. Instead of building houses, BSCDC believed that the limestone formations must be preserved for generations to come. After close to twenty years of conservation efforts over the once barren and denuded land, BSCDC opened controlled access to the public in December of 2015. Masungi Georeserve, as it is now called, quickly became a popular ecotourism site and is lauded all over Southeast Asia for its “geotourism” model that combines environmental preservation, community involvement, and sustainable tourism together with the local and indigenous Dumagat communities.

With help from the UNESCO Global Geopark Network, representive Geologists from the Academe and Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Masungi Georeserve together with the rest of Masungi Conservation Area is on its way to become a UNESCO Global Geopark.

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Masungi Before and After Restoration & Conservation Efforts

 

What’s the Issue?

Recent acts of political harassment and landgrabbing, despite already being titled to the Republic and covered by a contract with BSCDC, threaten all of this.

Landgrabbing: Three large families surnamed Tanchoco, Sulapat and Lugiano are illegally claiming not small parcels of land, but hundreds of hectares at Masungi. They have already staged two violent occupations of this area using large mobs and hired goons in a span of one month (one on March 6 and another on April 3, 2016). These families are not farmers nor people in need, not even real Dumagats, but are plain real estate speculators. Despite having no proof of ownership or title, they are being supported by Mayor Tanjuatco of Tanay and certain DENR officials, and tolerated by the local police. Up until now, two weeks after the April 3 occupation, these landgrabbers continue to occupy the area. Worse, they are using the Dumagat’s name to claim land, yet even the National Commission for Indigenous People has not certified any association of the landgrabbers to the indigenous tribe.

Political Harassment: Apart from providing assistance to the landgrabbers in the two violent occupations, the parties mentioned have also exercised their political powers to harass BSCDC to pressure it to put down the protective fence it built over the area in October 2015. This includes, but is not limited to, illegal resolutions by the Masungi Rock Management Council (Resolution 2016-01) and Tanay Sanggunian Bayan (Resolutions 2016- 16 & 20) to stop operations of Masungi Georeserve on baseless grounds. While the former clearly showed partiality towards the three landgrabbers, the latter make the removal of fences areas seem like areas of public concern. A due and comprehensive response on the very first resolution has already been forwarded to the LGU since the 1st of February 2016. It has not issued a proper response since.

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Armed goons, military and destruction of fences

 

What needs to be done now?

1. Elements of the 80th Infantry Battalion still present in the area must demonstrate that they are serving the interest of the government and not of the landgrabbers. They must actively prevent further violence and criminal acts by the landgrabbers.
2. PNP officials must immediately arrest the landgrabbers engaged in on-going crimes such as trespassing and destruction of property.
3. Finally, we call on DENR who owns the land to finally eject the landgrabbers and impose the penalties upon those who have violated the law. These families have been occupying and benefitting from large tracts of land for decades for free, to the damage and prejudice of the public. What explains this grave irregularity from elements of the local DENR?

 

What happened during the April 3 occupation?

(Video documentation: https://youtu.be/48HL6orX1Ew)
About 7am last Sunday April 3, 2016 along Marcos Highway, a large mob of about fifty (50) men descended upon the conservation area. This include goons from Seahorse Security Agency (owned by ex-Navy Captain Noel Felicia who consistently boasts of his association with alleged classmate PNP Chief Marquez and other high ranking military and police officials) and armed men in civilian clothes armed with bolt cutters, sledgehammers and high-powered firearms consisting of submachine guns, armalites and grenade launchers. After pouring heavy gunfire and grenades upon our helpless and greatly outnumbered park rangers, they proceeded to illegally demolish the security fence that protected the Georeserve from big-time landgrabbers and environment despoilers.

They then occupied the exposed government land and installed themselves within the premises of the conservation area. As we left the premises, the mob continued to tear down the remaining security fence and occupy the rest of the government land. All of these criminal acts are happening in full view of the police and the military who look the other way in spite of our repeated requests for them to arrest the perpetrators of an on-going crime and to stop the illegal occupation and destruction of government land and property.

It is an immense coincidence that the army appeared on the scene together with the landgrabbers and even a bigger puzzle why the army allowed the landgrabbers to destroy hundreds of meters of government fencing and to illegally occupy government land. They could not have missed the abundance of government property and protected area signs installed by BSCDC in the premises. They could not have missed the large, threatening number of unidentified persons dressed in black, wearing shades and combat boots, forcibly occupying the reserve.

Until now, elements of the 80th Infantry Battalion are occupying a portion of the conservation area. We ask them to demonstrate the impartiality they promised the public and prevent further criminal acts by the landgrabbers.

The alleged presence of armed men from our end is merely a pretext for the assault upon the Georeserve. The army and everyone else in the area knows BSCDC and Georeserve well, and could have easily called our attention about the presence of armed men. Our men are simply park rangers taking care of the flora and fauna as well as the limestone pinnacles in the conservation area. Any resistance they may have made was merely for their self-defense against the landgrabbers and armed men in civilian clothes who attacked them with heavy gunfire within our premises. It is the most natural reaction to defend yourself using whatever resources are available.

 

What about the March 6 occupation?

On March 6, Sunday, a mob of about fifty (50) men also tore down the gates of the Georeserve, threatened our park rangers and installed themselves in that area. The police came but did nothing to stop the on-going crime and arrest the mob. The occupation lasted for four days within which we were able to secure evidence of the crime (eg. cars used). On the night of March 9, the Chief of Police of Tanay Marigondon personally led the destruction of our gates, spiriting away evidence of illegal occupation and destruction of property. Why are the police under the orders of Mayor Tanjuatco protecting those who are on the other side of the law?

 

FAQs:

What is the story behind the permits in question?

We hold that resolutions to suspend the park are illegal and are purely instruments to pressure BSCDC to put down the fences it built to protect the reserve from landgrabbers and illegal loggers. With its actions, the LGU is abandoning its responsibility to protect its own protected area, in favour of the interests of a few big families.

We have all the legal rights and permits to operate and will not bow down to harassment. The park’s facilities consists basically of natural stone and gravel mix trails and optional rope courses that give access to points of interest within the Georeserve. Apart from decades of engineering excellence, significant investments in safety exist in the design of the trail (e.g. stone paths, railings, emergency routes) and the training of our rangers.

Are your rangers armed?

Our rangers do not carry firearms. As keepers of the reserve, they only carry standard garden cutters to trim plants along the trails. Although there are weapons registered to the company, these are merely stored within the premises for self defence purposes.

Why have you not taken down the Georeserve’s fences despite LGU’s resolutions?

Our fences do not pose danger to motorists as the LGU claims, instead they have already prevented three to four motorists from falling into cliffs. The real question is, how come the parallel fences of the landgrabbers are not being asked to be put down, when these are illegal, devoid of a fencing permit, are closer to the highway, have barbed wires on them and hence are truly dangerous? The bias against the Georeserve’s fences is evident.

The LGU further claims that fencing permit is expired. This is false as fencing permits do not carry expiration dates; they expire upon completion of the fencing works. By claiming these, the LGU is arrogating upon itself the authority on building and fencing permits, the competence over which is only with the DPWH Building Official. There seems to be an inordinate amount of effort to take down the Georeserve’s fences which were built to protect the conservation area. Again, this begs the question, is the LGU under the leadership of Mayor Tanjuatco truly for the conservation of Masungi? Or are they merely protecting private interests?

Parellel fences: Which is truly dangerous to motorists?

 

Connect with us:

For more info on Masungi Georeserve and its advocacy, check the FB page “Masungi Georeserve.” To join the Save Masungi Movement, check the FB page “Save Masungi Movement” and message the organizers your thoughts.