Statement: On the events that transpired in Masungi Conservation Area on March 6-9, 2016

March 30, 2016 12:53 pm

 

The conspirators can twist their stories but the truth will always come out.

 

On October 2015, a man in the conservation area was case caught red-handed by our park rangers for illegally cutting trees with a chainsaw. The man was turned over to the Tanay Police but for reasons known only to them, he was released. This is despite the fact that he should have been arrested for illegal possession of an unlicensed chainsaw and illegal logging. Further traces of illegal logging were found in areas still left unsecured. This prompted the conservator to fence off the perimeter of the conservation area to protect said area, and deter trespassers from further entering and cutting trees.

 

As it turns out, this illegal activities and area concerned a big-time land-grabber surnamed Tanchoco, who is acting in conspiracy with other illegal occupants surnamed Sulapat and Lugiano. According to their lawyer Diego Palomares, they were allowed by Mayor Tanjuatco of Tanay to destroy the fence we built and enter the property.

 

Their modus is to squat on vast tracts of land and apply for tax declarations on the property from the Local Assessor’s Office. They then use these tax declarations as alleged proof of ownership. They are apparently engaged in the selling of land of questionable title, and are known to be professionals in orchestrating occupations (eg. bringing a mob to forcibly occupy property, as what happened on March 6, Sunday).
Following fencing off the conservation area we have legal control over, we were continuously and unabatedly harassed and blackmailed (via resolutions by the Mayor Tanjuatco-controlled Sangguniang Bayan, Masungi Rock Management Council) to stop operations of the famous Georeserve, among others, so that we will remove the fences and allow these illegal occupants to continue to enter and occupy the property.

 

We hold that these resolutions are without authority, illegal and completely politically motivated since the claims have no valid basis at all (see Appendix below for breakdown). They were brainlessly approved and have no legal leg to stand on. The lengths the Mayor was taking to protect the interests of the land grabbers is highly suspicious, to say the least, and many reports point to Mayor Tanjuatco being personally involved.

 

Due to these illegal resolutions, multiple Ombudsman cases were filed against Mayor Tanjuatco and his cohorts. We then stayed silent on the issue to allow the Courts resolve the matter. However, the events that started on March 6, Sunday leave us with no choice but to go public on these concerns.

 

 

MARCH 6, SUNDAY – OPERATION: OCCUPY

 

On March 6, Sunday, a mob of 50 people, led by goons and known land-grabbers in the area, destroyed the fence and threatened our park rangers who were protecting the area. They spewed grave threats, racism and bigotry against our Muslim brothers who were rangers in the area. They were led by a Mr. Diego Palomares who claimed that he had express authority from Mayor Tanjuatco to occupy the area, likewise boasting that he is a former judge and assemblyman.

 

[We later on we found out that that these people were not locals. They are from places like Caloocan and Manila and were asked to join the mob. We also found out that the men dressed as if military men and police were actually hired goons from a maritime security agency that offers overseas employment without the requisite POEA license, and hence are illegal recruiters by definition of RA 8042 and RA 10022.]

 

The mob successfully occupied the area and were instructed by their leaders to never leave the premises. We called the Police to seek help. We showed them all documents including the title and contract, while the other party provided none. We did the blotters and begged the Police to intervene and arrest the intruders while the crime is on-going, but to no avail. Due to this inaction, the stand off went on and we lost hope of getting the intruders arrested. Why the Police did nothing we can only surmise.

 

At this point, our last recourse was to secure the evidence of trespassing (eg. cars, taken forest products, damaged gates) so we can show these in court later on. Two days have passed and we were able to successfully secure evidence in the process.

 

MARCH 8, TUESDAY – MORE THREATS: “Kaibigan ko ang pulis”

 

After securing the evidence for two days, the owner of the maritime security agency which employed the goons hired in this operation came by the site screaming “sabi ni CP (Chief of Police), baklasin na yang gates at kung may pumalag, damputin!” at “kaibigin ko ang Chief of Police, pati si General Marquez, ang first family, at ayokong gamitin sa inyo yan kaya paalisin ninyo na ang mga kotse.” All of these statements are caught on tape. We, of course, resisted him, and thought that would be the end of it.

 

MARCH 9, WEDNESDAY – UNDER THE VEIL OF DARKNESS

 

On March 9 at around 9pm, under the veil of darkness, the Chief of Police of Tanay, dressed in civilian clothes, personally led an ambush on the site to take away the evidence. Our men were outnumbered, and could not do anything.

 

ENDING WORDS

 

To the Filipino people, we are truly sorry for failing to protect the conservation area as we were ultimately helpless and outnumbered. The forces of evil are strong in the place. We can only spread this incident to more people so they become aware of the matter and provide help where needed. Rest assured, we will continue to fight for Masungi so we can free it from politics and greed.

 

Please connect with us at freemasungi@masungigeoreserve.com to help. Internet connection is weak in the area so we may be slow in replying, but rest-assured that these are very much appreciated.

 

APPENDIX: CLAIMS BY LGU OF TANAY & OUR RESPONSE

 

1. What is BSCDC’s authority and activities on this land?

 

The conservation area is titled land and BSCDC is the legal conservator and manager under a joint venture with the national government initially for housing purposes. Today, the area is used for eco-tourism/geotourism and conservation, something we hope all Filipinos can be proud of. Our company does not even need to do this for financial purposes but management is doing so because we feel strongly that areas like Masungi should be protected for the heritage of mankind and the future generations to enjoy and experience.

 

Our activities and structures are designed such that there is zero to minimal impact on the natural surroundings. It gives a chance for locals including the indigenous to gain meaningful jobs. Flora and fauna are well taken cared of and protected by our rangers on the ground. This is while so-called public servants sit comfortably in their chairs and view the place as a milking cow.

 

2. Does the Tanay LGU have any authority to dictate on operations and on pricing?

 

We submitted an ecotourism proposal for partnership to the LGU a little over two years ago. This was not passed and approved by their end, despite more than a year of follow through efforts from us. As such, we are operating and conserving independently, as we have been doing for more than a decade now.

 

The Masungi Management Council has supervisory rights in so far as ensuring no environment violations – for instance, illegal logging and illegal occupancy – take place. It does not have any hold on our operations and pricing as with all private enterprises. For both parties, it is unfortunate and disappointing that such drastic, illegal resolutions/actions were taken without consultations with us, the real stakeholders, and without elementary due process to constituents.

 

The LGU further claims of “overpricing.” The price of PHP 500.00 proposed by our end in the unapproved ecotourism partnership plan back in 2014. There have been a good number of improvements on the full trail since then. These include Duyan, Patak, and Sapot, among many others. We firmly believe that the price set is commensurate to the quality of service and experience we offer. This is something many of our guests can attest to.

 

3. What are the safety measures in the georeserve?

 

Significant investments to safety exist. Our “emergency plan” is not only reactive but largely preventive. We have taken into consideration preventiveness in design, preparedness and response. Our trails/alternate trails, ropes, viewing decks, and railings exist first and foremost for this. Our guests, supplied with helmets, are accompanied by park rangers carrying first aid kits and communication devices. Our rangers, along with key maintenance personnel, are trained in first aid and in emergency response. While we cannot mitigate everything in the outdoors, we believe all these are above and beyond what is typically done for a hikers’ safety.

 

4. Are the fencing placed by Bue Star against and dangerous to the public?

 

Proper context need to be supplied when discussing this. Again, these were placed in areas being illegally occupied by influential private parties (Tanchoco, Lugiano, Sulapat) and was triggered by an illegal logging incident. They are well within the conservation area and our legal responsibility. We further assert that our fencing works are a continuing activity over a large and contentious area, only stopped intermittently for legally valid reasons and conditions. Fencing permits, can, but do not automatically, and at all events, expire after a year.

 

The claim that the fencing is against public interest, particularly farmers, is absolutely illogical and completely unfounded. Already fenced by the illegal influential occupants, and being a rocky mountainous area, these areas have been impassable for the general public for a long time. It is also not our fences which have barbed wires on them that may be harmful to motorists, and is closest to the road in the said area. Quite the contrary, ours are cleanly made and have been sturdy enough to prevent several motorists from falling into nearby cliffs. Should DPWH have road expansion activities, one over area that is yet to be expropriated, and has yet to have a right-of-way record, these should have been left for our discussion with them. We expect that the land-grabbers’ fences – those that are in fact much closer to the road – are being addressed as strongly by the Tanay LGU.

 

Photographer is taking the photo from the highway

 

5. What is the story behind all other permits in question?

 

The lack of the other required permits mentioned also came as a surprise to us. The ceremonial opening of the georeserve/park in 2014 that deemed it fit by the Tanay LGU for receiving guests was presided by no less than the Tanay LGU. This included the visit of the entire officialdom of Tanay, and their special guests. Accounts of this can be found online. Prior to the launch, the only permit compliance raised for our trail was that of the Certificate of Non-Coverage, which we duly fulfilled.

 

The business permit with Tanay is likewise being withheld from us, despite completion of requirements, for their reasons explored in this Appendix. This harmed our operations as a company as a whole, and put our business beyond the park in danger.

 

A contested area also claimed by Baras, by virtue of PD 324 and the Cadastral Survey, all of these forced us altogether to return to Baras, where our works for conservation are appreciated. Over the course of the last month, all permits have been appropriately dealt with and renewed.

 

To Tanayans, your officials have failed to see the economic, social and environmental opportunities that the Georeserve will bring to the people of Tanay and instead gambled it to protect private interests.

 

6. What is the impact on conservation and trail operations?

 

Visits, maintenance, and conservation activities will proceed as usual, while these issues are being resolved in the proper legal venue. We will promptly be in touch if there are any developments critical for visits.

 

We are working on the quick resolution of these issues – with the long-term in mind – for the sake of the reserve, our people, and guests. Our lawyers are taking care of bringing these matters to court, where it should be addressed.