NCIP to pursue court order halting Masungi ops

Anjo Bagaoisan and Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 02 2023 12:54 AM

Park rangers show visitors the landscape in Baras, Rizal from the “Sapot” at the Masungi Georeserve on October 24, 2019. The conservation area was recently recognized for its sustainable tourism practices at the UN World Tourism Organization Awards last September. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Park rangers show visitors the landscape in Baras, Rizal from the “Sapot” at the Masungi Georeserve on October 24, 2019. The conservation area was recently recognized for its sustainable tourism practices at the UN World Tourism Organization Awards last September. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) plans to ask a local court in Rizal to put out an injunction order suspending the operations of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. in the mountainous southern Sierra Madre area, an official told legislators Wednesday.

Atty. Josefina Rodriguez-Agusti, the NCIP regional hearing officer for Region IV-A, said at a House committee hearing that indigenous persons who alleged they have been displaced by Masungi from their ancestral domain will be plaintiffs in the case.

"Ngayon po ang tinitingnan na po natin ay ‘yong sama-samang kaso ng ating mga katutubo bilang isang pangkatutubong pamayanan ng mga Dumagat-Remontado,” Agusti told reporters afterward.

“Kung mangyayari iyon, mapapatigil po ang operasyon ng Masungi Georeserve doon sa area at siyempre patuloy po na mae-enjoy ng ating mga katutubo ang kanilang lupaing ninuno, kung saan sila ay may karapatan at kinikilala ng estado.”

The NCIP said they have previously assisted IPs in filing individual criminal cases against Masungi and its sibling developer Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation for alleged violations ranging from constructing fences and barring entry in the domain.

At the hearing, Agusti relayed the experiences of certain IPs who were injured trying to go over or under the fences to get to their lands.

Masungi Georeserve Foundation managing trustee Ann Dumaliang said they will answer the charges, which she said were mostly without basis.

“Once and for all, all of those claims, I will say a lot of them are manufactured. Hindi totoo, siniyasat ko ito, kasi kinausap ko sila dati kahit lagpas pa ito sa panahon ng Masungi,” she said in an interview.

“Hindi totoo na mayroong na-blindfold, ‘di totoo na mayroong giniba na istruktura habang nasa loob ang tao, pagkatapos noon nag-iba-iba kasi ang kuwento.”

Representatives of a tribe based in Antipolo City also came with Masungi representatives to the hearing hoping to give a statement to legislators but were not called on to speak.

Dumaliang said they will also communicate the NCIP on its plan to ask for an injunction.

“Wala sa interes ng mga katutubo, wala sa interes ng konserbasyon na tumigil ‘yong kapiranggot na conservation activities na ginagawa natin doon. Ang dehado, kami pareho,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s fair to have that kind of an order out, and I think a lot of people on the ground, mga taong nasa laylayan, will be advantaged by such a rash movement without considering the larger context of the place and hearing the voices of the real people on the ground.”

In 2021, Dumaliang along with then-environment secretary Roy Cimatu, and Blue Star managing officer Victor Rodriguez, were ordered by NCIP regional director Ferdausi Cerna to show cause why the NCIP should not pursue injunctive reliefs against Masungi’s operations.

The NCIP said the respondents told the commission it had no jurisdiction in the case.


Agusti said they have not yet filed for the injunction because they have been waiting to get hold of the findings from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’s (DENR) investigation on its 2017 memorandum of agreement with the foundation before proceeding.

She said they will now meet with indigenous groups on Friday to start preparing for the case, which she said they will file at the soonest time.

The MOA for the 2,700-hectare Masungi Geopark Project, signed then with the late environment secretary Gina Lopez, lets the foundation undertake restoration efforts in the Masungi Georeserve at no cost to the government.

Masungi said it has recovered 2,000 hectares of land for forest restoration, established 12 ranger stations involving over 100 local rangers, and planted over 100,000 native trees.

Under the MOA, the DENR will remove illegal occupants and criminal activities in the area to give way to the restoration work.

However, Masungi said the DENR has refused to fulfill its part.

The DENR flagged the deal for irregularities and for allegedly being used by Masungi to operate in the protected area without due process and prior permit.

The NCIP said it will also include the DENR as a defendant in the case because of its participation in the MOA.

DENR undersecretary for policy, planning, and international affairs Jonas Leones said that while the agency recognizes Masungi’s conservation efforts, it only wants it to be in line with the law.

“What we just want is we want to make it in order, because we want to comply with existing laws, requirements of the law. We are not singling out Masungi. In fact, all issued MOA by the DENR we are now converting same into the prescribed arrangement as required by law,” Leones said at the hearing.

Leones added: “If only I was asked to review that MOA, I would not recommend to the secretary to sign the MOA.” 

DENR told the hearing they do not have an authenticated or original copy of the 2017 MOA.

Legislators at the hearing also probed into Masungi’s sources of income and employment of forest rangers, as well as police action during the September 2022 incident when 6 armed men entered the Masungi area.

The committee will resume its hearing this March. Dumaliang said they hope the committee would consider doing it on-site.


Meanwhile, environmental groups led by Kalikasan urged DENR chief Ma. Antonia "Toni" Yulo-Loyzaga to settle the issues faced by the Masungi Georeserve.

In a unity statement, the 13 groups called for the department to cancel 4 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) in the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape.

The MPSAs would allow quarrying to proceed in the protected areas.

The groups, which include the Masungi Georeserve Foundation, also urged Yulo-Loyzaga to have a direct dialogue with the foundation to settle mutual concerns on its joint reforestation project.

"Masungi Georeserve Foundation, an important member of the coalition, has effectively served as the last on-the-ground defender of our watershed. The urgency of safeguarding Masungi Georeserve and the Masungi Geopark Project cannot be understated," they said. 

"Their internationally recognized work has stopped further severe, irreversible damage and threats to the people, land, and biodiversity of the protected area-all of which have been painstakingly recovered and protected through many sacrifices of its people in the past twenty years."

Kalikasan, in the joint statement, also called on the DENR to help defend environmental advocates and ensure their safety.

"It is deeply concerning and unacceptable for political threats and undue pressures to be used in an attempt to shut down successful and genuine environmental efforts and silence environment defenders," the groups said. 

"The use of political power to undermine the preservation of this important ecosystem is indicative of the dangerous uphill battle that environment defenders all over the Philippines experience. We strongly urge our political leaders to use taxpayer resources to enable and empower genuine and successful environmental efforts instead of blocking them," they added. 

In 2021, two Masungi rangers patrolling the area were shot allegedly by people connected to illegal resorts in the area.

A year later, a standoff occurred in Masungi when two armed men entered the area.


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