MANILA - Groups and conservationists on Thursday urged the public to be vigilant on reported illegal activities in the Rizal watershed, which a government official had asked to be investigated by the country's anti-illegal logging task force.
The Upper Marikina Watershed Coalition (UMWC), a movement by more than 80 groups from different sectors, said in a statement that the recent forest fires and clearings in the watershed is "an urgent call for government" to protect the area.
The Marikina Watershed is considered as among the environmental task force's "priority" areas to be protected, according to Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya.
On Wednesday, Malaya confirmed to ABS-CBN News that he recommended that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the anti-illegal logging task force launch an investigation on the alleged resort expansions and illegal clearings there.
"We welcome the [Department of the Interior and Local Government's] pronouncement on the investigation and enforcement actions on the reported fires and unregulated developments inside the... watershed," UMWC Secretariat Ruzzel Morales told ABS-CBN News in a message.
"[It] is an urgent call... for civil society to increase our vigilance. By working together, we can protect remaining forests in the watershed and recover what is already lost," they added.
Video from the Masungi Georeserve
In a separate statement, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation hopes that the move by the DILG through the task force would ensure that "lawlessness" in the watershed will be checked through "close collaboration."
The Masungi Georeserve manages and maintains parts of the watershed for their reforestation project.
"We urge the task force to immediately stop the ongoing violations and investigate these incidents closely, since a common tactic by large-scale and repeat violators is to use other people as dummies or fronts," Masungi advocacy officer and trustee Billie Dumaliang said.
"We will greatly appreciate to be updated and involved with the progress and actions."
The Masungi Georeserve in recent weeks sounded the alarm on "large-scale consolidation of forest land clearings" in the Rizal watershed, adding that there have also been "an increase in illegal encroachments and resort development."
Some 10 hectares of land are supposedly affected by the illegal fires and clearings there.
The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) in Rizal had already dispatched a team earlier this week to check the allegations.
The Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape was granted protection under Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992. This means the area is “protected against destructive human exploitation.”
DENR's Department Administrative Order 1993-22 from the agency also declared the area as a “Strict Nature Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary.”