MANILA — Groups urged Monday, World Environment Day, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to protect the reforestation efforts at the Masungi Georeserve.
This after a team from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recommended canceling a 2017 deal with the Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. (MGFI) for the conservation of 2,700 hectares of forested land in Rizal province.
Masungi Georeserve is a popular ecotourist destination in Baras, Rizal. MGFI has said in the past that it has successfully reforested the area, many parts of which were once denuded of trees and forest cover.
In a statement, 70 people composed of environmentalists, scientists and government officials listed the achievements of the project noting they "were accomplished at no cost to the government nor compensation to the Masungi Georeserve Foundation."
"A recent news report said the DENR wants to cancel the Memorandum of Agreement alleging that its provision for perpetual land trust for conservation is unconstitutional. However, that provision is meant to prevent the land from being converted, quarried and exploited in the future," the statement read.
"Moreover, the constitutional prohibition is directed against commercial use of nature (invariably resulting in its destruction), which is the complete opposite of the conservation purpose of Masungi," it added.
They hope that authorities will abide by the law "towards conservation and not towards destruction."
"We hope that a resolution will be made in a constructive way and not through strong-arming faithful sustainable development partners," the signatories said.
"We condemn the attacks against Masungi's environment defenders in the form of disinformation, political and legal harassment, and physical violence. These heroes deserve the nation's gratitude, not oppression," they added.
"May our environment defenders be defended by our government just as they defend our forests and our collective future. In pursuance of the President's call for private sector and civil society participation in conservation and climate action, let us fan the spark of hope they started, rather than snuff it."
DENR chief Toni Yulo-Loyzaga denied the report noting that they are reviewing the contract which has 'certain features in question' that need appropriate action.
"We have not spoken about a cancellation of contract. We are reviewing it to make the appropriate action. There is no doubt that there has been good work done by this group, however, there are certain features of this agreement that really bring it into question. Because of those features, we would need to take the appropriate action," she told reporters.
If cancelled, the agency will take over with its rehabilitation project named TRANSFORM, which seeks to involve various sectors in the reforestation efforts.
"This is the model that we will be using, we will involve all the LGUs, the key academic institutions in the area, the different private and public stakeholders, including other departments of government," she said.
"This will be a call of government and a call of society effort, and not just the effort of one single foundation or entity because, in fact, we all are part of this environment and not just that one foundation."
In the last few years, the area where Masungi lies has become a popular destination for tourists due to its scenic mountain vistas and cool climate. Many commercial establishments have cropped up in this area, which is also known as the Marilaque Highway, to cater to the influx of tourists.