Masungi conservationist says presence of armed guards, fencing off georeserve illegal

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2020 11:39 PM | Updated as of Oct 25 2020 08:00 AM

The fences were at least 15 meters long, guarded by men "carrying long, high-powered weapons." The affected site covers an estimated 1,000 hectares of the restoration project in Rizal, Masungi Georeserve's Billie Dumaliang said. Masungi Georeserve

MANILA (UPDATE) — A person who works for Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province on Saturday said the fences recently put up by armed men in the area were illegal. 

Billie Dumaliang, a trustee and designated advocacy officer at the eco-tourism site, said the area is protected by law and therefore cannot be anyone’s private property.

The barriers, set up in a portion of the georeserve’s restoration project, blocked authorized Masungi personnel from accessing about 1,000 hectares of land, Dumaliang added. 

“We’ve been monitoring [the situation] very closely in the past few months because of increased illegal activities,” she told ABS-CBN News.

“We’ve increased the protection measures to make sure illegal activities are stopped . . . Parang intimidation iyon sa amin ng kung ano’ng kaya nilang gawin. It’s a protected area, this forest so no one can claim this as private property.”

(It was like a form of intimidation. They wanted to show us what they are capable of.)

According to Dumaliang, the guards could not show a land title, a permit or a document authorizing them to install the fences.

In a video Dumaliang shared to ABS-CBN News, the men said they worked purportedly for a renewable energy company. 

As of posting time, ABS-CBN News was verifying who ordered the men to carry out the task.

“Pumunta kami doon to clean... [for] reforestation and planting tapos biglang, ‘Ano ito, sino kayo? Ano ginagawa niyo dito?’ ” Dumaliang said.

(We were there to clean, do reforestation and planting, and all of a sudden, ‘What is this, who are you, what are you doing here?’)

“Because we’re managers of the areas, we asked them to show documents . . . They could not show any title. 

“That raises a lot of questions on ano iyong ginagawa nila doon sa area.”

On Facebook Friday, Dumaliang and her group aired a similar complaint, saying a wildlife sanctuary cannot be owned by a private entity.

“The site is part the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (Proc. 296) which can NEVER be any person or any company's private property, as it is a protected area and wildlife sanctuary. It has been protected by various laws since 1904 as a critical watershed,” a statement posted on the Masungi Facebook account said.

Masungi is an award-winning conservation project that has become a popular eco-tourism site in Baras town, Rizal. Alongside eco-tourism efforts, the group behind it continues to reforest areas made barren by illegal logging and quarrying.

This was the second time this year that fences were put up at Masungi. 

In late February, the conservation site reported that a portion of its reforestation area was blocked by a quarry company. 

Watch more in iWantTFC