MANILA - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has issued at least 80 show-cause orders against private resorts and other entities encroaching the protected Marikina Watershed in Rizal, an environment official said.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News on Tuesday, DENR Calabarzon Executive Director Nilo Tamoria said as of June 7, of the 80 show-cause orders, 40 are considered "pending for the issuance of cease and desist orders" related to the incursions and environmental law violations in the Upper Marikina Watershed.
Those who received the orders included piggeries, resorts, retreat centers, houses, swimming pool owners, gamefowl farms, among others.
Sixteen people, meanwhile, have already been arrested and charged for violation of Republic Act No. 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) Act of 2018, a separate press release on May 27 showed.
The measure maintains that a protected area such as the Rizal watershed, formally known as the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, should be “protected against destructive human exploitation.”
"Mayroon tayong mga nahuli na kinasuhan dahil doon sa kanilang illegal activities, patuloy pa rin yon at kasabay ng pag-iimbentaryo, kasabay ng pagse-serve ng show cause orders," Tamoria, who is also the watershed's Protected Area Management board chairperson, told ABS-CBN News.
(We already arrested and charged some people due to the illegal activities. It is still ongoing and this is concurrent to our agency serving show cause orders.)
The environment official added that they are streamlining and regulating businesses and occupants in the area through their "management zoning" to determine environmental law violators.
He also pointed out that limited human activities are allowed inside the watershed under the "multiple use zone," which, under the law, refers to areas where human settlement, sustainable land use, and income-generating activities are allowed.
The "strict protection zone," meanwhile, refers to natural areas with "high biodiversity values" which will be closed to human activities except for "scientific studies and/or ceremonial or religious use by indigenous cultural communities and indigenous people.
"Puwede naman talaga (human activities), kasi dapat in harmony yung nandiyang tao, in harmony with nature. Nasa konteksto ng protection. Therefore, any activities being allowed for special use should not compromise the integrity of that protection process," he explained.
(Human activities are allowed there, because it is supposedly in harmony with nature. This is in context of protection)
Interior Secretary Jonathan Malaya earlier said his department has been tasked to investigate the allegations.
The anti-illegal logging task force had included the Upper Marikina Watershed among its "priority" areas to protect in Luzon.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation 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."
Billie Dumaliang, an advocacy officer at the nature reserve, told ABS-CBN News that burning forest areas could be used for "slash and burn farming" but it could also be for clearings to "take possession of forest land and build unlawful structures."
Some 10 hectares of land are supposedly affected by the illegal fires and clearings there.
The foundation manages and maintains parts of the watershed for their reforestation project.
Despite the development, Tamoria said the watershed is "peculiar" because it was announced as a protected area "late."
The Marikina Watershed Reservation was declared a protected area and was renamed the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape under Presidential Proclamation No. 296 issued in 2011.
Department Administrative Order 1993-22 from the agency also declared the area as a “Strict Nature Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary.”
Some entities and commercial establishments were already issued permits earlier, prior to it being a protected area, which made things complicated, he said.
"Ang challenge natin is, there are activities prior to the proclamation of the area as a protected area.. may mga na-isyuhan ng permits before," he said.
"Mayroong mga patong-patong na proclamation and uses from the previous administration prior to the proclamation of the landscape... yun ang mga kine-cleanse natin para mai-align natin doon sa what is allowed, kailangang dalawa na lang yung instrument."
RESORT OWNER DENIES ALLEGATIONS
A private resort owner who received one of the show-cause orders denied the allegations thrown at them.
The resort was reportedly expanding in the watershed at the height of the pandemic, and has supposedly created illegal structures in the watershed.
"Ako po ay isang 4Ps member. Kami po ay mahirap na pamilya, at hindi po kami yung ine-expect ng iba na malaking kapitalista na nakapagpagawa ng resort. Munting paliguan lang po yan," Arnel Olitoquit told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.
(I am a 4Ps member. We are just a poor family and we are not big capitalists. This is just a small resort.)
The local government of Baras ordered the establishment closed in late May due to the absence of a business permit.
The resort owner said his business has also yet to receive clearance from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), which regulates the activities in the watershed.
He claimed he had already filed for the said clearance.
The Marikina Watershed, with a total land area of 26,128 hectares, gives "ecosystem services" to the localities of Antipolo City, Baras, General Nakar, Rodriguez, San Mateo, and Tanay, according to the DENR website.
It is also connected with the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve, described by Masungi conservationists as its "twin watershed."
The DENR, however, pointed out that the watersheds' combined forest covers have been shrinking due to illegal activities in the protected landscapes.
DENR estimates forest degradation in the two watersheds at 408 hectares annually.
But according to the Center for Conservation Innovations, this figure is higher, based on the data they collected from 2003 to 2010.
According to the non-government organization, based on their cover change detection analysis of the twin watershed's forest land cover as of 2010, nearly 434 hectares of "good quality forests" are lost annually from their combined 17,221 pristine forest covers.