Bureau of Corrections

BuCor postpones plan to build headquarters in Masungi Georeserve

Jairo Bolledo
BuCor postpones plan to build headquarters in Masungi Georeserve

GOSSAMER. 'Sapot ni Ric' is one of the most famous spots in Masungi Georeserve, overlooking Laguna de Bay.


(2nd UPDATE) The Bureau of Corrections says it is 'taking into consideration the impact on the environment of the construction of BuCor facilities in the area'

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) postponed its plan to build its headquarters and transfer the New Bilibid Prison to Masungi Georeserve in Rizal, said acting BuCor Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr. on Tuesday, March 7.

During a Senate tourism committee hearing, Catapang said the proposal “will no longer push through… pending further studies to be undertaken, taking into consideration the impact on the environment of the construction of BuCor facilities in the area.”

On February 17, Catapang confirmed that the BuCor plans to build its national headquarters in the area. This confirmation came a day after the Masungi Georeserve Foundation said that BuCor personnel inspected the area for the reported relocation of the New Bilibid Prison from Muntinlupa City in Metro Manila.

Catapang earlier insisted that since the BuCor is the registered owner of the property, it has the right to conduct activities in the area – including ocular inspections.

Days later, Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, whose agency oversees the BuCor, explained that the decision to utilize the georeserve is yet to be finalized.

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The Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area that houses fragile limestone formations protected by the Masungi Foundation. As a geotourism site, it conserves the geographical and historical identity of the place, including heritage and culture. 

On February 21, Catapang had said their plans would push through if experts could give assurances that the area would remain protected despite the BuCor’s planned constructions. Catapang then said he would consult with experts from the University of the Philippines. 

During Tuesday’s hearing, the acting BuCor chief said the study on Masungi as a possible location for the BuCor headquarters might take around six months to one year. This was in response to Senator Risa Hontiveros’ question about the BuCor’s timeline in relation to Masungi. 

Catapang also noted he only learned about his bureau’s claims on the land “last two weeks” ago, adding they would not push through with their plan “if it’s not worth it.”

“If it’s not worth it, we’ll not pursue [it].” What I will do now, if this [is] not really available or is not for us, we’ll just put [in] also the forest rangers. We’ll also have our agroforest team and help conserve and strengthen [the] ecosystem in the area,” the acting BuCor chief explained. 

Senator Nancy Binay, who chairs the Senate committee on tourism, reiterated that the country is banking on ecotourism as one of the drivers to recovering from the pandemic. Masungi is a “key part” of this move, Binay said, adding that they would hold an ocular inspection at the georeserve on March 27. 

Military lands as prison facilities 

Catapang, a former military chief, said they would also ask the military for portions of land where they could build additional prison facilities. He added the construction will start in 2024.

“Now, in order to implement RA No. 11928 or the establishment of facilities for heinous crime offenders, we are asking the military to give us portions of their military reservations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, which we can utilize to transfer some of our PDL (persons deprived of liberty) in the area.”

The acting BuCor chief said they would ask for portions of land in Fort Magsaysay in Luzon, Camp Peralta in the Visayas, and Camp Kibaritan in Mindanao. Meanwhile, the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro will be converted into a heinous crime facility, Catapang added.

Masungi’s response

In a statement released on March 9, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation said it welcomed the postponement of BuCor’s plans in the georeserve. The foundation added it hoped the “project [would] be scrapped altogether” and urged Environment Secretary Maria Antonio Loyzaga to resolve the dispute. 

“We must all be aligned with the long-term vision for Masungi that has been painstakingly built over the last 25 years. As scientists, environmental planners, and citizens have all said: ‘Let us keep Masungi a sanctuary for our unique geological heritage and threatened wildlife,’” the foundation said. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.