MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) said the Masungi Georeserve will be used as its headquarters, BuCor acting Director General Gregorio Catapang confirmed in a statement sent to reporters on Friday, February 17.
“Pursuant to the five (5) year development plan of BuCor, the subject property in Tanay, Rizal will be used as a site of the BuCor headquarters, including its residential uses for its personnel and employees and for the development and implementation of land use development plans and policies of BuCor for the sustainment of its basic institutional food requirements,” the acting corrections chief said.
Catapang’s statement came after the Masungi Georeserve Foundation said on Thursday that BuCor personnel conducted an inspection in the area for the reported relocation of the New Bilibid Prison from Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila.
“At about 6 o’clock in the morning of 16 February 2023, five cars and twenty men from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) arrived at Masungi Georeserve. They said they have orders to conduct an ‘ocular inspection’ of the alleged ‘relocation site of the New Bilibid Prison,'” the Masungi foundation said.
According to the group, the corrections personnel had a “newly minted title” of more than 270 hectares of Lot 10 — in the georeserve — under the BuCor’s name. Aside from that, the remaining 30 hectares of Lot 10 were also “reportedly titled simultaneously in the name of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources).”
The Masungi foundation also provided a copy of the memorandum dated February 15 that supposedly authorized BuCor personnel to conduct an ocular inspection and security assessment.
However, in his statement, Catapang said that since the BuCor is the registered owner of the property, it has the right to conduct activities in the area, including ocular inspections.
“BuCor is the registered owner of the subject property by virtue of the transfer certificate of title issued in favor of BuCor. Existing jurisprudence dictates that until and unless it is nullified by a court of competent jurisdiction in a direct proceedings for the cancellation of title, the transfer certificate of title issued under the name of the bureau of corrections remains indefeasible and binding upon the whole world,” Catapang said.
According to the BuCor, the NBP prison reservation in Muntinlupa covers 587 hectares. The prison compound proper covers 9 hectares. The NBP’s Maximum Security Compound houses convicts sentenced to life imprisonment and other inmates sentenced to more than 20 years.
According to the Masungi foundation, Lot 10 has been equitized through a joint venture project between the DENR and Blue Star Construction & Development Corporation in 2002.
The foundation added that in 2009, then-environment chief Lito Atienza issued a memorandum ordering the submission of an alternative area for the national penitentiary since the lot was already subject to private rights. The area was previously eyed as a possible relocation site for Bilibid.
It added that the area is part of the conservation efforts under the Masungi Geopark Project between the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and the DENR through a memorandum signed by the late DENR chief Gina Lopez.
“Moreover, the site is mountainous and geologically unbuildable. The development will be financially prohibitive, and in the words of scientists from the National Museum of the Philippines, will have ‘expensive consequences’ for the environment,” the foundation noted.
However, Catapang reiterated that the property is now under the BuCor’s name as of September 28, 2022.
“The land, which is the subject of the controversy, is…270 hectares of land situated in Barangay Kuyumbay, Layban, San Andres, and Tinucan, all in the municipality of Tanay, Rizal, which is covered by transfer certificate of title NR 069-20220110986 registered under the name of the Bureau of Corrections on September 28, 2022, by the registry of deeds of Morong, Rizal,” Catapang said.
The acting BuCor chief added that he “wholeheartedly supports the noble objective of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and its geopark projects,” adding that he is a “pro-environmentalist” and would not oppose any of the foundation’s plans in conserving the environment. But Catapang said he also has duties to the BuCor.
“However, I have also my avowed duty as the head of the Bureau of Correction not only to safekeep all prisoners or persons who are deprived of liberty but also to safeguard their basic rights and ensure their reformation by creating an environment that would strengthen government capability that aimed towards the institutionalization of highly efficient and competent correction services,” Catapang said.
Not within the reserve area
On Monday, February 20, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that the decision to put up BuCor’s headquarters in the georeserve was not final yet. BuCor is an agency attached to the Department of Justice.
“Actually there is no final decision for that yet. It is something that will be suggested to us by the BuCor. We are not micromanaging BuCor, we are allowing them to explore the possibilities for the future,” Remulla said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“But definitely we will be needing some of the land na hindi kasama sa reserve (which is not included in the reserve),” he added.
Remulla said that the Department of Justice was “pro-environment,” and that some reactions came from “alarmist” people.
“Ang mahalaga lang sa Masungi ay ma-preserve ‘yan, ngunit ‘yung ibang lupa na hindi nagagamit ay magamit naman ng gobyerno,” he said. (What’s important is that we preserve Masungi, but there are other parts of the land that are unused and should be used by the government.)
“The title of even Masungi belongs to the government. It’s the heritage of the Filipino people. It does not belong to one foundation at all but to all the Filipino people. ‘Wag magkakamali ‘yung tao na sila lang ang maaaring magbantay ng kalikasan. Marami ho tayong gustong magbantay ng kalikasan,” he added.
(People should not make the mistake of thinking they’re the only ones who can protect the environment. A lot of us want to look after the environment.)
Remulla described the georeserve as a “strategic” location and said that it was “difficult” for the government nowadays to acquire land. As for Bilibid, Remulla said the DOJ wanted it to eventually become a government center and a museum. – with a report from Michelle Abad/Rappler.com
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