MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) asserted its rights over a 270-hectare portion of land titled “Lot 10” within the Masungi Georeserve in Tanay, Rizal, last Friday, February 17.
The day before, Masungi Georeserve revealed that five cars and 20 men from the BuCor arrived at the geopark on Thursday, February 16, for an “ocular inspection” of the area.
In its claim, the BuCor mentioned Proclamation No. 1158, issued on September 8, 2006, by then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which reserved the area as the site of the New Bilibid Prison.
Here’s a timeline of the legal claims over Lot 10, as well as information on the beginnings of the geopark:
March 29, 1963
According to the BuCor, Lot 10 was originally registered under the name of the Republic of the Philippines, covered by an original certificate issued by the Register of Deeds of Rizal on March 29, 1963.
June 26, 1969
Then-president Ferdinand E. Marcos signs Proclamation No. 573, “reserving as permanent forests” certain portions of public domain in Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Bontoc, Cagayan, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Quezon, Laguna, Camarines Sur, and Iloilo.
According to the Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Lot 10 is part of the conserved area under the Kaliwa River Forest Reserve established under the proclamation.
April 18, 1977
Marcos signs Proclamation No. 1636, “declaring as a national park, wildlife sanctuary, and game preserve” a certain portion of public domain in the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Quezon.
This portion also includes Lot 10, according to the foundation.
October 5, 1993
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) publishes Administrative Order No. 33, declaring a proposed area as a Strict Nature Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. Masungi Georeserve is within the proposed area, according to the foundation.
Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation, owned by the geopark’s founder Ben Dumaliang, wins a public bidding and enters into a joint venture agreement (JVA) with the DENR.
An initial 130 hectares were to be developed for a housing project, with 70% to be reserved as forest spaces. The project was delayed due to conflicts with logging companies and quarrying firms.
The DENR tapped Blue Star to convert the land into a conservation park after the housing project fell through. La Viña, who was environment undersecretary until 1998, helped write the draft of the contract and impose the conservation requirement for the company.
Blue Star was given the mandate to conserve and rehabilitate the limestone forest.
According to the foundation, then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the expansion of the 1996 JVA under a Supplemental Agreement, which added 300 more hectares, referring to Lot 10, to the original project site.
Acting BuCor chief Gregorio Catapang said that Blue Star based its claims over Lot 10 on the supplemental agreement executed on November 15, 2002, by then-environment secretary Heherson Alvarez and Lamberto Tagayuna, who represented Blue Star, for the development of Lot 10 and the construction of 5,000 housing units for government employees.
According to the foundation, the joint venture between the DENR and Blue Star meant both parties have equity shares or equal opportunity to use resources and share benefits from the geopark. The government is entitled to earnings in equity and a share in the gross output.
The DENR, however, mentioned in a March 2023 House committee hearing on natural resources that it was investigating the Supplemental Agreement since it was not backed by a presidential proclamation.
After the joint venture expansion, Blue Star, together with park rangers, engineering and construction staff, scientists, and advocates began developing and rebuilding the area to become the geopark we know today.
September 8, 2006
Then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signs Proclamation No. 1158, reserving a portion of land in Tanay, Rizal, which covers Lot 10, as the new site of the New Bilibid Prison and field office site of DENR Calabarzon.
Masungi Georeserve said that a memorandum was issued by then-DENR secretary Lito Atienza to the DENR regional director in 2009 to submit an alternative area for the New Bilibid Prison for the amendment of Proclamation No. 1158.
Catapang said in a press conference last February that they are eyeing another site in Negros Island, although the area is too small.
April 25, 2017
Then-DENR secretary Gina Lopez signs a memorandum of agreement with Masungi Georeserve Foundation to conserve the area under the Masungi Geopark Project.
Masungi Georeserve Foundation and Blue Star send letters dated February 11, June 28, and August 16 to the BuCor, communicating their legal claims over the protected areas in the geopark.
According to documents received by Rappler, the foundation expressed in one of the letters that Arroyo’s Proclamation No. 1158 “does not – as it cannot – terminate the supplemental agreement.”
“A presidential proclamation cannot revoke vested rights arising from a valid contract,” the letter reads.
They also say that Arroyo was “deliberately misled” and that she would not have signed the proclamation if she knew Lot 10 was already part of the contract.
“We respectfully submit that had the President (Arroyo) known that Lot 10 was already the subject of a contract, especially one she herself caused, she would not have signed Presidential Proclamation No. 1158,” they say.
The foundation says that the BuCor responded to the first letter, where the agency insisted on its ownership of Lot 10.
On September 28, 2022, Lot 10 is registered under the name of the BuCor by the Registry of Deeds of Morong, Rizal.
In a Senate plenary session on November 16, the DENR’s report mentioned the recommendation of the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape and the Protected Areas Management Board to cancel the 2017 MOA it signed with the foundation.
The DENR earlier said that it was scrutinizing the MOA to ensure consistency with the country’s laws on protected areas.
The foundation has since denounced the DENR’s statements as “libelous, irresponsible, and baseless.”
In its statement last February 17, the BuCor clarifies that Lot 10 will not be the relocation site for the New Bilibid Prison but rather a site for the BuCor headquarters. It will be developed for residential use for BuCor personnel and employees, as well as for the implementation of the BuCor’s land use development plans and policies.
Masungi Georeserve asks for urgent intervention from government officials, including President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Department of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, and DENR Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga regarding the dispute and to uphold the Masungi Geopark Project.
In an interview with ABS-CBN on February 21, Catapang said he recommended pushing through with the plans to build the BuCor’s headquarters in Lot 10 if it would not harm the ecological environment. He added he will consult with the urban planning experts at the University of the Philippines.
On March 7, Catapang said the plan to build on the site will be postponed, for them to further consider the environmental impact of construction in the area. – Laurice Angeles/Rappler.com
Laurice Angeles is a chemistry graduate from the University of the Philippines Diliman and is currently a volunteer under Rappler’s Research unit.
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