environmental issues

Masungi foundation to DENR chief: Prove resort claims or resign

Jairo Bolledo

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Masungi foundation to DENR chief: Prove resort claims or resign

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


'We dare the DENR Secretary to come with the media to the site on April 22 or any day of her convenience to show to the public where the alleged hotel, swimming pool, and resort are in Masungi Georeserve,' says MGFI president Ben Dumaliang

MANILA, Philippines – The Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. (MGFI) has asked Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga to substantiate her allegations against the foundation, including the supposed presence of a resort on the protected area.

If she could not, she should tender her resignation, MGFI president Ben Dumaliang said in a statement on Saturday, April 20.

“We dare the DENR Secretary to come with the media to the site on April 22 or any day of her convenience to show to the public where the alleged hotel, swimming pool, and resort are in Masungi Georeserve and to substantiate her false and unfounded allegations against Masungi and Blue Star,” Dumaliang said.

“If she cannot come and substantiate her resort claims and other allegations, then she should resign. The office of DENR Secretary is crucial to the future of our nation and it must have the highest integrity,” he added.

Dumaliang issued the challenge after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released a press statement on Saturday that Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation (BSCDC), which maintains the protected area, has billed the government more than P1 billion for the government’s “failure to deliver lands in the government’s own territory.”

“The [April 11] billing cited legal, security, and miscellaneous expenses, damages incurred from the delay of the delivery of the lot, and even a monthly rental of P100,000 paid to a ‘professional squatter.’ The statement also indicated that the expenses were incurred starting in June 2018,” the DENR said.

“The Masungi Georeserve resort collects entrance fees from tourists (P1,500 per person on weekdays and P1,800 on weekends). It offers accommodations starting at P5,000 a night and hosts events like weddings and company events with rates starting at P120,000. The resort has a restaurant,” the department also said.

In explaining its side, MGFI said the statement of account is a record of the expenses that BSCDC had unnecessarily incurred “because of the DENR’s failure to deliver Lot 10 free and clear of illegal occupants and encumbrances in accordance with its contract with DENR.”

The foundation added that BSCDC had no choice but to submit a monthly account of the said expenses to urge the DENR perform its obligations under the joint venture agreement.

According to MGFI, the DENR and BSCDC had previously entered into a joint venture agreement, which meant both parties have equity shares or equal opportunity to use resources and share benefits from the geopark.

As to the resort allegation, the foundation said: “The Masungi Georeserve is a non-profit conservation initiative run by the MGFI which is a non-stock, non-profit Foundation duly registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Masungi is therefore not a resort, which is built for the primary purpose of entertainment and profit.”

Embattled Masungi

Aside from threats and violence against its workers, Masungi foundation has been facing a string of challenges. In early 2023, Bureau of Corrections chief Gregorio Catapang Jr. revealed the plan to use the georeserve as the BuCor’s new headquarters. Catapang statement came after Masungi foundation sounded the alarm over the presence of BuCor personnel in their area.

Months later, Catapang announced the postponement of the plan to build its headquarters and transfer the New Bilibid Prison to the georeserve, citing the need for further study and the plan’s impact on the environment.

The DENR recently spoke about the Masungi fiasco and said the 2017 contract between the foundation and her agency was void ab initio or void from the beginning. Yulo said the void ab initio finding was based on the opinion of the Department of Justice. The DENR, then led by the late Gina Lopez, and MGFI signed an agreement in 2017 that gave the foundation the responsibility to reforest 3,000 hectares of land in Rizal.

Amid the impending cancellation, several environmental groups have urged the DENR to explore formal negotiations and hold a dialogue with the MGFI.

“The 2017 MOA must be strengthened, not undermined, as it gave way to a pioneering public-private conservation initiative that needs to be replicated and scaled throughout the Philippines given the country’s dire environmental situation,” the foundation said. – Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

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