Two weeks after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has dismantled illegal fences and structures manned by armed men in the Upper Marikina Watershed, a conservation group lamented that private guards were still seen patrolling the area.

MASUNGI - Forest guardians call out armed men’s presence in Marikina watershed
(Masungi Georeserve Facebook / File Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)

The Masungi Georeserve Foundation, which is managing the conservation of the site in Baras, Rizal, expressed concern that since the DENR-led demolition of structures last Oct. 25, private guards inside the protected area have more than doubled. 

A show cause order was issued on October 26 by the Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office but the Foundation reported that private guards are still patrolling at least 500 hectares of the watershed at present.

“We are very disturbed by this latest development right on the heels of the devastation (caused by) Ulysses, which is brought about by the denudation and abuse of the Upper Marikina Watershed,” Masungi’s managing trustee Ann Dumaliang said.

On November 9, the group observed “suspicious movements by unidentified and unpermitted individuals (which) prompted a pursuit with army conservation partners.”

Dumaliang said she was threatened with harm by the group of men.

The Masungi Georeserve Foundation said a statement dated October 30, 2020 was signed by 24 tribal elders, chieftains, and officers of the Tribong Dumagat-Remontados ng Antipolo denying involvement in the deployment of armed guards by a private firm, which the company earlier claimed that the tribe asked for “help in the deployment of security guards.”

Despite repeated requests, the private company still could not present any legal document or permit to justify their occupation and actions within the watershed, the group said.

Even before the Masungi Geopark, the joint reforestation project of Masungi and the DENR, the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape was already declared a protected area in 2011 and occupation, sale, disposition, and other destructive activities therein have been prohibited since 1904 due to its importance as a watershed reservation.

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable nations to the harrowing effects of climate change, and protecting people starts with protecting the integrity of our forests and ecosystems which shield us from floods, landslides, and pandemics, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation said.

“The presence of armed guards and arbitrary occupation of forest land pose a threat to the safety park rangers and volunteers and disrupt urgent restoration work.

In the past months and throughout the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, rising cases of illegal logging, charcoal-making, and illegal occupation have been monitored in reforestation areas, necessitating increased monitoring and protection efforts in high-risk zones,” it added.

The Masungi Geopark aims to restore and rewild 2,700 hectares of degraded lands around the Masungi limestone formation.

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