It would seem unwise to convert a pristine 270 hectare protected forest to a prison haven of the Bureau of Corrections, despite assurances by the DoJ that there would be environment-friendly construction of several facilities in the area.
Despite assurances from Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla that there would be environment-friendly constructions of facilities in the planned transfer of the Bureau of Correction headquarters, facilities and housing for BuCor workforce, the Masungi Georeserve will sooner or laterbe degraded and abused.
Most forest areas that had been used to house government facilities ended up being converted into farms (therefore the use of slash and burn or kaingin to remove the standing trees and make way for vegetation) or the trees were wantonly extracted to give way to housing and other vertical structures.
Even with the assurance that urban planners from the University of the Philippines would be used to guide them in planning the 270 hectare Georserve in Rizal, pretty soon such plans would not be followed once the planners have left the site. No one would be monitoring further developments in the area, not even the local government unit.
Remulla said on Monday there is no final decision yet on the planned relocation of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) headquarters to a 270-hectare section of the Masungi Georeserve, a protected forest area in Rizal province.
Remulla made the statement after the plan drew criticism from environmental advocates who claim that it will damage the Upper Marikina watershed that has been under the protection of Masungi Georeserve Foundation for several decades already.
“There should be no problem since we are pro-environment. There are people who are simply alarmist,” Remulla told reporters.
BuCor OIC Gregorio Catapang Jr. (a former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces) also assured the public of an “environment-friendly” construction once the plan pushes through.
The BuCor plans to transfer its headquarters and Corrections National Training Institute to the said location. It also intends to build a residential area for its personnel and employees.
Its claim on the property is anchored on Proclamation 1158 issued by former President and now Senior Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which set aside 270 hectares of the land as the new site of the NBP.
“What is important is to ensure that Masungi is preserved, but the other areas that are idle can be used by the government,” Remulla said as he insisted that Masungi belongs to the government (wrong but the state/country not a specific administration).
“It’s the heritage of the Filipino people. It does not belong to one foundation at all but to all the Filipino people,” he said.
Earlier, Remulla defended BuCor’s plan, saying the choice of location was within its mandate to improve the country’s penal management system.
Catapang said the BuCor will consult with all stakeholders, including environment advocates to explain their plan and also hear their arguments opposing the planned relocation of the BuCor’s headquarters and the setting up of a training center.
“We are very much willing to talk to all of them. We will sit down with them,” he said. Catapang said he is also planning to talk to the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning on how best to develop and preserve the area.
Catapang Jr. said on Tuesday that if urban planning experts give the go-signal, the bureau’s new headquarters will be constructed in Masungi Georeserve in Tanay, Rizal.
“I will recommend that we push through with it, without violating the ecological environment,” he told ANC.
Catapang said some of these experts will come from the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Urban and Regional Planning.
“I’m not an expert in urban planning or in environment, so I’m asking our experts, some of them are from UP, to help us,” Catapang said.
Catapang assured the public that BuCor will only use 20 to 30 hectares out of the disputed 270 hectares, and that it will only be on vacant spaces at the bottom of the mountain.
Masungi Georeserve had emphasized that the area was unbuildable due to its mountainous ranges. The management also expressed concerns that construction could harm the existing environment.
“We also need the area, but it will be pro-environment I assure you. We will not cause harm to the environment,” said Catapang.
The Masungi Georeserve — located in Baras, a town just east of Metro Manila — is a conservation area and park. An ongoing reforestation project in the area is positioned to protect the Upper Marikina Watershed, which is critical to protecting the capital region from flooding.
Catapang said their construction plan, which will be subject to consultation with the university’s experts, includes the development of farmlands to boost food security in the country.
He stressed that the new complex would help decongest the national penitentiary and regionalize the country’s prisons. BuCor also eyes building housing and training facilities for its personnel in the area.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation said the prison relocation project went against the nation’s sustainable development agenda. It also said the area supposedly awarded to BuCor is “mountainous and geologically unbuildable.”
The foundation asked President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and other state officials to stop the project after 20 BuCor personnel inspected the conservation site on Thursday.
“Masungi is a priceless legacy of the nation that should be preserved at all costs instead of destroyed.”
He reiterated the government’s plan to construct more regional jails to decongest the national penitentiary and to allow more families to visit inmates.
Last year, Remulla told the United Nations Human Rights Council he seeks to release 5,000 inmates by June this year.
Many of the country’s jails fail to meet the UN’s minimum standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch.
Tags: #DoJ, #BuCor, #protectedforest, #Masungi, #jailhaven