Local Government


Feb 22, 2024, 6:52 AM
Diego S. Cagahastian

Diego S. Cagahastian


TANAY, Rizal – Amid an imminent eviction via cancellation of what legal experts described as a spurious memorandum of agreement entered into with a former government official, a group masquerading as environmental steward is making a last-ditch stand to keep its control over a 2,700-hectare that it has been occupying since 2017.

Their target – the government’s renewable energy project in Tanay, Rizal.

In a social media post, an official of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. (MGFI) raised concern over what it claimed as illegal drilling operations for the construction of wind turbines in the conservation area in the province even as she called on the public to support their bid to compel the government to find another place for the renewable wind energy project.

MGFI co-founder and managing trustee Billie Dumaliang, daughter of construction magnate Ben Dumaliang of the Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation, cited what she referred to as environmental implications given the shocking discovery.

Drilling Operation

According to the group, their 2023 drone surveillance uncovered multiple drilling operations by Rizal Wind Energy Corp., backed by Singapore-based Vena Energy, aggressively breaching the pristine Masungi limestone formation.

“Closer inspection of these images taken in late 2023 has brought to light the unsettling authorization of the Masungi Karst Conservation Area's (Tanay side) exploration for constructing approximately 12 colossal wind turbines,” reads part of their Facebook post.

Dumaliang said they have already conducted two meetings with the company involved but “it appeared that it did not have any intention of changing its plans.”

In an earlier statement, MGFI also dragged a Singapore-based Vena Energy funding the project which she claimed to be aggressively breaching the Masungi limestone formation.

Social Media War

Receiving no word from Rizal Wind Energy Corp. and Vena Energy, Dumaliang admits they are compelled to take the battle on social media hoping to get the public to support their position – forcing the government to scrap the RE project in Tanay.

“Despite our initial dialogues, they have not even shown any intent to reconsider their plans and that is exactly why we are escalating the campaign and we want to involve more people here,” said Dumaliang during a television interview.

She however clarified that MGFI is not against renewable energy – “So, to be clear, we’re not against development. Sustainable development is one of the key pillars of Masungi, and that’s what we’ve shown.”

Anywhere But Here

Acknowledging that the issue has various layers since it involves a renewable energy project in a conservation area, Dumaliang insisted that such projects must be strategically located in proper areas – but definitely outside what she referred to as MGFI conservation area.

“The principle for renewable energy development should be that they pick locations that will have the least impact on the natural environment. If you don’t do that, then no mitigation will ever repair the kind of damage that you have to irreplaceable landscapes like Masungi,” warned Dumaliang.

MGFI posted photos of the drilling operations on Facebook, lamenting its damaging effects on the limestone formations.

Aside from the Rizal Energy Project, MGFI also figured in a tussle with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) which holds a title covering 270-hectare in the area – as well as local farmers who were awarded land in Sitio San Roque (Baras, Rizal) via Presidential Decree 324.

Perpetual Contract

A management contract was awarded by the DENR to Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation (later referred to as Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc.) through a memorandum of agreement that was signed in 2017 by then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.

The MOA which ceded perpetual trust over parcels of land covered by Presidential Decree No. 324 and the Greater Masungi Karst in favor of the corporation, raised questions concerning Sec 2 Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution and has shown various inconsistencies with E-NIPAS (Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System) Act.

Rizal 2nd District Rep. Dino Tanjuatco said that the construction of illegal fences along the premises of Masungi has restricted the rightful access of Dumagat farmers and residents, affecting their livelihood and day-to-day activities.

“More alarmingly, indigenous peoples in the area have allegedly been displaced due to these illegal construction activities,” added Tanjuatco about the exorbitant entrance fees being collected by Masungi Georeserve Foundation from foreign and local tourists wanting a glimpse of the area’s natural wonders.

Waiting for Yulo

Meanwhile, Environment Legal Affairs Service Director Norlito Eneran, said that they have already made a recommendation to Environment Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to unilaterally cancel the 2017 perpetual MOA.

“The perpetual deal embarking on the conservation of 2,700 hectares of forested land in Rizal could not possibly supersede existing laws protecting the local indigenous people belonging to the Dumagat-Remontado tribe from being evicted "in the name of reforestation."

“We have already submitted our report. We found out that there was indeed a violation of the provision of the 1987 Constitution during the period of the 2017 MOA. There is already a recommendation for the cancellation of the 2017 MOA,” he averred.

The agreement states that the project shall be constituted as a “perpetual land trust for conservation subject to law” and that “Masungi will be a trustee and shall continue to be so for as long as there is no neglect or violation of the agreement."

Even the Department of Justice believes that the MOA between Gina Lopez (in her capacity then as DENR Secretary) and MGFI is illegal.

A Lucrative Business

MGFI is also engaged in a lucrative business – offering and collecting as much as P155,000 for an eight-hour use of the Masungi Geopark for events and pictorials and charging P1,800 per head (for a minimum of five persons) as an entrance fee to the visitors.

In what appears to be an admission to allegations hurled against MGFI’s “lucrative business,” Dumaliang said in an interview with the Business Mirror that MGFI has achieved a level of financial independence by generating its funds and minimizing dependence on external sources.

“That’s why we also need to continuously innovate. We need to be able to offer new experiences and world-class experiences to our guests to be able to sustain our work,” she concluded.

A check with various collecting agencies (including the Tanay LGU) showed that MGFI isn’t paying taxes to the government.

We take a stand
OpinYon News logo

Designed and developed by Simmer Studios.

© 2024 OpinYon News. All rights reserved.