OpinYon Rizal


Dumagats smell conspiracy between DENR and Masungi

Jan 24, 2024, 5:26 AM
Angel F. Jose

Angel F. Jose


BARAS, Rizal — Some 800 families belonging to the Dumagat tribe assailed what they described as an effort that would effectively ease them out of their ancestral domain encompassing the towns of Tanay, Baras, and Antipolo.

In an interview, Alex Bendaña in his capacity as chieftain of the Dumagat-Remontado group in Barangay San Ysiro, particularly took a swipe at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for its failure to protect the Upper Marikina River Protected Landscape (UMRPL) and their ancestral domain from land grabbers masquerading as environmental advocates.

Speaking on behalf of one of the seven Dumagat tribes living in the southernmost tip of the Sierra Madre mountain range, Bendaña expressed fear over what he claimed as an aggressive effort to shoo them away from their ‘home’ in view of moves to abolish the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA).

“Nabalitaan namin na may nagsusulong sa Kongreso na i-abolish ang IPRA… yun na nga lang po tanging batas na kalasag ng mga katutubo tapos aalisin pa nila,” Bendaña said in an interview.

When asked as to what particular area they are concerned with, the Dumagat-Remontado chieftain hinted at the 13,000 hectares of ancestral domain adjacent the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape.

Sought for further details, Bendaña pointed at large structures constructed well within both protected areas – the watershed and their domain, raising suspicion of a DENR sell-out.

“Nakakapagtaka nga lang po talaga kung paano nakakuha ng clearance sa DENR yung mga may-ari ng naglalakihang mansyon at iba pang istruktura dito sa loob ng protected area,” said Bendaña even as he cited the need for an honest-to-goodness implementation of existing laws – including IPRA and Presidential Decree 324, which segregated portions of the watershed for agroforestry.

A check on the records showed that the UMRPL alone accounts for 26,126 hectares. However, continued forest and habitat degradation is prevalent, caused mainly by illegal tree cutting, construction of residential subdivisions and setting up of commercial establishments effectively reducing the watershed area by at least 408 hectares a year.

As for the Dumagat-Remontado ancestral domain, the group said that their area has been slashed by more than half following the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) entered into by the late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez with the Blue Star Construction and Development Corp. (later renamed as Masungi Georeserve) in 2017.

“Wala na po kaming pupuntahan kapag nawala pa ang IPRA. Kung meron man dapat gawin ang pamahalaan, repasuhin at palakasin ang IPRA. Hindi nila yan pwede ibasura kasi wala na kami mapupuntahan… hindi kami mabubuhay kung magpapakalat-kalat kami sa Maynila at magpapalipas ng gabi sa ilalim ng tulay.”

IP Group to DENR: Make us stewards of Marikina Watershed

ANTIPOLO City, Rizal — Why entrust the watershed to a construction company when we are in the best position to protect the place from where we depend on our livelihood?

In what appears to be an offer to the government’s effort in protecting what is left of the Upper Marikina River Protected Landscape (UMRPL), the Dumagat-Remontado tribal groups asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to designate actual occupants in the area as environmental stewards to prevent the degradation of what they claimed in the last frontier of Metro Manila.

In an interview, Enrico Vertudez, chairman of the Kaksaan Ne Dumaguet De Antipolo, a government-recognized Indigenous People’s Organization representing seven Dumagat-Remontado tribal groups living in the upland areas encompassing the Marilaque Highway in Rizal province, called on the DENR to scrap the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) entered into by the late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez with the Blue Star Construction and Development Corp. (later renamed as Masungi Georeserve) in 2017.

“Kung meron may malasakit dito sa kabundukan, kaming mga katutubo iyon kasi dito na kami namulat at dito rin ang kabuhayan namin… hindi ang Blue Star na isang construction company,” said Vertudez even as he described the DENR-Blue Star MOA as dubious from the very start.

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

Eneran said that the 2017 deal "for 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."

In pushing for the cancellation of the MOA, Eneran hinted at the provisions of the agreement as unconstitutional.

“We have already submitted our report. We found out that there is indeed a violation of the provision of the 1987 Constitution on the period of the 2017 MOA,” Eneran told the House Committee on Natural Resources, investigating alleged unauthorized and unlawful activities at the Masungi Georeserve.

“There is already a recommendation for the cancellation of the 2017 MOA,” he added, noting that the sitting DENR chief has the authority to unilaterally cancel the contract.

The agreement states that the project shall be constituted as a “perpetual land trust for conservation subject to law” and that “Masungi will be trustee and shall continue to 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 Masungi is illegal.

“The Department of Justice has already made a formal opinion – that this contract of 99 years is unconstitutional,” Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said

#OpinYonRizal #ShrinkingIPDomain #CoverStory #Dumagat #DENR #DOJ #MarikinaWatershed #OpinYon #WeTakeAStand

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