Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

The senate budget debates

Nov 19, 2022, 1:40 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Writer/Columnist

During budget debates of executive departments at the Senate hard issues and the ineptness of departments are exposed and the budgets they are seeking are scrutinized if they deserve to get such amounts.

At least for the executive departments except for the Offices of the president and vice president, which both came out in a breeze, no questions asked, as if to show just how afraid and beholden the senators and congressmen are to the holders of both high offices. To a large extent both chambers have shown, thus far, that they deserved to be called rubber stamps of the occupants of both top offices.

But the senators and congressmen are fierce and fiery over other department heads making them cringe as if wanting them to resign en pronto on the floor. But then again, the legislators could always make an excuse of such behavior as ‘checks and balances,’ and I’ll hand it to them.

At the finance committee debate for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ P23.131 billion proposed 2023 budget last Thursday, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Villar, the issue of Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal was spiritedly discussed.

The Senate suspended its rules to allow DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to directly respond to queries of senators on matters concerning not just the DENR proposed budget, but also the reported presence of armed men in the Masungi Georeserve.

An incensed Sen. Raffy Tulfo, converted the debate into his usual rant-filled radio program and with his typical sharp tongue berated DENR Secretary for not doing enough to remove the encampment of armed bullies in the georeserve and not intervening when forest rangers were being attacked.

“Crimes were happening. Our government should have intervened, and who should have spearheaded this? It should have been the DENR because that is a protected area,” Tulfo said.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri had also sought the DENR to head and create a task force along with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to deal with incidents such as those that took place in Masungi only to be told by Sen. Cynthia Villa, sponsor of DENR’s budget, there was already such a task force with the Department of Interior and Local Government heading it.

Yulo-Loyzaga said the DENR had no authority to conduct police action, which is why the DILG stepped in.

“The Masungi Georeserve issue is a very complex issue,” she said, noting that the conflict in the conservation area had been going on for five years.

Minority Leader Koko Pimentel and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda also weighed in on the controversy arising from the DENR’s agreement with the Masungi Georeserve Foundation on the management of the ecotourism and conservation site.

Asked by Pimentel if it was the DENR’s official stand to void the agreement forged with Masungi Georeserve Foundation during the term of the late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez, Yulo-Loyzaga said it was DENR’s position, adding that a study it conducted showed the contract with the foundation was, despite the accomplishments of Masungi Georeserve in growing the forests, disadvantageous to government and legally infirm.

At the same time, the senators were informed that Office of the Environment Secretary got the lion’s share of the total DENR budget for 2023, with P17.94 billion while P2.328 billion of the DENR budget went to the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

Tulfo pointed out that the P13.9 million confidential and intelligence funds of the DENR should be used to pin down the bullies in Masungi.

“With this amount, you could probably tap a network of intelligence to identify the people who have been creating trouble at Masungi Georeserve,” he said.

Masungi was declared a protected area in 2011, but conflicts in the area arose since private settlements and establishments had already been at the site at that time.

Last September, there were reported sightings of more than 30 armed men encamped along the Marikina-Infanta Highway in the vicinity of Masungi.

And even before that, Masungi’s forest rangers had already been receiving threats and attacks for reporting illegal activities in the watershed.

The Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area situated in the southern Sierra Madre range in Baras, Rizal near Tanay, Rizal, 47 kilometres (28 mi) east of Manila. It centers on the geological formations of Masungi Rock, at an elevation of 640 meters (2,100 ft).

In 1993, the Masungi Rock and its vicinity was proposed to be declared as a Strict Nature Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary by the DENR. It has been a popular destination for hikes and day trips from Manila since it opened in 2015 and started development towards Geopark status.

The Masungi Georeserve is characterized by rugged limestone karst peaks, steep slopes, and surrounding lush montane rainforests. It contains several caves, including the Yungib ni Ruben (Ruben's Cave), which features stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as a man-made fountain.

A popular attraction in the park is the Sapot ("Cobweb"), a metallic platform with wooden steps which allows visitors to walk on suspended netting above the karst and get a 360-degree view of the Sierra Madre and the Laguna de Bay.

The park's tallest peak, Tatay, also has a viewing deck at its summit. The limestone formations are connected by hanging bridges, rope courses and eco-trails developed by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and Blue Star Development. On one of the hanging bridges, a wooden cable car-like shelter called Patak ("water droplet") can be found which serves as a rest stop for visitors. The Duyan, a giant rope hammock spanning a few hundred feet, is one of Masungi's most photographed rope courses.

The park was formerly a component of the Marikina Watershed Reservation from its creation on July 26, 1904 to Oct. 29, 1973.

Masungi is home to 400 species of flora and fauna including birds, insects, cloud rats, monitor lizards, snakes, monkeys, and civets. Cycas riuminiana, a cycad endemic to Luzon, also grows in Masungi.

In 2017, a new subspecies of microsnail, Hypselostoma latispira masungiensis, was discovered on the limestone boulders of Masungi Georeserve. The park is the only known habitat of the newly discovered subspecies.


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