By Macon Ramos-Araneta
The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has opted to defer for six months up to one year the construction of buildings–including the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP)–on BuCor’s land inside the Masungi Georeserve.
During a Senate Committee on Tourism hearing, BuCor Acting Director General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said they will first conduct a study on the possible impact on the environment of the construction of the said buildings on the reserve, which is an ecotourism and conservation site in Tanay, Rizal.
Catapang said it was only the past two weeks when they learned that BuCor owns land in Masungi based on Presidential Proclamation 1158.
“Most importantly, the 270 hectares of land awarded to BuCor pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 1158 as the site of the New Bilibid Prison will no longer push through, including the plan to relocate its national headquarters to this site will be held in abeyance pending further studies to be undertaken taking into consideration the impact on the environment with the construction of BuCor facilities in the area,” Catapang told the Senate panel chaired by Sen. Nancy Binay.
Catapang said he also wants to talk to urban and environmental planners to ensure no ecosystem will be destroyed in the area.
He assured that the BuCor will not push through with their plan if studies will show the construction of facilities will destroy Masungi.
“If it’s not worth it, we will not pursue (the construction). What I will do if the are is not really for BuCor is put rainforest rangers and agro forest teams that can help conserve the ecosystem in the area,” the official said.
During the first Senate hearing, Binay said they don’t intend to resort to finger-pointing, adding that there’s a need to see “the whole story” to resolve any problem.
“It is an ecosystem with various interwoven parts, and any one action could result in an imbalance that could have dire consequences. During this time of climate crisis, our lives will be endangered if Masungi is destroyed,” she said.
The destruction of Masungi, she said, will also likely destroy tourism in the area.
“We are banking on tourism, including eco-tourism considering our wealth of natural resources, to be among the drivers of our recovery from the pandemic. It is a key part of this thrust, along with other protected areas,” she said.
The senator further stated that since BuCor has a title to a part of Masungi Georeserve, particularly where there are rock formations, the BuCor can do what they want or even do quarrying on limestones.
Binay also inquired if the government can still take back the said area.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Director for Legal Affairs Atty. Norlito Eneran said there is no need for a new law, but only a proclamation from the President. He said the BuCor can also return to the government the land given to them.