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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Business first, conservation second?

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“MGFI’s role as the caretaker of Masungi must reply to questions: One, what are they really undertaking as part of conservation programs in the area? Two, how would they justify the high fees they charge users of their facilities?”

CITY dwellers need not go far and wide to enjoy Nature and the great outdoors.

There’s nearby Rizal province, for instance, that’s fast developing into a popular tourist destination with its mountainous terrain, spectacular overlooking views and resorts with natural spring water.

Among the more accessible ones in the province is the Masungi Georeserve. Its website explains that it is a conservation area and a rustic rock garden tucked in the rainforests of Rizal.

The “Masungi” name is said to be derived from the word “masungki” which translates to “spiked,” referring to the sprawling limestone landscape found within the area.

Masungi says it is a sanctuary where guests would be able to commune with Nature, and reenergize themselves while doing so.

By wandering through pathways, guests can become familiar with various wildlife and plant species.

Masungi has been declared a locally-protected area, providing the Tanay local government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources authority to oversee the protection and conservation of the karst (limestone region) and the various flora and fauna within its vicinity.

The Masungi Rock Management Council, composed of representatives from the DENR, Laguna Lake Development Authority, provincial and local governments, as well as the academe, is the park’s governing body.

But Masungi Georeserve is not just a conservation area but actually operates as a business enterprise.

It profits from the use of the land through ecotourism, events, accommodations, dining, and other activities which include prenuptial photoshoots, meeting spaces for events and seminars and weddings ranging from P20,000 to P160,000.

It also charges visitors conservation fees amounting to P1,500 on weekdays and P1,800 on weekends.

The ecotourism operations of Masungi Georeserve appear lucrative given their price range.

The legacy trail costs P1,500 for a minimum of seven people while Silayan Hall can be rented for P120,000 for 10 hours.

Other areas such as Tipunan, Dasalan and Pine Patch can be rented for P155,000. The Kanlungan Lodges has five elegant glass huts which cost a whopping P100,000 per night.

But the DENR says none of these facilities had the requisite clearances and permits from the Protected Area Management Board or local governments.

When Masungi entered into the controversial 2017 Memorandum of Agreement with the DENR, it claimed its operations are subject to the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act in areas covered by the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape and Kaliwa River Forest Reserve.

The NIPAS Act of 1992 established a system of protected areas in the Philippines.

The law covers areas that are habitats of rare and endangered species, biogeographic zones and related ecosystems, whether terrestrial, wetland or marine.

The law, which provides for the management and conservation of these areas and their buffer zones, was was amended in 2018 to strengthen its provisions and declare more areas as protected.

Masungi’s development plans, according to the DENR, are not aligned with the PAMB’s Management Plan and Management Zones as required by law and therefore causes conflicts in the supervision and management of the area by both the PAMB and MGFI.

In addition, several resolutions have been issued by the local governments of Tanay and Baras condemning the development happening in the area and prohibiting the continuation of such activities.

In 2016, in a resolution, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tanay ordered the immediate dismantling of the perimeter fence installed by Blue Star Development Corporation, a construction firm, along what appeared to be a road widening area.

Later, in another resolution, the Tanay SB ordered the temporary suspension in the issuance of any permit to BSDC due to the absence of requisite safety measures.

Recently, photos have also surfaced in the media about developments occurring within the area covered by the MOA.

What also raised concerns among environmentalists is the involvement of BSDC, which has been helping MGFI construct structures in Masungi.

Given all these, MGFI’s role as the caretaker of Masungi must reply to questions: One, what are they really undertaking as part of conservation programs in the area? Two, how would they justify the high fees they charge users of their facilities? (Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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