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Masungi Georeserve decries detention of rangers, calls for support for envi defenders

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Masungi Georeserve decries detention of rangers, calls for support for envi defenders
A sign indicating the Masungi Geopark Project is a restricted area is seen in this February 6, 2021 photo.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — The Masungi Georeserve called for support for environmental defenders protecting watersheds as they decried the detention of five of their forest rangers — allegedly by police — in the town of Baras, Rizal province.

In a Facebook post, Masungi Georeserve said their five rangers “apprehended a notorious environment offender armed with a machete, who was trespassing and illegally entering the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape.”

They surrendered the alleged offender to the Baras municipal police station for the filing of complaints, but the cops instead detained the rangers, the organization said. They added that their rangers were also "mistreated and verbally abused" by the police.

"Upon the false and bare ‘say-so’ of the offender and absent any visible signs of physical injury and a formal complaint, the police unjustly put them behind bars," Masungi Georeserve said.

The rangers were released after six days in detention, following a resolution from the provincial prosecutor, but Masungi Georeserve said: "Their illegal detention has a chilling effect on our rangers and other protected area defenders. The authorities will not defend the environment and neither will they let us."

RELATED: The Philippines is still Asia's deadliest country for protectors of nature

Call for protection

Masungi Georeserve said the offender is an owner of an illegal resort and is the "primary suspect" in the shooting of their two rangers earlier this year. The same person is also supposedly a subject of a Cease and Desist Order from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a closure order from the local government unit.

The organization also claimed that the town police "gave every alibi to avoid investigating suspects" in the shooting of their rangers in July.

In August, the two rangers filed a frustrated murder rap against the resort owner and his companions. The respondents' names have not been made public.

"We wrote countless requests for assistance to authorities including the police in light of the impunity and lawlessness prevailing in the protected area and critical watershed. Unfortunately, nobody took real action, so land grabbers and other environmental offenders continue to lord over the area," they added.

SPECIAL REPORT: Pools, ‘plunderers’ make Upper Marikina watershed conservation a hard and perilous task

Over the past few months, their team also made three citizen arrests, "including [of] persons clearing land and cutting trees using a chainsaw to build illegal permanent structures inside the protected area."

Quarrying, land grabbing, timber cutting and encroachments continue to persist in the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, which was declared a protected area only in 2011.

Conservationists have stressed that the Upper Marikina Watershed is critical as it regulates water flow, and serves as a habitat of threatened flora and fauna and ancestral domains of indigenous peoples.

Masungi is undertaking a reforestation initiative inside the watershed in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The organization then called on police leadership to ensure that forest rangers are supported and the watershed protected

"We demand that the police officers involved in this grave injustice be held accountable for their actions and inaction. We demand that the offender, a resort owner who flagrantly tampered with our forest and waterways and attacked our rangers, be prosecuted for multiple crimes and abuses," the Masungi Georeserve added.

SPECIAL REPORT: Strong enforcement, halt to destruction needed to reverse decades of neglect of Upper Marikina watershed

— Kristine Joy Patag with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico

IPO AND UPPER MARIKINA WATERSHED

MASUNGI GEORESERVE

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