Climate and Environment

'Site of headquarters': BuCor claims ownership of land within Masungi

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'Site of headquarters': BuCor claims ownership of land within Masungi
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 (Update 2, 4:28 p.m.) — The Bureau of Corrections on Friday claimed it is the registered owner of a 270-hectare land within the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal, which the government agency said is the planned site of its headquarters.

The Masungi Georeserve Foundation on Thursday raised alarm over an area inspection conducted by BuCor personnel in “Lot 10.” The parcel of land was equitized in a joint venture project in 2002 between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Blue Star Construction and Development Corp., which leads Masungi’s conservation efforts.

“Lot 10” is part of protected areas and is also included in Masungi’s reforestation initiative with the government called Masungi Geopark Project.

In a statement, BuCor officer-in-charge Gregorio Catapang Jr. said the agency “has all the right to conduct any activity in the area” as it is the registered owner of the property. BuCor is essentially eyeing the majority of the 300-hectare conservation site. 

According to Catapang, a transfer certificate of title for the 270-hectare land in Barangays Kuyumbay, Layban, San Andres and Tinucan in Tanay town was issued in favor of BuCor on September 28, 2022.

The BuCor official said the parcel of land was originally registered under the Republic of the Philippines covered by the Original Certificate of Title No. 3556.

Presidential Proclamation 1158 issued on Sept. 8, 2006 by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reserved 270 hectares of the land as the new site of the New Bilibid Prison as recommended by the DENR.

In a letter to former BuCor deputy director general and spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag last month, Masungi Georeserve Foundation president Ben Dumaliang said that Presidential Proclamation 1158 does not terminate the supplemental agreement executed by the DENR and the Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation on Nov. 15, 2002. 

“The president (Arroyo) was deliberately misled. We respectfully submit that had the president known that Lot 10 was already the subject of a contract, especially one she herself caused, she would not have signed Presidential Proclamation No. 1158,” Dumaliang said.

Chaclag is no longer listed in the current roster of BuCor officials, according to the agency’s website.

Headquarters, not penitentiary

Catapang also said that the parcel of land will not be used as a relocation site of the New Bilibid Prison, but as a site of the BuCor headquarters, “including its residential uses for its personnel and employees and for the development and implementation of land use development plans and policies of BuCor for the sustainment of its basic institutional food requirements.”

The current headquarters of BuCor is in the New Bilibid Prison Reservation in Muntinlupa in southern Metro Manila.

Catapang said he is “pro-environmentalist” and supports the conservation efforts of Masungi.

“Until and unless the title to the subject property under the name of BuCor has been nullified or canceled through any of the legal means that are available to them, the Bureau of Corrections will continue with its plan of not only establishing the BuCor headquarters in the subject property but also to establish other prison and penal facilities in the other regions in the country where prison facilities are not yet present,” he said.

This new development comes at the heels of the cancelation of quarrying permits within the Masungi Geopark Project and the Congressional hearings that the foundation is being subjected to.

Over the years, Masungi has locked horns with quarry operators, resort owners and other entities who illegally occupy forestlands within the Upper Marikina Watershed.

The internationally-recognized initiatives of Masungi have conserved and restored parts of the threatened Upper Marikina watershed. 

Masungi managing trustee Ann Dumaliang said in a message to Philstar.com that the foundation appeals to Catapang to “deem the environment as central to all issues and reconsider BuCor’s plans.”

She also called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and DENR Secretary Toni Loyzaga to aid them in this matter “in the interest of the Philippines’ natural heritage and the country’s commitments toward climate action.”

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