Climate and Environment

DENR, Masungi 2017 MOA voiding ‘untenable’ — Masungi Foundation

Ian Laqui - Philstar.com
DENR, Masungi 2017 MOA voiding �untenable� � Masungi Foundation
A sign indicating the Masungi Geopark Project is a restricted area is seen in this February 6, 2021 photo.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — The Masungi Georeserve Foundation said that the voiding of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the government regarding the conservation of a specific area is "untenable". 

The foundation issued the statement following remarks from Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials during a Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change panel hearing. 

The DENR officials said that the 2017 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the DENR and the foundation is "void ab initio", citing a legal opinion from the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In the foundation’s statement, it said that the contract between the foundation and the DENR was entered under the e-NIPAS act “to enter into agreements with non-state actors in pursuit of conservation.”

“The MOA provision which declares that ‘the intent of the parties is to constitute the project area as a perpetual land trust’ is not a grant or gift of land to the foundation, contrary to malicious insinuations. A close reading of the contract will reveal that we can only manage the project for as long as the law or constitution allows, which is yet to be determined by the courts for conservation,” Masungi’s statement read. 

The planned cancellation of the MOA, according to the foundation, betrays the DENR’s statement of commitment to protecting the environment. 

“Who will benefit from this plan? Neither the Filipino people nor the environment. Only the large scale fraudulent clamaints, land grabbers, quarries and swimming pool resorts that have lobbied for the project's cancellation because it collides with their interests will benefit from this,” the foundation’s statement read. 

The contract in question is the 2017 agreement between the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and the DENR, signed under former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez. 

This agreement stipulated that Masungi would plant and nurture trees to aid in the restoration of a 2,700-hectare area in the Upper Marikina River Basin and Protected Landscape.

The legal opinion referred to by the DENR officials is the May 2023 legal opinion which said that the “perpetual land trust for conservation” for the lands in the Masungi Georeserve breaks the rules set by the Constitution. 

Citing Article 12 Section 2 of the Constitution, the Justice department explained that agreement over lands, waters, and minerals of the public domain shall be for a period not exceeding 25 years and renewable for another 25 years.

Masungi, however, said that DOJ’s legal opinion only referred to an individual provision and not the entirety of the MOA.

“The Memorandum of Agreement remains valid and binding until the court declares that it is void. The final determination of constitutionality and legality is the province of the judiciary and not the executive branch,” Masungi’s statement read. 

The foundation also suggested that the DENR could consider other avenues to address any technicalities in the MOA. 

It noted options such as engaging in formal negotiations and participating in a dialogue in good faith. 

Masungi also revealed that Yulo-Loyzaga had not visited the site “to check fact from fiction.”

“This alarming attitude casts a shadow to the true intents of a MOA cancellation which has been tagged by observers as a smokescreen for the DENR to avoid their obligations under the MOA to remove the fraudulent and large-scale illegal occupants in the protected areas, which includes personalities with government ties,” the foundation’s statement read.

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