Climate and Environment

Masungi denies resort claims, demands proof from DENR chief

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Masungi denies resort claims, demands proof from DENR chief
The famous limestone formations in Masungi Georeserve are seen in this February 7, 2021 photo.
Philstar.com/EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. has called on the country’s environment chief to provide evidence supporting her allegations against the organization, including the existence of an alleged resort in the contract area.

In a statement on Saturday, MGFI President Ben Dumaliang stressed that Masungi is not a resort, but a non-profit conservation initiative “powered by low-volume geotourism.”

“If she (Sec. Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga) cannot come and substantiate her resort claims and other allegations, then she should resign,” MGFI President Ben Dumaliang said in a statement on Saturday. 

Masungi is an award-winning geotourism site within the karst terrain of the Upper Marikina Watershed, and serves as a home to over 400 species of flora and fauna, several of which are rare and threatened. 

Over the years, MGFI has fought with entities who want to use the land for quarrying, building resorts, and growing crops. 

Dumaliang made the statement after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued a press release that Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation billed the government over P1 billion “for its failure to deliver lands in the government’s own territory.

Blue Star is an MGFI affiliate company that led the restoration and protection efforts in the Masungi Georeserve. 

According to the foundation, the construction company entered into a joint venture agreement (JVA) with the DENR in 1997 for the development of two titled properties, including Lot 10, which is the site of the Masungi Georeserve. 

The billing from Blue Star listed legal, security, and miscellaneous expenses, damages incurred from the delay of the delivery of the lot, and a monthly rental of P100,000 paid to a “professional squatter.” The statement also indicated the expenses were incurred starting June 2018. 

‘Saving natural heritage’

MGFI said Blue Star was forced to bill the government to compel the environment department to perform its contractual obligations under the JVA. 

“The Statement of Account provided by Blue Star is a record of the expenses unnecessarily incurred by Blue Star because of the DENR’s failure to deliver Lot 10 free and clear of illegal occupants and encumbrances in accordance with its contract with DENR,” MGFI said. 

The foundation stressed there would be no Masungi without the resources, efforts, passion, and engineering expertise of Blue Star. 

“The ancient Masungi karst which is a national geological and biodiversity heritage as well as surrounding titled government properties and protected areas would have been irreparably lost to syndicates without the efforts of Blue Star,” it said. 

However, according to an investigation committee formed by the department in 2019, the billings were “without legal basis.”

According to the DENR, Masungi Georeserve offers accommodations priced from P5,000 per night and hosts events like weddings and company events, with rates starting at P120,000. The department also claimed the site has a restaurant. 

“The Masungi Georeserve is a non-profit conservation initiative run by the MGFI which is a non-stock, non-profit foundation duly registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),” the foundation responded.

“Masungi is therefore not a resort, which is built for the primary purpose of entertainment and profit,” it added. 

‘Questionable contracts’

At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Yulo-Loyzaga said the 2017 contract of the MGFI with the DENR was deemed void from the beginning by the Department of Justice.

Under a 2017 agreement between the foundation and then-environment chief Gina Lopez, Masungi will plant and nurture trees to help heal a 2,700-hectare area in the Upper Marikina Watershed. But the DENR is now claiming the MOA is unconstitutional.

It called the agreement “the most recent of the series of questionable contracts involving Dumaliang with the DENR.”

MGFI has written to the DOJ to reconsider its opinion. It added the MOA remains valid and binding until a final decision is made by the court. 

“The DENR is conducting a misplaced and vicious—yet unfounded—character assassination against Masungi but is not saying anything against despoilers who are the real enemies of the environment,” MGFI said.

“It is blowing out of proportion a debatable alleged constitutional conflict which can be quickly remedied if necessary simply by coming to the table in the spirit of cooperation like true partners do,” it added.

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