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Opinion

Quarries will again trigger ruinous floods starting May

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Two months from now dry faucets will turn into floods. Rains will rush down bald mountains, deluging homes and shops below. Greater Manila will again be worst hit. Residents will blame only what they see: plastic trash clogging drains. The true culprits willl again escape accountability. Those are the handful of quarriers in the Marikina watershed east of the megalopolis.

Three of the quarries are in Sitio San Roque, Baras, Rizal uphill from Antipolo capital. Sixteen others are in adjacent Montalban. That the largest is owned by an ex-environment secretary shows the futility of forest preservation and flood prevention.

The three quarriers in Baras ironically control the upper slopes. Just below them is the Masungi Georeserve Project. The 2,700-hectare Masungi is world-acclaimed for reforestation and rewilding. Winding across it into the quarries is a 16-kilometer-long spine of epochs-old limestone. The quarriers are after that water-bearing, flood-preventing limestone.

Two administrations expanded Masungi from its original 130 to 430 hectares. The Masungi Georeserve Foundation opened it to eco-tourists to cover the cost of park rangers against illegal loggers and trespassers. In 2017 environment secretary Gina Lopez assigned 2,270 hectares more to the Foundation. But forest protection seems to be a losing battle. A syndicate in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is protecting instead the quarriers.

Crooked bureaucrats awarded the quarriers in 1998-1999 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements. “Those MPSAs are patently illegal,” says Foundation president Ben Dumaliang. The Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape is a watershed. As such it is listed in the National Integrated Protected Areas System Law. Presidential Proclamation 1636 of 1977 and DENR Department Administrative Order 33 of 1993 prohibit quarrying in watersheds and protected areas. Mere MPSAs may not supersede laws and regulations.

Encouraged by the quarriers, two commercial swimming pool resorts have been built in the area recently. One of them fenced off half a kilometer of river and diverted the water to the pools. Both have no business permits. Three police generals erected mansions; two vacated the illegal constructions after retirement. Illegal woodcutters and slash-and-burn (kaingin) trespassers destroyed 16 hectares of forest, the Department of the Interior and Local Government denounced in July 2021.

Alleged goons of the resort owners and the remaining general harass the hundred or so Masungi park rangers. The unarmed rangers have been fired at with rifles and shotguns to scare them from fencing off the intruders. Attacks have been reported to the local police. Still the goons persist. Last Feb. 18, The STAR reported, 30 thugs clubbed and stoned seven rangers then lunching at a carinderia. Two had to be hospitalized. One of the maulers has a pending court case for previously shooting the ranger barracks.

The DILG has urged DENR to file criminal charges against the resort owners, loggers and their bureaucrat abettors. Inspecting Masungi’s outlying areas last July, DILG U-Sec. Jonathan Malaya saw illegal structures in the 16 newly denuded hectares. “Binusabos na nga nila ang kalikasan, naghahari-harian pa sila sa lugar, at hindi sumusunod sa mga otoridad at batas pang-kalikasan,” he fumed. As part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force, Malaya cited bases for indicting the trespassers: NIPAS Law, Revised Forestry Code, Water Code and DENR DAO 1993-33 declaring Masungi as “Strict Nature Reserve & Wildlife Sanctuary”.

In March 2020 DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu vowed to cancel the MPSAs for being harmful to the area. Two years hence it has not materialized. Shady underlings apparently withheld the cancellation order from Cimatu’s signature, until he retired last month.

The syndicate is even turning the tables on Masungi Georeserve Foundation. “They are accusing us of land grabbing inspite of our official designation by DENR as conservationists,” Dumaliang laments. Billboards badmouthing the eco-park have been put up at resort entrances and unlicensed roadside eateries.

A days-long water shut-off early this month was blamed by illegal residents on the Foundation. It turned out from drone videos, however, that the resorts had diverted the springs to fill up their pools and water tanks in anticipation of summer tourist influx.

The demonization seems orchestrated. Purportedly in response to the locals’ outcry, provincial and central DENR officials are recommending closure of the Masungi Georeserve Project. Ignored are seven years of Dumaliang’s reforestation and rewilding, mostly funded out of his own pocket. His eldest daughters, National Geographic explorer Ann and Billie, had to resign from corporate jobs to help his efforts full time. Ignored, too, are 67,000 replanted native trees, and citations from the UN Development Program, International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Travel-Tourism Council and UN World Tourism Organization.

Only Duterte can save Masungi perhaps. “The area is a geohazard zone prone to floods and landslides,” Dumaliang wrote the President on Mar. 14. “Water supply for the surrounding communities will be lost from the resulting excavation and extraction of the water-bearing limestone formation. The 60-million-year old geological heritage and shelter of indigenous plants and animals will be destroyed.”

It’s the quarries that must go. Or else the people of Metro Manila, Bulacan and Rizal will continue to suffer destructive floods like those from superstorm Ondoy in 2009 and typhoon Ulysses in 2020.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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