The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is looking at a new address—and they’re looking at Masungi Georeserve. On Feb. 16, the conservation released a statement that detailed an “ocular inspection” at one of the georeserve’s sites for the relocation of the New Bilibid Prison.
The group that arrived for the ocular inspection presented a newly minted title to lot 10, which is composed of over 270 hectares of land within the protected Masungi area, and an extra 30 hectares of land supposedly titled under the name of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
According to Masungi, lot 10 is home to fragile limestone formations and has been declared as a joint venture between the DENR and Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation.
Limestone is a very fragile mineral, and according to the georeserve, the lot 10 site is densely forested and mountainous. This makes it “geologically unbuildable” and unsuitable for construction of buildings and facilities. Not to mention expensive, if construction was to push through.
The press release also stated that Masungi and the surrounding communities were not consulted regarding the construction of the new prison and are in fact opposed to it.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the proposed transfer was in line with the plan of the DOJ to build regional prison facilities in order to decongest NBP in Muntinlupa City, the site of the current BuCor headquarters. | @santostinaINQ /PDI https://t.co/SEl2pd2lsv— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) February 18, 2023
Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla defended the bureau’s decision to relocate the prison in the spirit of decongesting human and actual traffic.
“It’s part of the overall plan of the Department of Justice (DOJ). We’re regionalizing our prisons …. we’re also eyeing to transfer even the headquarters. It’s one of the things being considered right now,” said the justice secretary on his radio program on Feb. 16.
Since 2022, regionalization to break up syndicates and provide more humane conditions for inmates were one of the department’s targets.
In an apparent direct response to Masungi’s counterclaims, the justice secretary also said “We’ll talk to you at the proper time. You just relax.”
Only the latest threat
Over the past few years, the BuCor’s move to relocate the New Bilibid Prison is only the latest threat to the safety and integrity of Masungi Georeserve. In September of last year, armed men invaded and illegally squatted at one of the conservation site’s areas in a bid to occupy the land. This was dubbed the Masungi Invasion.
In 2021, two forest rangers were shot by unidentified assailants after reporting slash-and-burn, illegal tree cutting, and illegal private construction on the conservation site. In December 2020, reports of intimidation and illegal squatting by armed guards to prevent reforestation efforts came to light. Earlier in 2020, a quarrying company also illegally fenced off over 500 hectares of the protected area.
The country has also been named the most dangerous place for environmental defenders in 2019, overtaking Brazil.
The georeserve’s reforestation initiatives can help mitigate rainfall and help deter intense flooding and calamities in the surrounding areas—among other environmental and social benefits.
Masungi is one of the most important conservation sites in the country. Due to the worsening of climate change, protecting forested areas and biodiverse ecosystems should be a priority.