By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Basing their complaint on the abusive compliance of a memorandum of agreement between Masungi Georeserve and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), tribal leaders of the Dumagats in Antipolo have filed graft charges against operators of the conservation area in Baras, Rizal who reportedly violated laws in their intrusion of a portion of their ancestral domain.
The Dumagats filed the raps before the Rizal Prosecutor’s Office against Masungi Georeserve for alleged violation of Sections 3 (e) and (g), and 4 (b) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
In their 10-page complaint, the named respondents by complainants Rolando Vertudez and Leonardo DR Doroteo were listed as Masungi Georeserve operators Ben Dumaliang, Lilian Dumaliang, Anne Adeline Dumaliang, Billie Crystal Dumaliang and Sonia Oliveros as well as several Jane and John Does from the DENR.
The complainants narrated that they have been occupying their ancestral land since the time of their great forefathers, which they claim is the reason why Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA Law) recognized them. They said that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the main implementing agency of the IPRA Law, recognized and certified them, including the issuance of land measurements and plans last January 7, 2017.
“But last October 2020, officials from the Masungi Georeserve, together with several armed and uniformed men, intruded into a portion of our ancestral domain and insisted that they are the ones who have the right to our land because of their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the DENR,” it was stated in the complaint.
They added that the MOA is defective, onerous and grossly disadvantageous to the government, which is the main subject of their suit.
The complainants claimed the MOA between Masungi and the DENR is being considered as ‘perpetual’ in nature, which is contrary to law that sets the limit to only 25 years.
By law, Masungi Georeserve is also supposed to pay the government for the use of the protected area, while records show the former is not paying the latter for the use of the protected area within its MOA.
It derives its income from its business inside the area through the collection of PhP1,500 to PhP1,800 entrance fees per person, apart from its income from several recreational infrastructures.
The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) provides in Section 3 (e) the violation of a public official: “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence…(g) entering, on behalf of the Government, into a contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the same, whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.”
Section 4 (b), the prohibition on private individuals, states that “it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to induce or cause any public official to commit any of the offenses defined in Section 3 hereof.”
On December 19, 2020 the past year, DENR assistant secretary for Climate Change and concurrent Biodiversity Management Bureau (BM) director Ricardo Calderon said a mere MOA cannot supersede the Expanded National Protected Areas (E-NIPAS) law.
Calderon further said that the MOA that supposedly legalizes the operations and occupancy of Masungi Georeserve is flawed and disadvantageous to the government.
“It is public land and, as such, the government is entitled to certain taxes and fees for its use. Imagine, having the right to use the land for ecotourism for free, without paying taxes forever,” he underscored.
As of press time, Masungi Georeserve has not yet responded to the complaint leveled against them by the IPs in Antipolo. (AI/MTVN)