Masungi: Leonardo DiCaprio fights for protected Philippine area

Estimated read time 4 min read

A bird’s eye view of the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province, Philippines.

Hollywood star and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio has voiced his support for the protection of the Masungi Georeserve in the Philippines, with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) maintaining that the rule of law would prevail in the area.

In an Instagram post on Thursday (July 4), DiCaprio highlighted the restoration efforts by local communities in the late 1990s to transform the once illegally deforested area in the Rizal province into a lush rainforest landscape. The Masungi Georeserve has been hailed as one of the most innovative and sustainable tourism projects in the world by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

“Now, this success is in jeopardy, as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources threatens to cancel the agreement that protects this area from prolific land grabbing activities. This cancellation would set back the success of an internationally acclaimed conservation effort and leave the area vulnerable again to mining, logging and illegal developments,” DiCaprio said, urging Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to intervene.

There is an ongoing Senate discussion on the revocation of an agreement between the DENR and Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. (MGFI), which was signed in 2017 through then-secretary Gina Lopez. The agreement places the care and conservation of the Masungi Georeserve to the foundation, with DENR designating the area as a “perpetual land trust for conservation” under MGFI.

Environmental advocates campaigning for support for Masungi have warned that cancelling the contract could open the protected area to unsustainable business development that could ruin the area’s ecology. Earlier this year, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation also blew the whistle on several resorts that have been constructed in the conservation area.

What the DENR says

In a statement on Thursday, the DENR maintained that “No one is exempt from the law”, while adding that the authority “appreciate(s) the statements of concern for the Philippine environment from international celebrities who are distinguished in their respective fields.”

“As the DENR continues to take steps toward strengthening its compliance and enforcement capacities, we value all those parties who have submitted themselves to the required processes and procedures as defined by existing laws,” the DENR added.

The DENR also pointed out that the Masungi Georeserve is the subject of Joint Venture Agreements and Supplemental Agreement for the delivery of government housing projects.

Last year, the Bureau of Corrections revealed plans to relocate the New Bilibid Prisons and its headquarters to Masungi. The Department of Justice, which planned to build a prison in the protected area, has questioned the DENR-MGFI agreement, citing the “perpetual trust” conferred to MGFI as a constitutional violation.

However, environmental advocates campaigning for support for Masungi warned that cancelling the contract will lead to “ecological disasters”.

“If the [MOA would] be canceled, then you remove that first and last line of defense that you have for the watershed area. Removing Masungi will cascade into various ecological disasters and also the wholesale entry of the different resource-grabbing companies, the speeding up of the degradation of the watershed, and consequently, the speeding up of the risks of floods and other natural disasters amplified by climate change,” said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. The Masungi Georeserve reportedly has a lot of mineral resources for industrial use beneath its watershed areas.

Illegal development works in the Masungi Georeserve came under the spotlight after the Masungi Georeserve Foundation earlier this year released drone footage showing several swimming pool resorts operating inside the Upper Marikina River Basin, where the georeserve management operates.

“For years, we have tried to raise awareness about this issue, with our rangers constantly put at risk for trying to prevent encroachments with little to no support,” it stated in the post. The foundation said issues in the past have escalated into violent attacks against is personnel as they worked to protect the georeserve. ICA/Expat Media

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