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DENR chief says MOA with Masungi should be revised to settle conflicting claims

Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo Loyzaga on Tuesday raised the need to revise the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and the Masungi Georeserve Foundation in an attempt to settle the conflict among claimants.

In a Commission on Appointments (CA) Committee on Environment and Natural Resources confirmation hearing, Loyzaga said the MOA signed in 2017 apparently did not take into consideration the "long history" of other presidential decrees and proclamations.

"We were able to determine in terms of the crafting of the agreement and historical analysis of the status of the property per se, mukha pong at this point, it is apparent that the crafting of the agreement was not able to appreciate the history of the claims and rights there," she said.

"The MOA did not take into consideration previous proclamations, previous decrees and therefore it will need to be revised if we were to find some way of compromising in terms of the settlement of this issue," Loyzaga added.

At this point, Loyzaga said the DENR wants to sit down with all parties "to try and resolve the competing interests that have been expressed by the different instruments that are currently in place."

Asked if she is pushing for the amendment of the MOA, the DENR chief said she is not in position to state if it needs to be modified or redrafted but they are open to consider it.

She then expressed hope that the Masungi Foundation is likewise open to consider some solutions available to convert the MOA to protected area assessment process.

To resolve the conflict once and for all, Loyzaga said there are remedies in place but these will require compromise from the parties involved, including the local government units affected by the current situation.

With the presence of armed men due to the existing conflict in Masungi, Loyzaga also said there is a need for police action rather than DENR standing in front of the different armed individuals.

She added that they are in close coordination with the Department of the Interior and Local Government and they are eyeing to engage the Department of Justice in trying to resolve the competing interests in the area.

Meanwhile, Loyzaga welcomed the resolution seeking a Senate probe into the alleged incidents of violence land grabbing, illegal logging, and quarrying affecting the Masungi Georeserve.

She said it is time for all the facts to be ventilated and heard by legislators.

Senator Risa Hontiveros filed last week Senate Resolution 231, seeking to investigate the incidents of armed violence and other illegal activities in Masungi Georeserve and the rest of the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape.

The Masungi Georeserve Foundation said private security personnel intended to occupy parts of the Kaliwa and Marikina Watershed.

They were also told that the security men were there to protect the interests of the people who had purchased the property.

The property that was being occupied at the Kaliwa and Marikina Watershed was allegedly legally titled to the Republic of the Philippines and declared a forest reserve under Presidential Proclamation 573.

According to a memorandum of agreement signed in 2017, the land was included in the 2,700 hectares being protected by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The DENR has the authority under the agreement to evict illegal occupants and cancel illegal documents claiming the right to occupy the land.

But based on the initial evaluation of the DENR, the property was outside the protected conservation site.

DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones, however, clarified that the holder of a land survey did not automatically have legal basis to claim the land. —KBK, GMA News