Senator Cynthia Villar donated to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) a prefabricated modular structure to serve as the office/station of the joint monitoring team deployed to preserve and guard the grounds of the protected area Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL), including the Masungi Georeserve, the award-winning conservation project site found within the said protected area(PA).
Usec. Edilberto Leonardo, the DENR Undersecretary for Special Concerns, appreciates Sen. Villar’s donation as it is a welcome complement to DENR’s action of forming a joint monitoring team, made up of DENR foresters, forest rangers, and pertinent units of PNP and AFP, who are deputized to guard and prevent illegal activities at the said PA. With the said physical structure, the deployed personnel will have a specific base where they could stay while on duty at the immense area of UMRBPL, encompassing around 26,125 hectares. The Joint Monitoring Team was formed as a pro-active initiative by DENR against intrusions and conduct of illegal activities at the protected area, which may include illegal mining, quarrying, poaching of wildlife, slash and burn farming as well as other related operations. The presence of enforcers will serve as a deterrent against violation of environmental laws in the area.
Sen. Villar said that “there is an urgent need for DENR to strengthen its law enforcement efforts at UMRBPL and the Masungi Georeserve in the light of alarming incidents of encroachment activities on the premises with the presence of armed men, which continuously undermine the conservation efforts and pose threats to the safety of Masungi’s conservationists and volunteers working at the protected area”. Moreover, DENR’s lack of presence at the protected area as contributed to the proliferation of the unregulated quarrying operations and other related activities, which are being blamed for the degradation of the Marikina watershed, as well as the resultant landslides and devastating flooding experienced by several towns and villages in the Province of Rizal and in Marikina City.
In December last year, the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar conducted a hearing-inquiry on the alleged denuded state of forests that largely contributed to the massive flooding in part of Luzon during the onslaught of typhoon Ulysses in November 2020. The conservation efforts or the lack of it at the UMRBPL, which is a legislated PA under RA No. 11038 or the Expanded NIPAS Act, was highlighted. Due to its protected area status, the said PA should be undergoing strict conservation and restoration interventions, yet it was revealed that through the years, it has been subjected to so much abuse due to quarrying operations and related activities.
It was only as an aftermath of the Typhoon Ulysses which brought devastating flash floods and landslides to the residents of several towns in Rizal and Marikina City that the provincial government of Rizal has ordered the suspension of all quarrying, mining and other related activities in the province in December 2020. The DENR–Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB )Regional Office in Region 4-Afollowed suit with the suspension of 11 quarrying and crushing plant operators within the area.
Despite the suspension orders, the residents of the affected areas in Rizal and in Marikina City as well as concerned environmentalists are still worried that these quarrying firms will be back in “business as usual” mode once the controversy has died down as what happened in previous years.