Protect Masungi, pass national land use act now
Article II, Section 16 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Reading this portion of our Constitution makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and hopeful for a world or at least a nation that respects and nurtures the bounty of Mother Nature—plants, trees, marine life, animals, water, air that we breathe. God-given natural resources of water, air, and land, plus animals that have been in existence long before human beings walked the earth. The stewardship of Mother Nature, of planet Earth, falls on our fallible human shoulders, more so on those people holding powerful key government positions, whose advocacy and mere signature on a certain bill to be passed greatly impacts the fate of our nation and its future generations.
Since its declaration as a protected area in 2011, Masungi Georeserve has been embattled by illegal constructions of private resorts and commercial establishments, allegedly owned by retired and active Philippine National Police officials and government officials. As an ordinary thinking Juan dela Cruz, it baffles me how such man-made structures were allowed to gain ground on a GOVERNMENT-PROTECTED SITE. Do the owners have permits from the local government to erect such structures in the first place? Or maybe the local government unit (LGU) was not aware that such construction was taking place under their noses? I don’t know. Pondering on this chest-pain-inducing topic make me consider conspiracy theories. Sanga-sanga, kawing-kawing na, so to speak.
The news of armed security men “guarding” a certain area in the 2,700 hectares of forest land in the embattled georeserve, with claims that their employer is the rightful owner of that land, along with the unexpected reaction from the local Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) representative in Tanay, Rizal, plus the seeming silence of the LGU in that area, makes you think if Section 16 is just good on paper and if it translates at all. “The State shall PROTECT and advance the RIGHT of the People…” It is good that the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP have stepped up in the recent Masungi issue. What the people hope to be more VOCAL and AGGRESSIVE in protecting the environment for the future generation is, well, the department that has ENVIRONMENT in its name. This is a LITMUS TEST for the newly appointed DENR secretary. Please be more assertive and spineful (as opposed to spineless) in issues like this. The courageous voice of the late Ms. Gina Lopez, with a short-lived stint as DENR secretary, is very much missed in times like this.
In relation to the Masungi standoff, NOW IS THE TIME for the national land use act to be ENACTED ASAP. This bill has been collecting cobwebs in Congress for 25 years now. The Philippines has 30 million hectares of land and inland waters (source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020). As of 2020, around 108 million people utilized these land areas. The passage of House Bill No. 5240, aka national land use act, ensures us that the 30 million hectares of land and inland waters will not all be converted into subdivisions, parking lots, and more commercial establishments. Passing the bill into law ensures us food security as well. Farm lands will remain as farm lands, not as expansion areas for subdivisions. Protected areas for the rehabilitation and preservation of our ecosystem ensure a future still teeming with verdant land and healthy wildlife, marine life, and domestic animals. We cannot eat cement from subdivisions if the time comes.
Nature can exist without man. Man cannot exist without nature.
Pamela I. Claveria, MD,[email protected]
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