3 Metro Manila mayors join call vs quarrying at Masungi

Masungi Georeserve in Baras town, Rizal province, in 2019, has been hailed as one of the most innovative and sustainable tourism projects in the world by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. (File photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Three Metro Manila mayors have added their voices to the call to rescind large-scale quarrying agreements covering 1,300 hectares of protected areas in the Marikina watershed and the Masungi project in Rizal province.

In a joint statement, Mayors Marcy Teodoro, Vico Sotto and Jaime Fresnedi of the cities of Marikina, Pasig and Muntinlupa, respectively, urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to cancel the mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs) currently in force, saying “these destructive activities are anathema to the protected area meant to be preserved from exploitation.”

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“We are deeply concerned that the DENR is reportedly not acting upon the cancellation of the MPSAs,” they said.

According to the mayors and other local government officials who signed the statement, their constituents continue to be ravaged each year by floods and landslides that are exacerbated by the “unlawful and misplaced quarrying” being done in the forests.

They said not canceling the MPSAs would allow quarrying operations and would not guarantee the conservation of the watershed area. They also pointed out that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) itself had said that the companies involved committed “gross violations” of the Philippine Mining Act.

“We likewise appeal to the relevant quarry companies to reconsider the social and environmental impacts of their plans, and voluntarily rescind their MPSAs within the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape and Masungi Geopark Project,” they said.

Nothing to worry about

MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano told the Inquirer that there was nothing to worry about as the three MPSAs were due to expire next year.

Moncano also said the agreements had been in place since 1998, or earlier than the proclamation declaring the areas as protected, and had actually not been enforced since 2004.

In 2020, after the devastation wrought by Typhoons “Rolly” and “Ulysses,” Rizal Gov. Rebecca Ynares issued a similar call urging the DENR to cancel the mining tenements in the province in order to mitigate flooding.

Applications of quarrying tenements in Masungi were banned in 1993 on the strength of DENR Administrative Order No. 33 issued by then Environment Secretary and National Scientist Angel Alcala which recognized the geological and ecological significance of Masungi.

The conservation area is home to endangered and endemic species like the Indigo-Banded Kingfisher, the ultra-rare JC’s Vine, the Philippine Hawk-Eagle, the Colasisi parrot, and the North Luzon Giant Cloud Rat.

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Residents’ protests

Asked to respond to the joint call to action signed by the heads of local government units (LGUs) whose areas and constituents “suffer the brunt of disastrous floods accelerated by the deforestation of upland mountains and the tampering of rivers,” the MGB’s Moncano said the mining companies with MPSAs had been non-operational since 2004.

“They have had no actual mining operations due to the protests … by the residents near the area,” he said in a phone interview.

The MPSAs are due to expire in 2023, Moncano said. Thus, he said, the agreements would no longer be renewed instead of canceled because of the terms and conditions “that had been perfected already.”

He said that for an MPSA to be renewed, it had to undergo three levels of endorsements from the stakeholders and respective LGUs—from the barangays to the city or municipality to the provincial government.

There is also a low probability for the three MPSAs cited in the joint to call action to be renewed as these are within a protected area, he said.