By Berlin P. Flores
Citing multiple violations of environmental ordinances, building codes, and safety regulations, the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Tanay, Rizal and the Masungi Rock Management Council (MRMC) temporarily suspended the operations of the Masungi Karst Eco-park effective January 26, 2016.
Masungi Karst is located in Lot 10 titled to the Republic of the Philippines and is being eyed as Tanay’s newest eco-tourism site.
From available records, Masungi has been declared as a locally-protected area. Providing Tanay and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) authority to oversee the protection and conservation of the karst and the various flora and fauna within its vicinity. The MRMC composed of representatives from the DENR, LLDA, Provincial and Local Government, and the Academe among others, is the park’s governing body.
Dismantling of fence, suspension of operations
In SB Resolution No.16, s. 2016, the SB of Tanay ordered the immediate dismantling of the perimeter fence installed by Blue Star Development Corporation (BSDC) a construction firm, along what appeared to be a road widening area.
Also, in another Resolution No. 20, s. 2016 the Tanay SB ordered the temporary suspension in the issuance of any permit to BSDC due to the absence of requisite safety measures.
From reliable sources, it appeared, likewise, that Blue Star also failed to organize and provide a standby Medical Emergency Team to ensure the safety of tourists and a comprehensive plan to ensure the protection and conservation of the area in accordance with applicable local Ordinances and national laws.
Such omissions, reportedly, amounted to a disregard of the standing request of the Sanggunian Bayan to BSDC management for the latter to ensure that such safety measures be put in place first before the eco-park can be opened to the public.
As per initial investigation made by the Engineering Department, Blue Star likewise illegally made improvements within the eco-park without first securing the necessary building permits from the Municipal Engineer. The latter explained that such hard and soft improvements that Blue Star constructed without permits could put at risk the safety of tourists since the improvements were not properly scrutinized and approved by the local engineering office.
Accordingly, for public protection, the MRMC in its Resolution No. 2016-01 suspended the public opening of the Masungi Eco-park and ordered BSDC to stop further construction and development projects inside the park.
In the same resolution, the MRMC also ordered BSDC management to voluntarily dismantle parts of the fences that it erected in Sitio Pinagtarangkahan, Brgy. Cuyambay, as reported by a composite team of MRMC members and LGU officials.
The fencing inadvertently restricted the free access of farmers and residents to and from the premises of Masungi which affected their means of livelihood and normal daily activities.
Research done by local officials showed that the illegally-constructed fencing by Blue Star also posed dangerous obstructions to driving and a constant threat to the safety of motorists and tourists plying the Marikina-Infanta road.
Explaining its side, BSDC pointed to a 5-year old fencing permit issued to it in 2011, but which, on closer scrutiny, expired a year after its issuance.
MRMC members meanwhile also pointed to BSDC’s charge per guest of a P1, 000.00 fee for its guided tours as posted in its website “Masungi Georeserve.com”.
The said amount, MRMC stressed, is double the P500.00 per visitor that BSDC was allowed to collect as stated in the Masungi Park Eco-tourism Plan duly approved by MRMC under Resolution No. 2014-02.
While a BSDC lawyer claimed that some guests were ‘willing’ to pay as much as P2, 500.00 each, the MRMC, however, maintained that BSDC’s charge per visitor above the agreed ceiling amount constituted still a clear violation of the authority granted to it.
A BSDC lawyer, in a letter to MRMC members, questioned the authority of the Council to suspend the commercial operations by the BSDC, calling the action ‘usurpation of authority’ and warned MRMC members who signed the said Resolution as criminally liable.
In a brief inquiry with Tanay’s Municipal Legal Officer (MLO), Atty. Amadeo R. Fulgado, he explained that from a study of the facts and documents so far unearthed, both the LGU and MRMC resolutions and actions appear to be legally grounded.
Specifically, BSDC and their lawyers’ claim of full authority runs counter to Section 2 (e) of Executive Order No. 2012-02-01 (“An Order Creating the Masungi Rock Management Council”) giving the MRM Council exclusive authority to “formulate policies, rules and regulations that will govern visit and activities inside the Masungi Rock and impose reasonable fees which will form part of the Masungi Rock Fund”.
In line with such power, Section 3 (b) of the same EO states that the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer (MENRO), acting as Masungi Rock Action Officer, shall “enforce rules and regulation governing visits and activities inside the Masungi Rock” while Section 3 (d) states that the Masungi Rock Action Officer shall “protect the Masungi Rock and its environs from encroachment, vandalism, exploitation and any other form of harmful or destructive activities”.
Indeed, he explained that the MRM COUNCIL alone, not BSDC, possesses the exclusive right to issue and enforce Resolution No. 2014-02 through the Masungi Rock Action Officer in coordination with concerned LGU officials and MRMC members.
He also said that per report of the Licensing division, the BSDC failed to properly secure and submit the required documents to entitle it to a business permit to operate the Masungi Karst area as an Eco-Park facility.
As explained, likewise, contrary to claims made by BSDC thru their lawyers alleging that certain local officials are protecting the interests of powerful individuals, there is nothing in several facts gathered so far and documents available on record that tend to sustain BSDC’s allegations on the matter.
A member of the MRMC also advanced the possibility that once MRDC has obtained all local and national clearances and the violations by BSDC have been fully established, the municipal government and the MRMC will have no further reason to allow BSDC’s continued development and operations of the Masungi Karst Geo-park. #
Berlin Flores is a member of the Tanay Writers Club and a former campus journalist and writer/editor for a law firm based in California.He explained