Government scientists, tribesfolk and civic leaders have joined the outcry against quarrying in the Marikina watershed.
In separate statements they denounce rock-crushing in the mountaintops of Rizal province that ruin protected areas and ancestral lands. Landslides and flash floods destroy lives and property in the cities below. The rainy season has begun. They plead with Malacañang and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to preserve the forests, not level the slopes.
Their support boosts the morale of the few park rangers in Masungi Georeserve. The rangers replant and secure 2,700 hectares of hillsides in Baras town. Trespassers maul and harass them with gunfire.
Leave the watersheds untouched, National Museum specialists advise. Interconneced with surrounding watersheds, Masungi is sensitive to various disturbances. They propose ways to preserve it.
Karst characterize the Marikina watershed. Limestone beneath the topsoil absorb rains, serving as aquifer for plants, and clean spring water for animals and humans. Quarrying destroys the karst dating back to the Paleocene epoch 66-56 million years ago.
“The quality of any karst depends on the relationship of water, land, vegetation and soil.” National Museum chairperson Luli M. Arroyo-Bernas reiterates that 1997 report of the World Commission on Protected Areas in a May 6 letter to DENR Acting Secretary Jim Sampulna.
“Major land or hydrologic disturbance, even outside the actual karst landscape, can have expensive consequences,” Arroyo-Bernas stresses. “Anthropogenic activities [human disturbance of nature] in the vicinity may not cause direct destruction in the geopark itself, but may still disrupt the karst systems. These include forestry, agriculture, land clearance, quarrying, waste disposal, landfill and other developmental activities.”
The National Museum study was circulated among Filipino conservationists last May 22, International Day of Biological Diversity. Arroyo-Bernas says the report strengthens and substantiates state plans to preserve the watershed. “I hope this report and the recommendations specified can form a useful basis and tool for assessing and determining important measures to protect and conserve the area.”
Dumagat-Remontado tribesfolk petition authorities to save Susong Dalaga (Maiden’s Breast) peak. Part of their ancestral domain, the mountain formation is within the watershed. Yet DENR included it in two of three quarry permits issued in 1998.
A hundred Dumagat-Remontado leaders want President Duterte, Sampulna, and Rizal Governor Rebecca Ynares to preserve the peak, their sacred shrine. Most of the tribe members farm within Antipolo City below the 1,300-hectare quarries.
A thousand hectares of quarry land overlap with the Masungi Geopark. In 2017 then-Secretary Gina Lopez tasked the Masungi Georeserve Foundation to rewild the watershed.
Birds, butterflies, wild boar and various flora flourished within five years of replanting 67,000 native trees, foundation president Ben Dumaliang beams. But trespassers have built a dozen swimming pool resorts in the overlapping zone. The two largest have fenced off and diverted half a kilometer of riverway into their pools. Illegal woodcutters engage in slash-and-burn (kaingin) farming.
The prestigious Knights of Rizal also wants the quarry permits canceled and the trespassers evicted. “We lend our voice to the long overdue imperative to protect our forests, waterways, oceans and biodiversity,” the Chivalry Order says. ”State policy is to protect and promote the right of every Filipino to a balanced and healthy ecology. Every citizen should do his part to care for and protect our natural heritage including forests which serve as our sole natural defense against disastrous floods, landslides and other calamities.”
The Knights condemn trespassers such as a retired DENR bigwig and an active police general who have built manors within the georeserve. The quarries, resorts and trespassers “have long destroyed our forests and waterways and irresponsibly put the lives and property of our countrymen downstream in peril,” state Supreme Commander Gerardo Calderon and eight other national officers. “The recent summer flood and landslide in Leyte killing about 200 is a wake-up call.”
Last April, more than 30 conservationists and NGO leaders also sought quarry prohibition. They asked why, despite cancellation orders by then-Secretary Roy Cimatu in March 2020, his subordinates have not acted. Among the petitioners are environment lawyer Tony Oposa, Edward Hagedorn, Brother Armin Luistro, UN Environment Program goodwill ambassador Antoinette Taus, University of Santo Tomas College of Science dean Rey Papa and Manila Observatory head Father Jett Villarin.
The other week Sampulna suspended the three quarries.
Dumaliang criticized it as feeble, explaining that mere suspension means the quarries can be resumed and even extended for another 25 years.
Sixteen other quarries operate in Rodriguez (Montalban) mountains of Rizal. Victims blame them for the flash floods during Typhoon Ulysses in November 2020 in San Mateo, Marikina, Cainta, Antipolo, Taytay, Pasig and Quezon Cities. A former DENR official owns the largest of those quarries.
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday.
This article is published with permission from the author. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.