DENR’s Yulo-Loyzaga to shut down Marikina watershed reforestation

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga will expel forest conservationists from the Upper Marikina Watershed. She stated this at the very Senate inquiry Wednesday on the neglect of protected areas by her Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources.

Yulo-Loyzaga claimed that Masungi Georeserve Foundation’s 3,000-hectare reforestation is void from the start. Her predecessor, Gina Lopez (deceased), had expanded the watershed rewilding in 2017 after Masungi won world acclaim for environmentalism.

With no help from DENR, Masungi has been repulsing land grabbers, quarriers, illegal loggers and unlicensed swimming pool resorts. It hires 200 park rangers to rewild the watershed and prevent killer floods in cities below. Only the court, not a Cabinet appointee, can nullify a contract.

Also Wednesday, Senator Raffy Tulfo sought investigation of Yulo-Loyzaga’s conflict of interest in relation to her family’s 40,000-hectare ranch in Palawan. As reported in this column April 3, Yulo-Loyzaga’s family owns Yulo King Ranch that occupies the pasture reserve in Busuanga and Coron towns.

The 40,000-hectare public domain is ten times larger than Manila. President Marcos Sr. proclaimed in 1975 the Busuanga Pasture Reserve off limits to hunting, settlement, agriculture, commerce and industry. No portion may be sold or given away.

Both the 1992 National Integrated Protected Areas System and the 2018 Expanded NIPAS Acts affirm Proclamation 1387 and list the reserve among the initial coverages. President Noynoy Aquino assigned the vast protected area to the forestry bureau. President Rody Duterte proposed for agrarian reform a long-tenanted portion.

Yulo King Ranch came to possess the public land in 1976. Ten years later, the government sequestered YKR as owned by Marcos cronies Peter Sabido and Luis Yulo. The Sandiganbayan is still hearing Case No. 0024 against YKR.

When Luis Yulo and spouse passed away, six of nine offspring continued contesting the government sequestration. A Manila court designated Yulo-Loyzaga as executor-administrator of the family estate.

As such, she defends the Yulo family’s private interest. Yet DENR secretaryship requires her to enforce environment laws, including those on protected areas.

Yulo-Loyzaga claimed: “I wish to clarify that the Basuanga Pasture Reserve has always been government-owned. The Yulo family has never owned this land and has no interest in owning it. Neither are we a party to the negotiations being undertaken by the Department of Agrarian Reform for its utilization or distribution.

“I hope that this puts to rest all false allegations that came out only after I joined DENR and started cleaning up the place to make sure only public interest prevails and is served.”

Photo shows Yulo-Loyzaga, front row, sixth from left, with quarriers Angelita Iñiguez Lee and Estelle Marie Rebancos, back row encircled

Noli de Castro interviewed Palawan officials on Monday in his program Kabayan on Teleradyo Serbisyo 630. Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr. was but a lad when Marcos issued Proclamation 1387. But he recalled his father saying they lost their farmland to it. He has a child photo with his mom beside YKR cattle.

Busuanga public information officer Jonathan Dabuit said the municipal council has passed many resolutions seeking a say in DENR actions on YKR. Townsfolk are awaiting land distribution.

About 8,000 hectares reportedly is devoted to cattle grazing and meat processing. Private firm Philippine Agri-Business Center intervened in the Sandiganbayan case against YKR, showing title to 888 hectares grabbed from it. A Coron tourist resort chef noted that, despite the huge cattle operation, the town has only one butcher.

Environmentalists say Yulo-Loyzaga favors private profit motivation over public interest in the Masungi issue. DENR officials follow her queue, lament 40 NGOs.

A dozen swimming pool resorts operate without business permits in the portion of Baras town. DENR officials claim to have ordered their closure, but look the other way as the resorts continue to divert rivers into swimming pools and accept customers. A police general provides goons who maul Masungi park rangers.

Last November, drone videos revealed erection of wind energy turbines in the portion of Tanay town. DENR’s Protected Area Management Board permitted the Singapore wind power plant backed by Rizal politicos. The power plant is right beside 62-million-year-old limestone formations. The National Museum recently praised Masungi for protecting the karsts.

The 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos cited Masungi as “one of the best practices for ecosystem restoration.” The 2022 UN Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign Inspire Awards also cited Masungi’s work that has restored flora and fauna. Yulo-Loyzaga has not convened an oversight committee for DENR and Masungi to redouble conservation.

Upper Marikina Watershed consists of 26,000 hectares under Proclamation 1636 in 1977. Ninety percent is denuded. Syndicates have grabbed huge portions by virtue of DENR land surveys. The gullible have bought residential lots. Aquino proclaimed the watershed a protected landscape to avert a repeat of 2009’s Superstorm Ondoy that flooded millions of homes in cities below.

In October 2023, Yulo-Loyzaga launched in Rizal her Transdisciplinary Approach for Resilience and Environmental Sustainability through Multi-stakeholder Engagement (TRANSFORM). Masungi trustees, watershed NGOs and indigenous tribe leaders were uninvited.

Present instead were rock quarriers inside Masungi Geopark and in adjacent Montalban Watershed. Photographed with Yulo-Loyzaga, DENR regional director Nilo Tamoria and provincial environment-natural resources officer Ramil Limpiada were Angelita Iñiguez Lee and Estelle Marie Rebancos.

Lee owns Quarry Rock Inc. and Rapid City Corp. that want to extract stone from Marikina Watershed. Rebancos is an officer of Montalban Aggregates Producers Association. The biggest rock quarrier in Montalban is ex-DENR head Michael Defensor.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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