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WHEN we speak of the indigenous people, we are actually referring to the first settlers in our land. They are the group in actual possession of the land which they occupied even before the Torrens titling system came to be. And it is for this reason that the lands they have occupied since time immemorial are at their disposal, use and maintenance.

However, with the onset of the Torrens titling system, wealthy individuals saw the opportunity to grab from the indigenous people the land that has long been theirs long even before these greed-driven people were born.

Taking the case of the Dumagat indigenous group at the Sierra Madre Mountain Range in Rizal Province, they have been settling there for who knows how long. They have been driven away many times in view of greed concealed behind “development.”

It is for this reason that their ancestral domain was reduced to what seemed too negligible an area – upland Rizal.

As it is, their ancestral domain continues to shrink amid aggressive incursion of a business group masquerading as environmental steward. I am particularly referring to the Masungi Geo-Reserve, which has been lording over the upland areas of Tanay, Baras and Antipolo, using a dubious document signed by a former Environment official.

Masungi Geo-Reserve embarks on well-oiled PR machinery that has been tediously working on its image. The PR stunts tend to show the private consortium as “very concerned” with the environment. Not so fast, you nincompoops.

I live in Rizal and this province has been my playground for most of my life. I knew exactly what the place these businessmen were occupying used to be, the alterations on its surface, the sinister maneuvers of the greedy billionaires and many more.

The Masungi Geo-Reserve “conservation area” is actually a socialized housing site for the employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its line / attached agencies. But for some reasons, the project was shelved after houses were built in the area.

I did some research on what Masungi Geo-Reserve has been capitalizing in its attempt to ease out the Dumagats in the area. They are embarking on a supposed Memorandum of Agreement signed by the late former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez. I got a copy of the MOA.

Taking a closer look at the MOA, I knew something’s not right. I am not a lawyer but from a layman’s point of view, the MOA is more like “just a piece of paper” — as President Rodrigo Duterte would aptly refer to haphazardly prepared documents — that doesn’t even have a detailed technical description on the area that has been “awarded” to Masungi-Geo-Reserve for its “ecological conservation.”   

Masungi Geo-Reserve doesn’t have a Torrens title. So are the Dumagats. Torrens title is the certificate of ownership issued by the Register of Deeds, naming and declaring the owner of the real property described therein, free from all liens and encumbrances except such as may be expressly noted thereon or otherwise reserved by law.

Oh yeah, the law specifically says “otherwise reserved by law.” This is what makes the Dumagats far more legit than the construction company which literally transformed a 105-hectare watershed area at the border of Antipolo and San Mateo into a dumpsite.

But what made the Dumagats legitimate is Presidential Decree 324 which excludes the ancestral domain of the Dumagats from the Marikina Watershed Area. To be perfectly clear about this one, the law recognizes the tribal group as the de facto owner and steward of the area encroached by the Masungi Geo-Reserve.

By the way, Masungi Geo-Reserve is being run by Benjamin Dumaliang, President of the Blue Star Construction Development Corporation – the same group that transformed a vast tract of forest land at the border of Antipolo and San Mateo into a dumpsite.

To cut the long story short – the area encroached by the Masungi Geo-Reserve belongs to the tribal community, and not land-grabbers or squatters as Dumaliang would call the Dumagats who have been there long before he was born.

From how it looks, Dumaliang can’t encroach on the land at the other side of the area he claims as “conservation area” because he’s no match to the political kingpin in possession of those parcels. That explains why he’s trying to bully the Dumagats. 

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