Activist group decries attacks against Masungi forest rangers

July 25, 2021

Photo from Masungi Georeserve Facebook page

An activist group on July 25 has called for an investigation following the attacks on two forest rangers of the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal Province. 

Forest rangers Melvin Akmad and Kukan Maas were both wounded after an unidentified armed man opened fire at around 9pm on July 24. 

Akmad was shot in the head while Maas was wounded in the neck. They were both stationed in Pinugay village, Baras town.

Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) said the “latest attack was brazen and virtually in plain sight of police personnel.”

Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the group, urged authorities to conduct “a probe into the clear failure of security,” adding that a police station is “just around the corner” from the area where the rangers were attacked.

“Private businesses… that have illegally encroached into the watershed must also be investigated,” said Dulce. 

In a Facebook post, the Masungi Georeserve administration said, “For the past few months, we have received various threats, intimidations, and harassments from disgruntled violators.”

“We are devastated and enraged by this heinous act of violence and attempted murder against forest defenders,” the post read.

The reserve appealed for “justice and protection for our team who risk their lives to defend our watersheds and forests 24/7.” 

On July 14, the country’s Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recommended the “filing of criminal and administrative charges against concerned government officials and private entities for their continued violation of environmental laws” in the protected area.

The Masungi Georeserve, a 3,000-hectare protected area, is part of the Marikina watershed, where the 26,000 hectares Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) is located. 

The DILG confirmed that there were “illegal cutting of trees and slash and burn activities in some 16 hectares and illegal constructions” allegedly perpetrated by a resort company.

The government agency also said that the site of burned trees is now occupied by private entities with “installed armed guards in the area without any legal authority.”

Dulce said the private businesses within the protected area “have clear motives” behind the attacks, adding that if these private entities, with “destructive projects, are not firmly prosecuted and punished, they will continue to be emboldened to perpetuate impunity.”

The country remains the deadliest country in Asia and the second in the world for land and environmental defenders since 2017, according to the Global Witness report.

“We are facing a deeply-rooted and systemic crisis of impunity against environmental defenders,” said Dulce.

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