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‘Professional squatting’ impedes Masungi Geopark Project

/ 05:18 PM December 10, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — “Professional squatting” has become a challenge in the pursuit of the Masungi Geopark Project in Rizal, with some “powerful” individuals, including retired enforcement officers, allegedly harassing forest rangers.

During the hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change on Thursday, Ann Dumaliang, project manager of the Masungi Georeserve, said “powerful individuals have been known to claim large tracts of the watershed,” among them retired enforcement officers.

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For instance, Dumaliang said a former police general fenced out rangers of the Masungi Geoserve from 500 to 1,000 hectares of the watershed just last October.

“Right now they are still here. Nagdadagdag pa sila ng mga (They have deployed) armed guards continuously harassing us on the ground and making it difficult for us to pursue our conservation efforts,” she added.

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According to Dumaliang, the armed guards patrol the area regularly, sometimes at night.

“They do not speak with us, they just move around the area, and when we do try to talk to them, napakaharsh po ng kanilang mga words (Their words are really harsh),” she told the panel.

“Ako po mismo, sinabihan nila na kakaladkarin nila ko kapag nakita nila ako (They told me that they will drag me if they saw me), and the same happens to our park rangers. Their president actually told me na when we go past a certain area, they will not hesitate to hunt us down,” she added.

According to Dumaliang, 30 alleged former police officers went to the site sometime this year and claimed they will build a settlement facility for 60 people. She said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had acted on the matter and ordered the supposed former police officers to vacate the area.

In response, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu urged senators to act on the immediate approval of a bill that seeks to establish an enforcement bureau within the department.

He said that once the bill becomes a law, he would order the deployment of DENR personnel from the said bureau to the concerned site.

Senator Cynthia Villar, who chairs the committee, said she will also bring the matter to the director of the Police Regional Office in Calabarzon. She also promised that the Senate would conduct a hearing on the bill being referred to by Cimatu.

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Further, Cimatu said the DENR can tap some officers from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army to increase the presence of government personnel in the area as the DENR has a memorandum of agreement with the two law enforcement bodies.

The Masungi Geopark Project seeks to restore some 2,700 hectares of land surrounding the Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area and a rustic rock garden tucked in the rainforests of Rizal.

EDV

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Masungi Geopark Project, professional squatting, Roy Cimatu
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