Armed men seen encamped in Masungi Georeserve | Inquirer News

Armed men seen encamped in Masungi Georeserve

\Photo shows vehicles parked at a roadside of the Marikina-Infanta Highway within the vicinity of the conservation site. According to its administrators, the cars belong to armed men from a security agency sent to take over huge tracts of land. STORY: Armed men seen encamped in Masungi Georeserve

‘INVASION’ | Photo shows vehicles parked at a roadside of the Marikina-Infanta Highway within the vicinity of the conservation site. According to its administrators, the cars belong to armed men from a security agency sent to take over huge tracts of land. (Photo from the Facebook page of the Masungi Georeserve)

MANILA, Philippines — More than 30 armed men have been encamped since last week on the roadside of the Marikina-Infanta Highway within the vicinity of the protected Masungi conservation site, according to its administrators.

The Masungi Georeserve Foundation, which on Sunday described their presence as an “invasion,” said in a statement that the men reportedly associated with Sinagtala Security Agency Services had arrived with the intention of taking over huge tracts of land in the protected area.

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The security personnel’s camps are along the road between the Kaliwa Watershed and the Marikina Watershed, which are protected and reforested by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation under an agreement with the government.

According to foundation cofounder Ann Adeline Dumaliang, the group was flagrantly violating the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 as well as committing trespassing and forcible entry in broad daylight along a national highway.

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While filing a complaint is an option for the foundation, Dumaliang said quick action by the government agencies was crucial to prevent degradation in the area.

‘Shady business’

The security men refused to disclose their names and contact details.

“If this is not shady business, there is no need to obstruct the verification process by withholding even basic information and avoiding accountability,” the foundation said.

Masungi’s conservation site has been legally titled to the Philippines since the 1950s.

“It is being conserved and reforested by our team under an agreement with the government. This is a critical area for the wildlife sanctuary and the consequences of losing this area once again will set back forest protection and [will] be a huge injustice to Filipinos,” Masungi Georeserve said.

The foundation urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) as well as the Philippine National Police “to take immediate action… and to stop this ongoing invasion, and remove the invaders.”

Billie Dumaliang, the site management’s advocacy officer and trustee, said the DENR had told them a report has been forwarded to “appropriate offices for immediate action.”

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Lt. Col. Eunice de Guzman, PNP-Calabarzon spokesperson, told the Inquirer that police and Army soldiers were deployed on Sunday morning but they saw nothing.

“We’ve received reports that there were armed men there but the troops did not see anything during the patrol,” she said.

But Ann Dumaliang, who is also Masungi Georeserve’s project manager, insisted that the armed men were still in the area as of 4:22 p.m. on Sunday.

“Did they search for them? Naturally, sometimes and especially after the postings [on social media], the firearms would not be immediately visible,” she told the Inquirer.

Sinagtala’s hired men supposedly claimed to hold a survey plan named after a certain Beatriz Sonquipal, and signed by a director of the DENR regional office in 2003.

“Obviously, a mere survey plan is not a proof of ownership,” Masungi Georeserve said.

Records showed that Sonquipal was already issued an eviction notice by the DENR in 2016.

Security agencies must provide proof of ownership over the property to be secured in any security service agreements, as required under the implementing rules of Republic Act No. 5487, the Private Security Agency Law, and the rules of the Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies.

A certain “Major Laino/Layno,” a supposed retired military official from Cagayan and Mindanao, also claimed that he had a title to the land and had long been in the area, but failed to show it when asked, Masungi Georeserve said.

‘Critical area’

“He also denies knowing any of the 30 people on the illegal encampment despite some of them saying that they are working for him,” it added.

Asked to comment, a Sinagtala official said he was too busy to answer the Inquirer’s questions, adding that he could talk only tomorrow (Monday) morning.

Masungi Georeserve is an award-winning conservation initiative and tourist destination located in Baras town, Rizal province.

The conservation area — a 400-hectare land home to endangered flora and fauna as well as the 60-million-year-old limestone pinnacle karst and other rock formations — had seen several land grabbing attempts due to its resources for mining and other money-making ventures.

The site has since been expanded to include the restoration of about 3,000 ha of degraded forests in partnership with the national government.

Conflicts, threats

It was declared a protected area in 2011. However, private settlements and establishments had already been set up there, which led to several conflicts within the watershed.

Just last year, two stationed forest rangers were shot by unidentified assailants, just over a week after the DILG recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against a government official and private entities for violation of environmental laws.

Prior to the assault, Masungi’s forest rangers had received threats for reporting illegal activities in the watershed.

Last February, seven forest rangers were eating at a food stall when around 30 people ganged up on them, causing two rangers to be hospitalized.

The suspects were believed to be working for owners of allegedly illegal resorts in that area.

—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH

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TAGS: armed men in Masungi Georeserve, Masungi Georeserve, National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, Sinagtala Security Agency Services
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