Police seize guns from group occupying Masungi Georeserve
MANILA, Philippines — Police have confiscated firearms from a group of men who had been encamped within the vicinity of the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province for over a week now, administrators of the site said on Monday.
Yet no arrests were made even after the weapons were taken, said Billie Dumaliang, advocacy officer and trustee of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.
In a statement on Sunday, the foundation said the men had been sent by the Sinagtala Security Agency Services and had been occupying an area along Km 48 of the Marikina-Infanta Highway, with the intention of taking over portions of land in the conservation area.
According to Dumaliang’s sister, Ann, a cofounder of the foundation, the men were clearly committing trespassing and forcible entry as well as violating the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992.
Despite those violations, the intruders were “still there” even after being visited by the police, Dumaliang said.
The foundation has posted on social media photos of the weapons seized, which an expert on firearms described as “shotguns and revolvers.”
Reached for comment, Lt. Col. Rodolfo Guillermo Santiago of the Tanay Municipal Police Station said the weapons were taken by the Regional Civil Security Group of the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) regional police office.
Santiago also said the weapons were “[n]ot necessarily confiscate[d] but put into custody for verification [of their] license[s]. Not confiscate.”
Earlier on Monday, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said he had ordered an investigation on the possible involvement of active or retired police officials in the situation at Masungi.
“We really have to check all of those things so we can resolve this,” he said in a news conference.
Azurin said his organization had been tasked by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to coordinate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on this matter.
In his press briefing on Monday, Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones pointed out that the highway where the vehicles of the hired men were parked was not part of the protected area.
As for the foundation’s earlier assertion that the men had claimed to be holding a survey plan signed in 2003 by a regional director of the DENR, Leones said: “Based on our experience, we don’t immediately accept if there are survey areas… What’s clear here [is that] it belongs to the Republic of the Philippines, so whoever is claiming it should present a valid and authenticated document.”
Meanwhile, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro criticized the “continued inaction” of the DENR and the DILG.
“We will raise this issue in the plenary deliberations [next Tuesday on] the budget[s] of the DENR and the DILG,” she said in a statement.
Castro noted that the foundation had “already reported the [trespassing] to the DENR and the PNP, but they have yet to see their presence.”
The PNP cannot “wash its hands and play blind to its responsibility to protect all citizens against violence,” she said.
She also said the DENR should investigate and identify its personnel who are allowing the harassment and threats against forest rangers at the conservation site.
“The protectors of our environment need protection from these armed men trying to privatize and destroy our forests and the wildlife,” Castro said.
“Attacks against environmentalists continue with little to no protection from our government. This must immediately stop. Government must ensure protection for environmentalists and forest rangers from armed goons in their attempt to invade our protected forests,” she added.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO
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