DENR cancels protected land deal with alleged cult

DENR cancels protected land deal with alleged cult

/ 04:45 AM April 09, 2024

Jey Rence Quilario Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga

Jey Rence Quilario                                                                           DENR Sec. Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has canceled its 2004 agreement with Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) that awarded to the controversial group 353 hectares in a protected area in Surigao del Norte province.

Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga announced on Monday the cancellation of Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement (PACBRMA) No. 74007, citing violations committed by SBSI.


Violations include the establishment of unauthorized settlements, checkpoints restricting entry, failure to submit required reports, and the construction of unapproved infrastructure such as new access roads, a communal quadrangle with sports facilities, a wave pool, recording studio, radio station, gymnasium and landscaping.


READ: DENR: Humanitarian reasons delay scrapping land pact with ‘Socorro cult’

“Today, we are actually trying to put an end and have put an end to the abuses that have gone on for several years in this area,” Loyzaga said at a press briefing.

“The DENR remains committed to the conservation and environmental stewardship mandate, recognizing the critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural, biological, and physical diversities in our environments, but also not neglecting the social and economic needs of communities,” she added.

Allegations against group

As for the 404 households of tenured migrants in the affected PACBRMA area, the DENR said it was working with the Department of Justice, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the provincial government for their reintegration and resettlement.

“Our approach is to be as humane and as peaceful in terms of this process,” Loyzaga told reporters.

The cancellation of the agreement came amid allegations of human rights violations, including qualified trafficking, kidnapping and serious illegal detention against SBSI.


In November, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said that SBSI leader Jey Rence Quilario, also known as “Señor Agila,” and other members of the group were charged with qualified trafficking in persons, facilitation of child marriage, solemnization of child marriage and child abuse in a provincial court.

READ: DOJ files criminal raps vs Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. members

Before this, the Senate committees on public order and dangerous drugs, and on women, family relations and gender equality launched an inquiry into allegations made against the group, which Sen. Risa Hontiveros exposed as a “cult” in a Sept. 18, 2023 privilege speech.

According to Hontiveros, the group allegedly maintained a private army, forced marriages that condoned the rape of women, and took the government cash aid meant for its impoverished members.

More agreements reviewed

Loyzaga, meanwhile, also announced a review of all 131 existing PACBRMAs in around 36 protected areas nationwide, adding that another 10 to 11 agreements may also be canceled soon.

She said the DENR has instituted measures to strengthen oversight, including suspending the approval of all environmental compliance certificate applications for projects within protected areas.

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“Protected areas serve as vital sanctuaries that support the web of life that consists of unique diversity of biological life and the land, air, and water that sustain them. These invaluable terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems not only serve as crucial habitats for endangered species, they also provide essential ecosystem services for food, water, and energy security, [and more], importantly, they embody the specific culture, spirit, and identities of our nation,” Loyzaga stressed. INQ

TAGS: DENR, Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, PACBRMA, Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc.

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