Overkill? Cops, soldiers escorting DENR personnel in Boracay crackdown
ILOILO CITY — Heavily armed police officers and soldiers in full battle gear have started escorting personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) while serving show cause orders to alleged violators of environmental laws on Boracay Island.
Although Boracay residents and business owners were supportive of the crackdown, the sight of armed personnel became a cause of concern, even among the tourists.
“They’re just serving notices. Why the need for M16 [rifles]?” a resort operator who requested not to be named told the Inquirer.
He said a 15-member team composed of DENR personnel along with police officers and soldiers came to their resort to serve a show cause order alleging that their establishment was illegally occupying an area categorized as forest land.
Members of the Boracay Tourist Assistance Center (BTAC), the island’s police office, were in their tourist police uniform [short pants and shirt] with short firearms. Soldiers and other police officers wore camouflage uniforms and carried high-powered firearms.
“When I saw them, I thought we were being closed down,” the resort operator said.
He said the guests, a family of foreign tourists with children, were alarmed on seeing the heavily armed men.
“They asked me if they were after a terrorist or a criminal and if they were still safe. I had to explain to them what was happening and that there was no cause for them to be alarmed,” the resort operator said.
The team serving the notice left after 15 minutes after they were told that the property was titled.
But the guests cut short their stay and decided to check out instead of staying another five nights as planned.
“Why can’t they do this in a manner that will not alarm us and especially our guests? We are not going to attack them,” the resort operator said.
“It’s simply heavy handed and an overkill,” a hotel owner and long-time resident said.
But the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Western Visayas said the armed police officers and soldiers were merely escorting the DENR personnel on the request of the agency.
“It’s just a preventive measure because we all know that the land occupation and ownership is a sensitive issue in Boracay,” Supt. Gilbert Gorero, spokesperson of the Western Visayas Police Regional Office, said.
Gorero said some property owners have security guards and the presence of armed policemen and soldiers is necessary to ensure the safety and security of DENR personnel.
“They have no other purpose but to render assistance,” Gorero told the Inquirer.
Since Monday, DENR teams have been serving show cause orders to 842 establishments and houses allegedly occupying areas categorized as forest lands.
The structures are on about 400 hectares of timberland and are not covered by titles issued by a court or by Special Land Use Permits (SPLUP) and Forest Land Use Agreement for Tourism Purposes (FLAgT).
Notices of violation are also being issued to those illegally discharging of wastewater.
To fast-track the serving and processing of notices and orders, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered the deployment of more than 100 personnel from regional offices to augment DENR personnel in Western Visayas.
In a press statement, the DENR central office said personnel from six regions would be assigned to work in six areas in Boracay. Personnel from the bureaus of the central office would will also be sent to the island.
“They will conduct a thorough sweep of establishments in Boracay to inspect these establishments and determine any illegal discharge of untreated wastewater into the sea, the encroachment into public/forest lands and wetlands, and illegal constructions within the easement areas,” Cimatu said on Tuesday in his keynote speech at the 2nd Philippine Environment Summit 20 at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City. /atm
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