MANILA, Philippines – Around 30 armed men have been encamped in the vicinity of Masungi Georeserve in Tanay, Rizal since September 3, according to the conservation foundation.
In a September 17 post on Facebook, photos showed vehicles parked along Marikina-Infanta Highway. Masungi Georeserve said the armed men were from Sinagtala Security Agency.
Calling the encampment an ‘invasion,’ the georeserve said in a statement that the men “reportedly plan to take over huge tracts of land in the protected area and are selling them to third-parties.”
Purchasing and selling portions of land in protected areas is considered a crime under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Area Systems Act (ENIPAS).
A person claiming to be a retired military official is with the group of security men, saying he owns land but failed to show a title.
No eviction notice yet
Two weeks since they encamped, the armed men are still allowed to squat in the area.
Masungi managing trustee Ann Dumaliang told Rappler that instructions from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional office is to prevent any violence, but resists from evicting the men.
Dumaliang mentioned how disappointing this is considering that under the ENIPAS, “illegal occupation is a crime.”
Regional police confiscated fifteen firearms carried by the security men on Monday, September 19, for failure to present their licenses during inspection. The group remains in the area.
Dumaliang called on Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga to “put her foot down” and evict the men threatening to encroach the area.
With land grabbing, national officials should “steer the dialogue,” said Dumaliang, as this issue is often steeped in vested interests from local and regional parties.
“These guys [should] get arrested and evicted as soon as possible time before the area gets developed and occupied. We need to learn from what happened before,” Dumaliang told Rappler in a phone call.
Urgent action needed
Masungi Georeserve urged the DENR, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Philippine National Police “to enforce the laws and mandates they are sworn to uphold, stop this ongoing invasion, and remove the invaders.”
The Marikina watershed was declared a protected landscape in 2011, its role in controlling floodwaters in nearby areas such as Marikina, Quezon City, San Mateo, and other municipalities in Rizal recognized by the government.
The area boasts biodiversity, home to endangered and endemic species. Because it is a protected landscape, commercial activities such as quarrying are banned in the area.
“This is a critical area for the wildlife sanctuary and the consequences of losing this area once again will set back forest protection and be a huge injustice to Filipinos,” the foundation reminded concerned agencies in their statement.
Masungi Georeserve has been weathering attacks since the project began in the early 2000s.
Last year, two forest rangers were shot inside the Masungi Geopark. In February 2022, seven rangers were injured after a violent mob allegedly from other resorts attacked the reserve.