Rizal

PNP chief: Armed men earlier camped near Masungi have ‘left voluntarily’

Iya Gozum
PNP chief: Armed men earlier camped near Masungi have ‘left voluntarily’

GOSSAMER. 'Sapot ni Ric' is one of the most famous spots in Masungi Georeserve, overlooking Laguna de Bay.

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos says they already served notice for the suspension of the license of the security agency

MANILA, Philippines – Tension eased in the Masungi Georeserve in Tanay, Rizal province after the armed group which earlier encamped near the area have moved out.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief General Rodolfo Azurin said Friday, September 23, said that the group of mostly personnel of a security agency have “left voluntarily.”

Azurin said the men withdrew Friday morning onboard their vehicles. “Ayon po sa kanila ay nagtratrabaho lang po sila, ayaw po nila ng kaguluhan kaya boluntaryo po silang umalis na.”

(According to them, they were just doing their job. They did not want trouble so they left voluntarily.)

The top cop, together with the secretaries of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), inspected the area and held a press briefing inside the georeserve Friday.

Interior secretary Benhur Abalos said they inspected the roadside of Km. 48 of the Marikina-Infanta Highway where the group was said to have set up camp. “Walang armed na encampment. Ang nakita rito ay mga kotseng nakaparada dahil sa talyer dito.” 

(There was no armed encampment in this area. What we saw were cars parked there because of a car repair shop.)

On September 17, Masungi Georeserve posted photos on social media of several vehicles deployed along the Marikina-Infanta Highway. The posts said there were armed men in the area from the Sinagtala Security Agency.

Two days later, personnel of the PNP Regional Civil Security Unit Calabarzon confiscated 15 firearms from the group after the men failed to present licenses.

Assurances from government

Despite the group ‘leaving voluntarily,’ Abalos said they may still revoke the security agency’s license.

“We already served notice. We can revoke the license of their security agency,” Abalos told media in a mix of English and Filipino. “You cannot deploy in areas where there are land disputes without the permission of the police. Why? It would create tension.”

Aside from the matter of the security agency, the bigger issue of land disputes within the Marikina Watershed and Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve still remained.

DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said the illegal claims in the area dragged on for many administrations, but assured the public that under Abalos and Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga, these issues will be resolved.

Leones said the environment department was conducting thorough review of land claims. “Ni-re-review po natin lahat. Lahat ng mga claims dito. Kahit na ’yung mga existing na tenure instruments, ni-re-review din po natin.”

(We are reviewing everything. All the claims in this area, even those with existing tenure instruments.)

Careful investigation is needed for such complex matters, said Leones, as “what is at stake here is the country’s resources.”

Wary of promises

However, Masungi Georeserve founder Ben Dumaliang expressed his frustration over the delayed action from the government.

Does Masungi’s management feel it is being neglected by the government?

“Definitely,” said Dumaliang. “There’s negligence. It’s time government acts. So much has been lost. And our lives are in danger.”

Dumaliang said that whenever Masungi Georeserve asked the government’s help in keeping out quarrying companies, owners of private resorts, it was Masungi’s contract that goes under scrutiny.

“Imbis na tulungan kami…they raise questions about our contract,” Dumaliang said. “Bakit hindi nila cancel-in ‘yung quarry na patently illegal? Bakit ‘di nila paalisin ‘yung mga resorts na patently against the law?”

(Instead of helping us, they raise questions about our contract. Why don’t they remove the quarry companies that are illegal? Why don’t they remove the resorts that are against the law?)

In its latest statement, Masungi’s management thanked Abalos, Azurin for their ‘commitment to protecting these areas.’

“Today, our forests won, like a long drought welcoming its first drops of rain.”

Masungi Georeserve aims to rehabilitate and conserve 3,000 hectares of land covering protected landscapes. – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum is a member of Rappler's digital communications team. When off the grid, she’s either a hundred/thousand meters above sea level – or dreaming about it. You may email her at iya.gozum@rappler.com.