PNP, DENR probe ‘armed men’ near Masungi

PARALLEL investigations are being conducted by the Philippine National Police and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on the presence of armed men encamped near the Masungi Georeserve.

At a hastily-called press briefing, DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning, and International Affairs Jonas R. Leones said the DENR Calabarzon, Baras, and Tanay PNP along with the Regional Mobile Group of the PNP in Rizal swooped down on Km 48 of the Marikina-Infanta Highway to verify claims by Masungi Georeserve Foundation of the alleged “invasion” and “plan to take over huge tracts of land in the protected area.”

“The PNP is already conducting its investigation and we at the DENR are also conducting a parallel investigation,” said Leones.

He said all maps, land surveys and other documents being presented by interest groups will be reviewed and if verified, will be honored.  However, he said all documents that are invalid will be set aside eventually, with the DENR thoroughly looking into the various claims over the vast tracts of land in the region.

Based on the DENR’s own initial investigation, however, Leones said the 30-plus alleged armed men are indeed “armed” but they are in fact security guards hired by another claimant near the area.  However, he quickly said that the group was camped out along the road, which is outside any “protected area” or even the “Lot 10” titled under the Republic of Philippines.

The PNP, he said, is now looking into the licenses of the firearms, as well as their permits to carry.

He said the security guards were there to do their jobs, and as far as the DENR’s initial investigation is concerned, have every right to protect the area sought to be protected by their clients, like all other claimants with security guards of their own in that area.

Leones said the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) has been the subject of various overlapping and conflicting claims, including Presidential Proclamations and Memorandum of Agreements (MOAs) which the DENR is reviewing for validation.

The Masungi Georeserve Foundation, which runs the award-winning Masungi Georeserve, a low-impact ecotourism destination in Baras, Rizal, holds a MOA signed by the late and former DENR Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez, who assigned 3,000 hectares of government-owned land in the area for rehabilitation, protection and conservation.

The MOA, he said, is also being reviewed by the DENR like all other documents being offered by claimants and occupants of the government-owned land in the area.

However, “claimants” to the area within the Protected Area, including Masungi Georeserve, have so far ignored the DENR’s call for them to apply for a Special Use Agreements in Protected Areas (SAPA) as mandated by law.

SAPA is issued by the DENR to enable the productive use of protected areas as defined under the National Integrated Protected Areas Act of 1992 while maintaining their status as protected areas.

Leones said many violations have indeed been committed by occupants of the UMRBPL and even areas outside the protected areas which are land of public domain and subject to another claim by several groups of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in the area.

Over the years, Leones said the DENR had issued notices of violations for encroachment, and construction of illegal structures, including resorts, which may or may not have permits from concerned local government units (LGUs). None of them were issued by the DENR.

“We are on top of the situation and we are monitoring the activities.  We are reviewing carefully the situations and regulations and we will be coordinating with various agencies.  Under the leadership of the Secretary and the President, we will solve the problem,” said Leones.

Image credits: EPETF