No armed men encampment at Masungi Georeserve: DILG

Police personnel man the perimeters of the Masungi Georeserve in Tanay, Rizal following the ocular inspection of Interior and Local Governments Secretary Benhur Abalos who requested the Philippine National Police to keep a tight watch of the protected area against poachers and trespassers. | PHOTOGRAPH BY AL PADILLA FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE @tribunephl_al

Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. on Friday denied the presence of armed men allegedly encamping within the vicinity of the conservation site of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation in Tanay, Rizal.

Abalos said the armed men are not from a private armed group but security guards from Sinagtala Security Services Inc. who have been hired by one of the claimants — identified as Beatriz Sonquipal but have voluntarily left the area upon knowing the situation. They claimed to be only working and they don’t want to be involved in any conflict.

“There was no encampment of armed men in this place. What was seen here were cars parked along the streets because this has been used as a car workshop and our policemen have already removed it,” said Abalos, who personally inspected the site.

He said policemen, together with DILG and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, will make sure that there is peace and order at the site.

Abalos said they are awaiting the guidance of the DENR regarding the ongoing row at the Masungi Georeserve.

“We can’t just act as we could be charged by the courts,” he told reporters.

The Masungi Georeserve is a privately-run conservation area in the Philippines located in Baras, Rizal near Tanay, Rizal. It centers on the geological formations of Masungi Rock, at an elevation of 640 meters.

He also warned security guard agencies that they cannot enter a disputed area as this would create tension.

“That’s why I’m here today and I already ordered to investigate this security agency (Sinagtala). You cannot deploy in areas that have a conflict of claims,” Abalos said. “What is important right now is that we have status quo. We will not allow other people and armed men to occupy this area until the court and the DENR settle it.”

He said they already sent a letter to the Sinagtala Security Agency to explain their side on the issue.

Philippine National Police chief, General Rodolfo Azurin Jr., said he will deploy police officers to man the conservation site and to ensure peace and order in the area.

“Our security is tight. We are also constantly coordinating with the DENR and local government unit,” Azurin Jr. said.

He added that an investigation is also underway to identify possible violations of the group responsible for the alleged deployment of the armed men.

“What we are advocating for is to avoid any tension or violence from arising,” Azurin said.

Included in the probe is the alleged harassment and assault on one of Masungi Georeserve’s caretakers.

Not contested,
but DPWH expansion

Azurin, however, clarified that the contested area at Km. 48 along Marilaque Highway occupied by the security guards, is not part of the contested area but part of the expansion of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

“So, it is very clear that there is deception on the part of those who posted the photos on social media to make an issue, for us to be here now,” Azurin said, referring to Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

The DENR said the sketch plan shown by Masungi Georeserve Foundation president Benjamin Dumaluang to reporters is not a valid claim.

“It is not an approved subdivision plan. Anybody can do the sketch plan. They could hire a surveyor but this must be approved by the DENR,” said Nilo Tamoria, Regional Executive Director of DENR Calabarzon.

Tamoria added: “So, any claim or any survey plans submitted to the DENR will go to the process of evaluating the veracity if this can graduate into the next level of titling.”

Government property

“This is the plan for the property where security guards were recently deployed. In this plan is the signature of lone owner Beatriz Sungibal. The real owner is the republic,” Dumaliang said.

He questioned why DENR allowed a private person to sign instead of the land owner. So they have the courage to sell. In fact, it’s all sold. We need to investigate why this is happening,” he added.

Dumaliang said the entire project is 3,000 hectares — all protected areas and all owned by the government.

“This is for our children and not for Masungi. They have been distorting facts portraying us as land grabbers when in fact we’re doing this to bring it back to the government. They have been claimed and occupied by individuals, businessmen, and other people for themselves,” he said.

He said it is the patrimony of the nation, and what is happening is recovery and restoration because it was lost before.

We’re just bringing it back slowly and painstakingly,” he added.

Masungi Georeserve Foundation straddles three protected areas: Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, Kaliwa River Forest Reserve, and Presidential Proclamation 1636.

“So, it is a protected area it should be consistent with the National Integrated Protected Area System. It’s a law. So, the hierarchy of the laws should be properly observed and even the National Integrated Protected Area System respects prior rights. That’s why we cannot avoid that there are claimants because there are prior rights. Remember NIPAS was passed in 1992 and it was further amended in 2018,” Tamoria said.

“Then we cannot also deny the fact that in 1974 or 1973 there was a Presidential Decree 324 the 1,300 hectares of land in Marikina Watershed were excluded for agricultural exploitation for possible disposition under a Commonwealth Act. So, those are the things that we should be careful about while we welcome the conservation effort. That’s why there should be a review,” he added.


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