By Rjhay E. Laurea
QUEZON CITY — Interior Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” C. Abalos, Jr. on Sunday (September 25) directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to investigate illegal business enterprises within the conservation site of the Masungi Georeserve Protected Area in Baras, Rizal, following his visit in the said location.
The illegal businesses were allegedly owned by active and retired police officers and local government unit (LGUs) officials.
“Elected officials of the government and police officers are bound by their mandate to protect the environment. They should lead a good example to our fellow citizens and be part of the solution, not the other way around. Tayo dapat ang nangangalaga sa Masungi hindi ang sumisira dito (We must be the one to preserve Masungi not the one to destroy it),” Abalos said.
“We are here not to serve our interests and gain profits. We are here to serve the people,” he added.
Abalos issued the order after receiving reports that active and retired officers of the PNP and LGU officials allegedly erected resorts and commercial establishments at the conservation site.
He expects the PNP to dig deeper into these allegations against its personnel and LGU officials and exercise due process in identifying the illegal business establishments built within the protected area.
He said the 2,700 hectares of forest land should be safeguarded from land claimants and illegal business people as the site is established as a protected area under Proclamation No. 296, s. 2011.
He also referred to Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution, declaring that “the State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”
Abalos added that all government entities must follow the directive of President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr. to protect and preserve the environment against those who seek to exploit and destroy it, especially in the face of global climate change.
On September 23, 2022, together with the forces of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the PNP, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) visited the site to inspect and stabilize the dispute between the protected area’s caretakers and armed personnel from the Sinagtala security agency.
Abalos vowed to maintain peace and order amid land claims in the conservation site. He already sent a letter to the security agency and warned them of possible license revocation if they cross the bounds of law in the protected area.
He also ordered the PNP to establish a permanent encampment in the protected area to prevent infiltration of so-called claimants and the protection of the people working in Masungi who have echoed experiencing threats for their work in the natural reserve.
On the same day, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation released a statement thanking the DILG Secretary and PNP Chief Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr. for being “champions” who are “firmly on the side of environmental protection and the safety of its defenders.”
“We will continue to advocate for peace and order and the utmost security of our citizenry,” Abalos said.
Meanwhile, for their part, the DENR through their CALABARZON Regional Office has already formed a composite team to investigate the legality, genuineness, and due execution of the survey plans presented by the claimants as proof of ownership of portions of Lot 10 of the georeserve which is titled to the Republic of the Philippines. (ai/mtvn)