Masungi Georeserve calls on gov’t agencies to ‘act urgently’ after over 30 armed men set up camp in protected area

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Officials of the Masungi Georeserve, a geological heritage and conservation area located 47 kilometres east of Manila, sounded the alarm on Saturday after over 30 armed men set up camp along the roads of the protected site, purportedly with plans to take over and sell parts of the land.

“DANGER ALERT! 30+ armed men from a security agency allegedly called Sinagtala continue to be encamped on the roadside of Km. 48 of the Marikina-Infanta Highway. They arrived last week and continue to grow in number. They reportedly plan to take over huge tracts of land in the protected area and are selling them to third-parties.”

“LET’S BE CLEAR. THIS IS AN INVASION,” the reserve’s caretakers wrote on Facebook.

Officials in charge of the protected area said that the armed men were flagrantly violating Republic Act 11038, also known as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, which prohibits the occupation of lands within protected areas as well as creating structures, fences, or enclosures within the area without clearances from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“The area is part of Masungi’s conservation site, the Kaliwa Watershed protected area, and is legally titled to the Republic of the Philippines since the 1950s. It is being conserved and reforested by our team under an agreement with government,” the conservation group added.

The conservationists said that the men refused to give out their names and contact details, and only introduced themselves as members of a security agency called Sinagtala.

“[The agency] claimed they hold a survey plan named after a certain Beatriz Sonquipal signed by a director of the DENR Regional Office in the early 2000s. Obviously, a mere survey plan is not a proof of ownership,” Masungi officials wrote.

A certain Major Laino from the group also claimed he had a title for the land and that he has long been in the area despite only beginning to encroach in 2010, the Masungi group said.

“When asked to show this title, he failed to show anything. He also denies knowing any of the 30 people on the illegal encampment despite some of them saying that they are working for him. He claims to be a retired military official. If this is not shady business, there is no need to obstruct the verification process by withholding even basic information and avoiding accountability.”

The conservationists called on the Philippine National Police, the DENR, and the Department of Interior and Local Government to take urgent action to stop the invaders and “enforce the laws and mandates they are sworn to uphold.” However, there has been no official response from law enforcement as of yet.

This is not the first time outsiders have attempted to take over parts of Masungi’s protected reserve. In October of last year, booby traps and improvised explosives meant to harm park rangers’ lives were found amid ongoing pursuits to stop illegal encroachment within the area. In July 2021, two park rangers were also shot in the head and neck by assailants.

Masungi Georeserve, an award-winning conservation area in the province of Rizal, spans over 1500 hectares and is home to 60-million-year-old limestone formations, and over 400 documented species of flora and fauna. A popular attraction for day trekkers, the area is a joint conservation initiative between the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).