Despite being visited by police forces, armed men continue to occupy a protected area of the Masungi Georeserve along Km.48 of the Marikina-Infanta Highway some 47 kilometers east of Manila, representatives of the reserve said today.
“The invaders are still on Km. 48 of Marcos Highway, which is on a titled property of the Republic of the Philippines and part of protected areas as enacted by then President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. through Presidential Proclamation 1636 and Presidential Proclamation 573 (see maps below). The area is also part of Masungi’s conservation site,” the Masungi Georeserve Foundation wrote in a statement released to the press.
The men, who introduced themselves as members of a security agency called Sinagtala, were also found with unlicensed firearms that were taken away by authorities.
Yet no arrests have been made despite a clear violation of the law, officials of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation said.
“For reasons still unknown, the invaders were not arrested for illegal possession of firearms for possessing and brandishing unlicensed firearms. At this moment, they remain encamped on Km 48,” the foundation wrote.
The foundation’s officials also criticized the Tanay Municipal Police Station for reportedly “downplaying the incident and [framing] it as a ‘common land dispute.’”
In a statement released on Monday, the police station said that, contrary to the foundation’s claim that over 30 armed men were encamped on part of the protected area, “only [six] security guards of Sinagtala Security Service (Incorporated) were posted in the same area” on instructions of a claimant named Beatriz Sonquipal, with the main issue being “[the] land conflict between Masungi and the alleged claimant.”
Yet the foundation has maintained that a signed survey plan, which is under Sonquipal’s name, was not proof of land ownership — a fact the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also acknowledged.
“Let us be clear: This is NOT a land dispute but a typical PROFESSIONAL SQUATTING & LAND GRABBING OPERATION on no less than GOVERNMENT PROPERTY,” the foundation wrote as it called for the arrest of Sinagtala’s men for trespassing.
The foundation also questioned why the survey plan was signed by a DENR Regional Director when the land had already belonged to the government as a protected area.
“There should be a thorough and independent investigation,” the foundation said.
“Unfortunately, these survey plans are being used to imply ownership and illegally occupy and trade lands. In this particular case, the land grabber’s signature —not that of the real owner which is the Republic — appears in a box reserved for the landowner,” it added.
The Masungi Georeserve Foundation said that “every time we report and expose these anomalies, we are attacked and gaslighted, our conservation project is undermined and questioned, and we are made to look like an enemy as an effort to divert from the real issues.”
“We reiterate that we are the key ally of the government in protecting our natural resources in this singular ecosystem and wildlife sanctuary. We should be working together with one line of sight and a common goal to fearlessly stop environmental crimes especially in the light of the climate emergency,” it wrote.