PUBLIC APOLOGY. Seven illegal settlers issue their public apology on Monday (April 4, 2022) at the Cagayan de Oro City Hall during a media briefing organized by the City Local Environment and Natural Resources Office. The settlers are charged with trespassing after attempting to build makeshift houses early last month at the premises of the Ecopark, a property owned by the city government. (PNA photo by Nef Luczon)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – A group of informal settlers has issued a public apology for attempting to build makeshift houses within the local government-owned 15-hectare Ecopark property.

In a media briefer organized by the City Local Environment and Natural Resources Office (CLENRO), seven individuals earlier charged with trespassing claimed they had no idea the area was owned by the local government.

CLENRO chief Armen Cuenca said the group's apology may result in the dropping of charges against the suspects.

"Based on our recent hearing at the court, the prosecutors had a manifestation of the possibility that they (the settlers) can be forgiven if they will execute an affidavit (stating their apology) and make a public apology," Cuenca said.

Cuenca said if settlers are looking for decent shelters, the city can provide such service through the city housing project.

The Ecopark, located in Upper Dagong, in Barangay Carmen, was expropriated by the previous city administration to become a sanitary landfill until 2017 when it was redeveloped into a public recreation site.

Peter Cabugao, one of the settlers, said they had no idea that the property they had intended to occupy was government-owned.

Livema Taal, from Libona, Bukidnon, said they also took the opportunity to occupy a piece of land inside the Ecopark after seeing other families already doing so.

Some irregular settlers, Taal said, managed to occupy areas belonging to a private owner situated beside the Ecopark.

Cuenca said as early as March 6, they already received information about a number of settlers occupying the Ecopark premises.

On March 14, they enforced the ban against the settlers and caught seven individuals, with the help of the city police office.

On March 16, Prosecutor Monique Cajardo recommended charging the seven settlers with "Other Forms of Trespass" with a bail of PHP3,000 each. (PNA)