(PNA photo by Joey Razon)

MANILA – Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said Friday they are awaiting the guidance of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regarding the row at the Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal.

“We can’t just act as we could be charged in court. I am also warning the security agency that they can’t just enter any place as they need to get a permit from the chief of the police,” Abalos told reporters on the sidelines of his visit to the protected area, together with DENR and Philippine National Police (PNP) officials.

Abalos also said they already sent a letter to the Sinagtala Security Agency, which employs the security personnel who allegedly encamped within the area's vicinity, to get its side on the issue.

“The police is here to make sure there is peace and order. The DENR is here to give us direction and of course, members of the media are here to give attention to what really is happening here. Thus, no one should illegally occupy this area. Let's help one another,” Abalos said.

The PNP will implement a sustained police presence at the Masungi Georeserve, PNP chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. said.

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

He added that an investigation is also underway to identify possible violations of those 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.

Azurin said PNP personnel will be deployed to do 24-hour patrols in the protected area.

On Sept. 17, the Rizal police responded to a report claiming that 30 armed men encamped in the vicinity of the Masungi Georeserve and were preparing to occupy huge portions of land inside the protected area.

The Sinagtala personnel claimed they have a survey plan under the name of one Beatriz Sonquipal that was reportedly issued by the DENR regional office in the early 2000s.

The foundation, however, said the survey plan is not proof of ownership.

The Masungi Georeserve was declared a protected area in 2011 under Proclamation No. 296 but a number of settlements were put up, including houses and resorts.

Reports said there are individuals and groups interested in the area due to its mining potential.

Located around 47 kilometers east of Metro Manila, the Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area and is known for its rustic rock garden that is part of the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) in Rizal province.

The UMRBPL, which covers 26,126 hectares in Rizal province, plays an important role in regulating the flow of water towards the highly urbanized National Capital Region. 

Meanwhile, the PNP said they will be putting up a permanent detachment in the Masungi Georeserve Protected Area in Baras, Rizal.

Azurin said this in an ambush interview inside the Masungi Georeserve. “If there is a need to put up a detachment po dito (here), maglalagay tayo ng permanent detachment dito (we will put up a permanent detachment here) ready to respond to any call of Ben Dumalya," he said.

Dumalya is the president of the Masungi Georeserve foundation.

Azurin said the permanent detachment will ensure police presence "na walang gagawin kundi magpatrulya dito (and their only role is to conduct police patrol here).”

According to the PNP chief, the Rizal provincial police and the PNP Regional Director of Calabarzon will make sure that the detachment will be put up as early as "today".

Gagawin na natin ito. Pag-alis namin dito magpuput up na ng detachment si PD [provincial director] at RD [regional director] (We will do it now. Upon our departure, the PD and the RD will put up the detachment),” Azurin said.

The Masungi Georeserve is under the territorial jurisdiction of the PNP in Rizal province and the Region IV-A (Calabarzon).

The PNP chief said the detachment will be manned by the PNP and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), "if they wish to provide for it because the AFP has a detachment in Tanay".

“Definitely, 24 hours either mobile force kasi sanay sila sa gubat at magpatrulya dito (because they are used to conduct patrol in the forest here). Anytime of the day, they (foundation) can call our policemen,” Azurin said.

“I think it’s time to place things in proper prospective. Walang di pwedeng papasok na claimant dito whether claimant o magkeclaim. Walang mga armado na mananakot sa kanila dahil this is a protected area. Kailangan protektahan natin ito gaya ng sinabi ng DILG (Nobody can enter here whether as claimant or would-be claimant. No armed men can threaten them as this is a protected area. We need to protect it as what the DILG said),” he added. (With report from Perfecto T. Raymundo/PNA)