MANILA, Sept 24 (Mabuhay) — 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. (MNS)