Occupants of a portion of a 47-hectare property reportedly owned by Northcrest Highland Ventures Corp. (NHVC) in Coron have complained to authorities of harassment, including arson, involving its security personnel who have been trying to expel them from their homes.
Jessie Caupang, leader of some 150 settlers on the property, claimed on Wednesday that armed security guards of NHVC have been subjecting them to harassment and even burned some of their homes after accusing them of being squatters in the property located in Sitio Bukal-Bukal, Barangay Guadalupe.
Caupang alleged that on May 23, one of the guards held him at gunpoint when he confronted them after they set a house on fire.
“Tinutukan ako ng baril kasi hinahanapan ko sila ng mga dokumento, sabi nila di daw nila kailangang magbigay o magpakita ng dokumento,” Caupang said.
He added that the men berated them and issued a warning while elderly residents and children were crying during the demolition.
“Nakaka-trauma, napakatinding harassment [at] trauma po ang nangyari doon. Lalo na sa mga kababaihan. May mga pagbabanta na walang matutulog, dahil gagapangin. Marami nang hindi makatulog at hindi makakain, may insidente pa kahapon (May 24) na hinabol ang buntis na hanggang ngayon hindi namin alam kung naka-recover na,“ he narrated.
Caupang also claimed that company guards have already destroyed some 100 houses inside the property, torching some of them, and had pressured other claimants into voluntarily demolishing their homes.
The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) in Coron, meanwhile, said an investigation is underway regarding the alleged torching of homes in Bukal-Bukal.
FO1 Elmer Dejomo said too that until yesterday, May 25, they have not received any complaints from the settlers in the area.
“Under investigation po siya, as of now. Mayroon daw pong pupunta dito para mag-reklamo, pero hanggang ngayon wala pa ring pumupunta, naghihintay kami,” Dejomo said also Wednesday.
One resident claimed that the security guards seized their solar panels in order to deprive them of electricity in their homes.
“Ang mga solar panel namin pinagkukuha na nila, hindi na kami lumaban. At saka kung nanghihingi sila ng manok, parang naghihingi lang sila ng candy, ” she said.
Caupang claimed that the property they have occupied is still classified as public land, but did not provide any document to support his claim.
He said they occupied the land in April or May 2019 because it was vacant. They planted crops and constructed their houses, and no one stopped them.
“Kami po dito lahat ay mga taga Coron,” said Caupang.
Enrico Sadang, barangay captain of Guadalupe, however, denied the settler’s claim in a separate interview with Palawan News. He said that, as the recognized owner of the property, Northcrest in 2019 had even asked for permission to fence off the area.
He said that the company had initially allowed some families to settle on the property but their number eventually grew.
“Noong 2019, nag-apply na yan sila (Northcrest) ng permit para magpabakod, Nagkausap kami ng may-ari ng kompanya at ng iilan pa lang na mga bahay na naunang pumasok diyan at nagtayo ng kabahayan sa tabi ng ilog,” he said.
“Pumayag ang kompanya na manatili na lang ang anim na bahay na yun doon sa loob ng kaniling property, pero dapat wag ng madagdagan pa. Ang problema ng kompanya, bakit umabot na rin sa ganoon karami?” he added.
Sadang said that the office of mayor Mario Reyes was informed of the demolition of squatters on May 23. Mayor Reyes then contacted the manager of Bacau Bay, reportedly a sister company of Northcrest, to stop the guards’ actions.
According to him, the police informed him on Monday about the situation at Bukal-Bukal, causing him to go there immediately to evaluate the situation.
“Sa mga residente na yun, noong nangyari na ang pagsunog, tinawagan ako ng PNP early morning ng Monday. Agad akong pumunta sa office ni mayor Reyes para humingi ng advice at kung ano ang puwede kong gawin. Si mayor na ang tumawag sa general manager ng Bacau Bay na sister company noong Northcrest Highland Ventures Corp., at nakiusap na ako na kung puwede wala ng gigibaing bahay at susunugin, at hintayin na lang ang court order dahil nasa korte na din naman ‘yan,” he said.
Sadang said that his request to stop the burning of houses had been granted, but the guards are still demolishing houses as part of their demolition duties.
However, he also said that many of the residents have already volunteered to demolish their homes.
“Pinayuhan ko na lang sila na kung anuman ang nangyayari, i-video nila, kasi karapatan naman nila na mag-file ng demanda,” Sadang said.