"If you remember our encounter with them, we found out na halos lahat sila ay mayroong charges filed against them, pending cases sa Visayas or Mindoro, some for murder, homicide,” Matta said. There is a move to declare these illegal settlers persona non grata. (Photo by Jonathan Dabuit)

The anti-insurgency task force in the province has warned that most of the settlers trying to occupy a 20,000-hectare reserve in Busuanga have pending criminal charges and have “suspicious personal backgrounds.”

Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, legal cluster head of the Provincial Task Force-Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC), said Friday that based on the investigation of the incident that happened on November 11 in Barangay New Busuanga, majority of the 100 informal settlers who tried to occupy a major portion of the Busuanga Pasture Reserve (BPR) have unsettled criminal cases in their places.

He said declaring them persona non grata will emphasize that they are “unacceptable or unwelcome” in Busuanga.

“Napapag-usapan namin na why not declare these illegal settlers as persona non grata. If you remember our encounter with them, we found out na halos lahat sila ay mayroong charges filed against them, pending cases sa Visayas or Mindoro, some for murder, homicide,” Matta said.

He said the group members tried to prove they belong to a legitimate organization but are actually targeting to squat on government-owned lands.

Matta said their modus is to usually enter with innocent or legitimate causes

“Usually, ang mangyayari dyan ay they will enter with innocent or legitimate cause and that is their modus operandi but they actually wanted to do harm. I understand that you want to be careful, but we want to talk with the mayor na baka puwedeng i-consider declaring them persona non grata kasi you are already doing this as a practice,” Matta said.

Jonathan Dabuit, the information officer of Busuanga, said the illegal settlers trying to occupy the BPR is currently the main issue in their town that must be acted upon immediately.

Dabuit said that the area is covered by President Rodrigo Duterte’s February 2019 issued Executive Order (EO) 75, which directs all departments, bureaus, offices, and instrumentalities to identify government-owned lands that are suitable for agriculture and distribution to qualified farmer-beneficiaries.

He said that some of the individuals are from Barangay Decalachao in Coron and Nangalao in Linapacan who also showed documents that they are registered in MIMAROPA.

“Just recently pumasok sila sa Busuanga, nag-submit sila [ng document] sa opisina na sila ay member ng Buklod ng Magsasaka (BNM), naka-registered sila sa Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at nago-operate sa MIMAROPA. Then suddenly, bigla nilang pinasok ang Busuanga because of EO NO. 75 kung saan nagsasabi na lahat ng mga agricultural land na pagmamay-ari ng gobyerno ay ipamigay na sa mga qualified beneficiaries and they are taking advantage of that.

Initially, Dabuit said that they will study the possibility of declaring them persona non grata first as they do not have any information about the personalities involved.

“Kahit na very firm ang aming stand on that [illegal settler] ay kinausap namin sila kasi unang-una hindi namin alam kung sino ang mga legitimate members nila kaya nakipagtulungan tayo sa PNP para madocument kung sino talaga ang taga doon. For example ang pinakaleader nila ay from Mindanao, ‘yong iba galing sa Decalachao ng Coron and ‘yong iba from Linapacan. I have to check pa with the PNP kasi may nababanggit na may mga armed men sa ilang bahagi ng Busuanga. Kaya napag-usapan na po namin ‘yan through Municipal TF-ELCAC na bantayan 24/7 with the police, ‘yong mga marines doon,” Dabuit said.

Dabuit said an investigation is being conducted to determine if the illegal occupants are part of a squatting syndicate and to make them liable for violating Section 27 of Article 7 of Republic Act 7279 or “Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992”.

He said the municipal government is warning all organized groups that are attempting to enter the BPR to stop or they will file cases against them.

“Binabalaan ng lokal na pamahalaan ang lahat ng organized groups na nais pumasok sa nasasakupan ng Busuanga na gagamitin natin ang kapangyarihan ng batas upang ipatupad ang paglaban sa mga professional at syndicated squatters. Ganoon din sa nga taga-Busuanga na makikipagsabwatan sa kriminal na gawaing ito,” Dabuit said.

Dabuit said this is the second time that informal settlers attempted to occupy the YKR.

In September 2018, Pesante Pilipinas, Inc. (PPI) farmer-leader Arnel Figueroa was shot and killed by a YKR security guard following a heated argument about the illegal occupation of the land.

“First time na major ito, but my nauna ‘yong kay Oloroso dati. Kaya ngayon mas nagiging vigilant kami,” he said.