The mysterious armed group had set up an outpost on the picturesque island of Maria Hangin in Barangay Bugsuk in Balabac, following a tense confrontation with local residents on June 29 where one of them fired his gun to scare the villagers off.

Over a week had passed and the Philippine National Police (PNP) has yet to fully account for what is happening on the remote island village. According to local residents, the policemen who came to the island to investigate the shooting even assisted unidentified person who fired upon the residents, letting him leave the area to cool off somewhere else, instead of arresting him.

The PNP’s latest and only press statement on the matter was that they are still investigating. Investigating — that has been over a week by this writing. No arrest has been made, not even a proper identification of the armed men who have already set up camp on the island.

“Ang hinihiling lang namin dito ay mapaalis sila kasi nga nagpa-panic yung mga tao atsaka hindi naman kasi sila taga-rito,” Oscar Pelayo, a local resident told Palawan News which visited the island recently.

Here is a situation that requires intervention from higher authorities since the local Philippine National Police clearly cannot hack it anymore. Worse, they could be in collusion with the armed group whoever they are, if the local residents were to be believed.

From what the Palawan media has gathered, this case is an evolving land grab. The locals believe that San Miguel Corporation, which reportedly owns prime property on the adjascent Bugsuk Island, also wants to put up an ecotourism resort in Maria Hangin. SMC has denied this claim and has issued a statement to point out that it does not own any property on Maria Hangin. It also dissociated itself from the armed men who were terrorizing the local residents.

A recent decision by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to declassify the island from land reform coverage has triggered local fears they will soon be evicted. There are about a hundred families currently residing there, and the local men have sworn they will fight to keep their land.

In the olden days, social injustice happened away from the prying eyes of the public. They were worse during those days – the victims were so powerless their only recourse was to join the rebels.

It’s somehow different nowadays in an era where information technology and social media are a factor. A local resident recorded the shooting incident and open harassment on his phone and spread it on Facebook and now the whole world can watch what happens next in Maria Hangin.

An apparent plan to develop Maria Hangin into an ecotourism enclave started out on a wrong foot, touching off social injustice issues they do not need.  It will be tall order for whoever is behind it to smoothly implement such plan unless we all go back to the martial law days when such things may happen, damn the consequences.

We have been there and saw for ourselves the island’s potential as a tourist attraction. It boasts of wide beaches that surpass what current popular destinations like Boracay can offer. Heck they even have crocodiles still lurking on the waters, a danger sign indeed but also an indicator of the pristineness of the marine ecosystem and raw beauty of the place.

The residents of Maria Hangin have vowed not give up without a fight. The unidentified parties with plans for the island, noble or otherwise, won’t have it their way by sheer intimidation much less outright force. It is only appropriate for the provincial government and other higher offices of government to step in with a no nonsense conflict resolution plan in place.

Meanwhile, everyone with interests on Maria Hangin should go back to their drawing boards and do it right, or pack up and leave the settlers there in peace.