Environmental law enforcement and city anti-squatting authorities demolished Thursday the structures in the mangrove area in Barangay Matahimik-Bucana reportedly put up by former Puerto Princesa police director Col. Marion Balonglong.
Led by Alex Hermoso, the city anti-squatting program with the assistance of Matahimik-Bucana barangay officials, 3rd Marine Brigade, and the Anti-Crime Task Force (ACTF) demolished fences made of galvanized iron sheets, barbed wires, and cemented posts surrounding six hectares of mangrove land.
The team, which has been formed into the Inter-Agency Task Force for Environment (IATFE), proceeded to the area early on June 18 to begin the demolition after Balonglong reportedly maltreated a forester.
“Ito ay ipinagbabawal ang pagpuputol ng kahoy, nandito nga po tayo at ang nasasakdal ay isang mataas na opisyal na dapat hindi niya ginawa ito. Si Col. Balonglong ang [sinasabing] may-ari nito, siya nga ang dapat sanang pamarisan [na mangalaga sa kalikasan,] kaso baliktad,” he said.
On June 10, Balonglong arrested a team of government environmental enforcers investigating illegal settlers in Matahimik-Bucana. He was accused of holding at gunpoint forester Roldan Alvarez and arresting him with others for questioning.
Matahimik-Bucana village chief Ryan Abueme told Palawan News that Balonglong’s team was responsible for maltreating Alvarez and some of his tanod.
“Tinutukan sila ng baril ayon sa kwento ng aking mga tanod. Nakadapa sila tapos tinutukan,” Abueme said.
Balonglong was relieved from his post in no time and was declared persona non grata by the City Council recently.
Removing illegal settlers
Meanwhile, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (DENR-CENRO) chief Felizardo Cayatoc said also Thursday that the other settlers who have occupied other portions of the area informally will be ordered to vacate and face appropriate charges for violating environmental laws.
Among these is Presidential Proclamation 2152 that declared the entire province of Palawan as a mangrove swamp reserve, and Presidential Decree 705 which prohibits the cutting of the coastal trees.
Cayatoc said the IATFE was purposely created to take charge of taking care of the mangrove area and help in its rehabilitation.
“Ipapa-vacate natin sila and then we will take appropriate charges sa kanilang violations. Dito sa Palawan may Presidential Proclamation 2152, declaring the entire province of Palawan as mangrove swamp reserve. Naka-state din sa Presidential Decree 705 na bawal talaga ang pagputol ng kahoy kasama na ang bakawan,” Cayatoc said.
“Kahapon nagcreate ng Inter-Agency Task Force for Environment at napag-usapan na bantayan at pagtulungan na i-rehabilitate [itong area],” he added.
PCSD dismayed over wildlife habitat destruction
The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), a unique body in the province that carries powerful responsibility for the protection of the environment, also expressed dismay on the destruction of mangroves in the area that serve as habitat for wildlife.
Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, executive director of the PCSD Staff said what was done by informal settlers in Matahimik-Bucana is lamentable as they destroyed the habitat.
“Nakakalungkot kasi ang tagal na nating naglalaban para ma-protect ang ating mangroves, ang ating wildlife, tapos ito, six hectares ang laki-laki,” Matta said.
“Nakakapanghinayang, nakakasira talaga ng damdamin na makita. Ganoon lang, because of some factors motivated by money gusto nilang kumita, sinira nila yong future, they put a threat to the future of our children, nakakaawa lang,” he added.
Matta vowed to support the DENR by providing technical and forensic support.
He said the PCSD Staff is going to assess the impact of the destruction and make necessary recommendations so the government can run after the perpetrators.
“Sa ngayon ang lead nito ay DENR, so we will provide them with technical assistance, as well as forensic assistance. Identifying the species, identifying the wildlife, at environmental impact ng destruction na ito. We will be giving them the technical know-how or assistance needed to substantiate the case that we will be filed against the perpetrators,” he said.
On the other hand, City ENRO chief Atty. Carlo Gomez considers the incident as a way to help decision-makers to consider environmental factors to avoid more destruction.
” I would like to take this opportunity to send a message to our decision-makers, kung sino man sila, it could be legislators, political leaders, heads of different agencies — please incorporate environmental factors sa desisyon nilang gagawin, otherwise, magkakaroon pa ng destruction,” he said.
DENR-Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) chief Eriberto Saños also called on the Matahimik-Bucana community to participate in the protection of the mangroves in the area.
Saños reminded residents that mangroves play important roles as they are the first line of defense for coastal communities against storm surges.
“Ang protection po ng ating environment ay hindi lang po nakasalalay sa DENR. Syempre hindi namin araw-araw din nakikita yan, kaya kami ay umaapela sa ating mga kababayan higit sa mga community, sa ating local government na laging makipag-ugnayan kung meron silang napapansing paglabag sa kalikasan,” he said.