DENR: Deal with Socorro group not immediately suspended due to humanitarian reasons

Philippine Tribune
Philippine Tribune

By LLANESCA T. PANTI, GMA Integrated News

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Wednesday said the suspension of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (SBSI’s) deal with the government to look after a protected area has been delayed despite reports of violations since 2019 due to humanitarian reasons.

DENR Region 13 director Nonito Tamayo made the statement when asked by Senator Risa Hontiveros why the SBSI’s Protected Area-Community Based Resource Management (PACBRMA) deal with the DENR was not cut in 2019 when the group was  investigated due to violations.

The violations include the restriction of entry in the area, checkpoint setups, military-like training, resignation of teachers, uniformed personnel and barangay officials, as well as construction of structures within the area.

Socorro’s PACBRMA was finally suspended in September.

“In 2019, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, then there was the earthquake [that hit the Surigao del Norte province], and then [the wrath of] typhoon Odette [in December 2021]. While we’ve been doing our monitoring in the areas, I must admit that for humanitarian reasons, I considered these reasons why a cancellation [of their PACBRMA] was not done,” Tamayo said during the Senate finance panel’s hearing on the DENR’s proposed P25 billion budget for 2024.

“But then we wrote them letters twice, in 2020 and 2021, reminding them of their obligations,” he added.

But for Hontiveros and Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, such reasons do not justify delayed action as these were the same issues used by the SBSI leadership to attract more followers.

“The government remains fully functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic. And there were even reports that SBSI leaders are taking a cut out of the government subsidy to the people amid the pandemic. It is impossible to turn back time, but if only the regional office had the appropriate and timely response, the situation would not have gotten this worse,” Hontiveros said.

“You said you delayed action for humanitarian reasons, but that resulted in humanitarian problems especially among the children. For the record, how many PACBRMAs are out there that need to be acted upon by the DENR in a timely manner so we would not end up with this similar situation with SBSI?” she added.

Dela Rosa, for his part, said DENR’s mandate as a regulatory agency includes asking assistance from the law enforcement, even the military, to address unlawful activities.

“You are the regulatory agency and you are in touch with the situation there. You should have sought assistance from the police and even military. You don’t just leave things be,” he added.—AOL, GMA Integrated News

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