Sen. Cynthia Villar on Wednesday prodded the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to immediately evict nearly 3,500 members of a suspected cult who were illegally occupying a protected forest area in Socorro town, Surigao del Norte province.
Presiding over a budget hearing, Villar said the DENR should be “decisive” in acting on the issues raised against Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI), whose leaders were accused of forcing young girls to marry older men as well as training child soldiers.
She made the remark after Environment Undersecretary Joselin Marcus Fragada disclosed that except for one, all SBSI members occupying the area were not among the “tenured” beneficiaries or original settlers under the DENR’s 25-year land deal with the group.
Fragada was referring to the Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement, which the SBSI used to turn a 353-hectare protected land in Sitio Kapihan into its own enclave.
“Technically, the people there are not tenured. Even their [leader] is not a tenured migrant,” Fragada said, referring to SBSI president Jey Rence Quilario, also known as “Senior Agila.”
Asked if the SBSI members would be forced to leave, Fragada told Villar: “It’s an option … We leave it to the inter-agency body to make the proper decision [on] what approach should be taken.”
Upon hearing this, the senator said: “[Just an] option? It must be done.”
“You don’t give them a choice. They have to [leave] because they’re not supposed to live in a legislated protected area,” Villar stressed.