Church in Palawan expresses concern over harassment of Mariahangin Island residents

July 1, 2024

Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa has raised alarms over the situation on the island of Mariahangin in the town of Balabac, Palawan, where residents are reportedly being harassed by armed groups to abandon their land amid ongoing land disputes.

Bishop Socrates Mesiona of Puerto Princesa expressed his concern about the armed harassment prompting residents to abandon their homes, according to a report by Veritas 846. 

He highlighted that the communities of the Cagayanen and Molbog people, who have long inhabited the island, are now facing significant threats. Many of these residents were born and made their livelihood on this peaceful island.

“The Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa stands in solidarity and concern with our countrymen on the island of Mariahangin in Balabac. It is disheartening that some armed groups are harassing them to leave their beloved place,” Bishop Mesiona said.

This situation is reminiscent of the historical “Case of Bugsuk Land,” where in 1974, approximately 1 to 3,000 farm families, mostly indigenous Palawanens, Molbigs, and Cagayancillos, were forcibly removed from their 10,821-hectare paradise islands of Bugsuk and Pandanan.

Currently, the remaining 38-hectare Mariahangin Island is claimed by San Miguel Corporation (SMC) for a massive 25,000-hectare white beach tourism project, according to environmental groups. 

Despite being issued with a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Notice of Coverage in 2014, the notice was lifted in September 2023, reverting the ownership to previous landowners, including the contested 38-hectare Mariahangin Island. 

The harassment by SMC private guards has affected around 130 families, mostly seaweed farmers. About 30 families have already left due to intimidation.

Bishop Mesiona strongly urged the authorities to intervene in the situation to protect the rights and well-being of the island’s residents and to prevent any form of violence.

“We especially call on the authorities to intervene in this situation to prevent violence and protect the rights of the simple citizens of Mariahangin. We hope that the words of former President Ramon Magsaysay, ‘those who have less in life should have more in law,’ will prevail,” added Bishop Mesiona.

The Bishop assured that the Church is united with the people in advocating for truth and rights, especially for the underprivileged in society.

Bishop Mesiona appealed to all believers to include in their prayers the peace and safety of the residents of Mariahangin in Balabac against anyone wishing to perpetrate violence in the area.

According to initial reports from the Balabac Municipal Police Station (MPS), the incident began when a group of unidentified individuals arrived at Sitio Mariahangin, Bugsok, Balabac, Palawan around three in the morning on June 29, 2024. The assailants, who wore bonnets, reportedly fired guns.

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