A senator and environment officials expressed outrage over the murder of environment officer Alfredo Almueda, linking his killing to the continued defiance of logging operators of an executive order (EO) issued by President Benigno Aquino.
Sen. Loren Legarda, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and other officials and employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the killing of Almueda was unmistakably connected to logging.
“This is a disheartening act of cowardice,” said Legarda, chair of the Senate climate change committee, in a statement. “Those responsible must be made to answer,” she said.
Paje, in a separate statement, said the murder of Almueda shows the “ruthlessness” with which loggers continue to defy the President’s EO, which bans all commercial logging in natural and residual forests.
In the line of fire
Almueda, 59, was killed on Jan. 1 by men armed with assault rifles as he manned a logging checkpoint in Maddela, Quirino province.
“We are angered and outraged by the attack,” said Paje. “Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Almueda,” he said.
Police in Quirino said the slain DENR officer drew courage in the war on logging from the President’s EO issued in 2011.
“Many people who knew him say that he really became very strict after EO 23 was issued by the President. There were really no sacred cows,” said Senior Supt. Domingo Lucas, Quirino police director.
Maddela Councilor Rimel Tolentino said Almueda was a “no-nonsense enforcer of environment laws.”
“After [EO 23], he went all out. He would lead operations in the remotest areas, go up the mountains and seize illegally cut logs from there,” Tolentino said.
Reports said that the attack came as Almueda’s group, which included forest guards Gene Martin and Ronaldo Calonge, waited for the expected passage of a shipment of illegally cut logs, based on a tip sent to them through a text message earlier on Monday.
Lucas said the killing may have been job-related, citing earlier intelligence reports that Almueda had received death threats because of his campaign against illegal loggers.
Investigators cited a security lapse, which saw Almueda leading the manning of the checkpoint during odd hours and without security backup.
Under EO 23, anti-illegal logging operations are carried out jointly by a task force composed of representatives from the DENR, police, Army and the local government.
But Almueda was a hands-on type of officer, according to his colleagues in the DENR. “That’s the call of duty,” said Wilfredo Malvar, DENR regional technical director for forestry.
Malvar said since Almueda became community environment and natural resources officer (Cenro) in Quirino, the war on logging became his “personal crusade” because he lived in a hotbed of logging.
“If you are a Cenro from the place, you would not want your immediate environment to get destroyed because of illegal logging,” said Malvar. Melvin Gascon and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon, and Norman Bordadora and DJ Yap in Manila