Lack of judge keeps justice elusive for slain foresterBy Melvin Gascon
Inquirer Northern Luzon
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—A year ago, forester Melania Dirain was shot and killed by a lone gunman inside her office in Sanchez Mira, Cagayan, but the suspect still roams, and the case has yet to move in court.
The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 12 in Claveria, Cagayan, is still waiting for a judge to hear the case as a replacement for presiding Judge Leo Reyes who died last year.
“The case will not move unless a judge is assigned,” said Prosecutor Jerry Nebab of the Department of Justice (DOJ) office in Cagayan.
Nebab is hoping the Supreme Court would appoint a judge for the RTC branch this month.
Dirain’s family, as well as colleagues in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), said with the case stalled, initial efforts to give justice to her death would lead to nothing.
“We are saddened that no case has been filed [in court] even though there was an initial apprehension of the suspect,” said Benjamin Tumaliuan, DENR head in Cagayan Valley.
Dirain was Cagayan Valley DENR’s first female forestry specialist and the second-highest officer in the community environment and natural resources office in Sanchez Mira, which covers the five Cagayan towns of Sanchez Mira, Santa Praxedes, Claveria, Pamplona and Abulug, DENR officials said.
Juliet Magdasoc, Dirain’s sister, said family members had lost track of the progress of the case.
“The last piece of news we heard about it was that the gunman had been caught and that a [criminal information] was already filed,” she said.
Dirain, 46, was gunned down inside her office at the DENR compound in Barangay Centro 2 at 7:45 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2012. Days after the shooting, police arrested Adorable Caligan without a warrant, after he was supposedly identified in a closed-circuit television footage taken by cameras installed at the DENR office.
Caligan was, however, released as no case had been filed against him within the 36-hour prescribed period. Witnesses refused to issue sworn statements implicating him, Nebab said.
On Oct. 12 last year, the DOJ recommended the filing of murder charges against Caligan, and the case was raffled off to the RTC Branch 12.
“But during that time, Judge Reyes was already bedridden and he eventually died. That is why no warrant of arrest was issued [against the suspect],” Nebab said.
Tumaliuan said he and DENR personnel were worried that Dirain’s case would be repeated in the case of forester Alfredo Almueda.
Dirain and Almueda have been hailed as “environmental heroes” for meeting their deaths on duty.
Almueda, the community environment and natural resources officer of Nagtipunan-Maddela area in Quirino province, was gunned down at an anti-illegal logging checkpoint on Jan. 1.
“For us, there is no use for environmental heroes if justice is not attained,” Tumaliuan said.