Loggers kill ranger in Palawan forest
Following the murder of a forest ranger by suspected illegal loggers in Palawan province, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Thursday renewed its call for Congress to craft a law that would allow the agency’s enforcement personnel, particularly those who face threats from environmental criminals on a daily basis, to be armed with guns.
Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said the agency was “hurt” over the news of the killing of Bienvinido Veguilla Jr., 44, a forest ranger assigned to the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office of El Nido town, on Wednesday afternoon.
“It really hurt us to hear that something like this had happened again,” he told the Inquirer on Thursday. “We are calling on our legislators and concerned government agencies to consider arming our frontline DENR officers.”
Guns for Palawan rangers
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Henry Adornado, DENR regional director in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan), said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez in June signed an agreement for the purchase of 150 shotguns to be issued to forest rangers in Palawan.
He said the agencies were still working on the guidelines but the guns should be available by October.
“It’s just unfortunate that this happened [before the issuance of guns],” he said.
Veguilla was actually carrying his own .45-caliber gun when attacked by six suspected illegal loggers.
Adornado said Veguilla and five other rangers had just patrolled the forests in Barangay Pasadeña when they heard the whirring of chainsaws. “They followed the sound and there they found [the illegal loggers],” he said.
He said the suspects scampered away, prompting Veguilla’s team to confiscate the tools and the cut lumber.
The forest rangers were on their way back to their office when the suspects, armed with a bolo and an improvised shotgun, returned
“They were cornered. Some [were positioned] behind them while the others were in front of them,” Adornado said.
The rangers ran toward different directions but Veguilla was hacked from behind. Veguilla was able to shoot one of the suspects, Fernan Flores, in the abdomen but he was again hacked in the head. Veguilla died on site.
Police arrested the wounded Flores and another suspect, Gerardo Fulgencio. Authorities were hunting four other suspects.
Adornado said they recovered about 1,000 board feet of wood products that the loggers left behind. The police also recovered two chainsaws and the bolo that was used to kill Veguilla.
Adornado condemned the attack while Veguilla’s colleagues at the DENR sought justice.
“[Veguilla] was a very simple man; never complained [about his job],” said Nilo Ramoso, a former colleague of Veguilla’s in El Nido.
Ramoso, who is now with the DENR central office, said Veguilla started as a contractual DENR employee in the early 1990s, before El Nido was declared a government protected area.
Veguilla, according to Ramoso, was dedicated to his job and was active in patrolling Palawan’s forests and waters for violators of environmental laws.
This was not the first of such attack against DENR enforcement personnel.
In September 2017, Ruben Arzaga, barangay chair of Villa Libertad and member of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area board, was shot and killed while he was arresting suspected illegal loggers at Sitio Batbat.
In August that year, government forester Lito Eyala was shot and wounded by a suspected timber poacher while his team was patrolling the mountains of Barangay Bacungan in Puerto Princesa City.
The attacks against DENR personnel had then prompted Cimatu to consider the possibility of arming environmental patrollers. A former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Cimatu also said that he would ask the military and the police to train foresters in security protocols and firearm use.
The Philippines has long been considered a dangerous country for environmental defenders. International organization Global Witness, in a recent report, ranked the Philippines as the most murderous country for environmental activists in 2018.
A total of 164 defenders were killed last year, while countless more were silenced through death threats, arrests and lawsuits, the group said.
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