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Slain forester’s family threatened

/ 12:31 AM May 16, 2011

San Pedro, Laguna—The family of Elpidio “Jojo” Malinao, 49, received “intimidating” text messages purportedly from the same people, who gunned down the Mt. Makiling forest guard.

The messages, in Filipino, said something like: “We know you knew who killed (Malinao). You better keep silent and not press charges if you do not want your family harmed. We have connections,” Dr. Rex Cruz, dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, told the Inquirer on Friday.

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He also quoted the messages as saying: “If you want, you could just pay someone to have us killed (too).”

Cruz said the text messages were received by Malinao’s wife, Justina, a government employee, on Thursday, three days after Malinao was shot dead inside a tarpaulin shop in Bay, Laguna.

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This was also after Justina had identified two persons as suspects in her husband’s slay.

“(The threats were) indirect. We feel like they are intimidating (the family),” Cruz said.

He refused to identify the two new suspects as police investigation continued, but said the university had provided security for the family and tapped the National Bureau of Investigation to step into the case.

Malinao had come from a court hearing on Monday afternoon in Bay as a witness against a certain Armando Javier and Napoleon Oliveros who had been charged with violation of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.

Malinao proceeded to a tarpaulin shop, where he was shot dead by a lone assailant.

The Bay police identified the gunman as a certain Roberto Canovas, who remained at large.

Illegal settlers

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Cruz said Javier and Oliveros were illegal settlers in Mt. Makiling and the case against them was being heard since 2004.

Malinao had been a forest guard for the last 25 years of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems (MCME), a unit of CFNR, and part of his job was to “manage and prevent” the construction of more illegal structures in the forest reserve.

In parts of Mt. Makiling, mostly in Barangay Bagong Silang, about 1,000 concrete illegal structures have been in place for over several decades.

In the early ’70s, the university had a relocation program for the settlers but “the people came back,” Cruz said.

Authorities, however, have yet to pin the investigation to the land dispute, as Malinao, known to be a “strict” forest guard, had also lodged several other cases involving illegal poaching, or small-scale operations of illegal cutting of trees.

“We are looking into the other cases, even those that were not yet filed (in court),” Cruz said.

A village official in Los Baños town, who knew Malinao but requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said a recent case involving the slain forest guard was the arrest of four illegal coconut poachers in Mt. Makiling last month.

“They were arrested and jailed. Their power saw was also confiscated,” the official said.

The official said Malinao was also offered P100,000 for settlement, but “he refused. He said they’d rather kill him (than make arrangements).”

The remains of Malinao were cremated on Saturday. Cruz said the university planned to hold tributes at the CFNR this week, which includes scattering Malinao’s ashes in Mt. Makiling.

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TAGS: Crime, environment, Forestry, Illegal poachers, Illegal settlers, Mt. Makiling, Murder, Natural Resources, regio
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