Metro Manila (CNN Philippines)The Philippines is regarded as the most dangerous place in Asia for environment defenders.
Global Witness, an international rights group reporting that 29 forest rangers were killed across the country in 2020, said Global Witness. 43 forest rangers had been killed in the line of duty a year earlier.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has honored four environmental defenders with the title of heroes for Earth Day celebrations on April 22.
Gaudencio Araa – Forest Ranger & Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer
Gaudencio Araa, 56 years old, provided key information to DENR about illegal logging activities at Pantabangan and Rizal in Neuva Ecija. This led to the capture of illegally-sourced wood products.
Two men riding a motorcycle shot him to death as he was walking home on September 11, 2019. Later, it was discovered that the culprits were illegal loggers.
Ronaldo Corpuz, Forest Ranger, DENR CENRO MUNOZ
Ronaldo Corpuz, aged 43, assisted in the capture of illegal lumbers by conducting surveillance operations against timber poaching in Rizal, Nueva Ecija and illegal transports of forest products in Rizal in October 2019.
Corpuz was shot dead three days later after the successful operation. DENR stated that the suspects were illegal loggers who confessed to their involvement in Corpuz’s death.
Bienvenido Veguilla Jr., Forest Ranger
Bienvenido Veguilla Jr., 52 years old, was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2019. Veguilla, who was leading a group o forest rangers from a tree-planting site, was killed by illegal loggers on September 14, 2019. New Ibajay, El Nido, Palawan.
They initially found only a chainsaw. They were eventually chased by four men using bolos and a home-made shotgun. Veguilla was hit in different parts of his body. His colleagues managed to escape.
Miliarete Panaligan, CENRO-Real, Quezon
Miliarete Panaligan, 58, was threatened with death while she was still living. She was a long-standing environment officer in Real (Quezon). DENR was able to build 277 illegal logging cases between 2010 and 2016. This was due to her dedication.
She worked on eight apprehensions per month in 2017. She also included Dumagat Tribe in Quezon’s national greening program.
Prioritize environment measures
These four are just some of the many admirable environment defenders.
Many forest rangers risk the lives of their families every day to protect the environment and stop smugglers from logging illegally. They are often unable to defend themselves.
Reynato, former chief justice and founder Environment Heroes Foundation Inc., stated that the next administration and the next batch of legislators should prioritize the passage a bill to allow DENR to have its own law enforcement unit.
He is referring specifically to House Bill 6973 filed by Antique representative Loren Lgarda. This bill creates an Environment Protection and Enforcement Bureau under DENR. This was not however passed by the 18th Congress.
This bill should get a fresh push after the elections, when we have a new congress and new president. Puno said that this bill should be passed into law as a priority if we want more protection of our environment and to provide greater protection to those who have given their lives to preserve our forest.
Puno said that the next president should also be concerned with protecting the environment. He said that we can see how the environment is being destroyed and the tragic consequences of this, especially in developing countries such as the Philippines where we have more severe typhoons.
Jonas Leones, environment spokesperson, stated that the bill’s passage will help forest rangers protect themselves better. He also noted that some violators could be part a large organized group. This will also make it easier to catch environment criminals like wildlife smugglers or illegal loggers.[B]For now, we rely only on regular law enforcement, the PNP, and di naman sila pwedeng. Leones stated, Kung meron kami sila pwedeng kaladkarin pag may illegal logging activities. [Translation: Because now, we are just relying on regular law enforcement, the PNP, we cant always call on them if there are illegal logging activities. If we have our own team, it would be easier for us to respond and have sophisticated equipment to protect ourselves and the environment.]