Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu on Friday visited the wake of slain barangay captain Ruben Arzaga in El Nido, Palawan, honoring him as a “Bayani ng Kalikasan.”
“I salute Ruben, because he sacrificed his life to protect the environment. Because of his courageous act, we should honor him as ‘Bayani ng Kalikasan’,” Cimatu said in Filipino.
Arzaga, 49, an active member of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area Management Board, was shot dead by suspected illegal loggers that he and a team of local environmental law enforcers were about to apprehend in Sitio Batbat, Villa Libertad on September 14, 2017.
Two of the suspects were later arrested and charged with murder and four counts of attempted murder. Cimatu said the DENR will provide a college scholarship to Arzaga’s daughter, Jesel Mae, 16, who is now in tenth grade.
Arzaga’s killing was the second attack on forest protection officers by illegal loggers and timber poachers in Palawan in three weeks.
On August 23, Lito Eyala, a forester from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), was shot by a suspected timber poacher while he and his team were patrolling the mountains of Barangay Bacungan in Puerto Princesa City.
Eyala sustained two gunshot wounds in his back and nape. He underwent a surgery to remove the bullet lodged in his right jaw.
Cimatu denounced the two incidents of shooting DENR’s forest protection officers by suspected illegal loggers.
He also plans to strengthen the agency’s community environment and natural resources offices (CENROs) with the help of the military and police.
“The DENR is also studying the possibility of foresters carrying firearms when they are conducting patrols or apprehending illegal loggers,” he said.
Under the instruction of Cimatu, DENR Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino and provincial environment officials met with Major General Galileo Gerard Kintanar of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (WESCOM) and Palawan Police chief Senior Supt. Gabriel Lopez to discuss cooperation in addressing the issue of illegal logging.
“WESCOM will help the DENR conduct regular aerial patrol and strengthen joint operations against timber poachers, illegal loggers and kaingeros [slash and burn farmers],” Bernardino said.
“Apart from this, the WESCOM will train our forest rangers and foresters on basic security measures, including the use of firearms for self-defense,” she added.
Palawan provincial environment and natural resources officer Felizardo Cayatoc deplored the attacks against forest workers, noting that illegal loggers have become more dangerous.
“It would be impossible to accomplish our task of protecting the environment if our protectors are being killed; we need to equip them,” he added.