MANILA – On the day the nation remembered its heroes, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) honored one of its own who risked his life protecting nature.
A forester who was shot and wounded by a suspected illegal logger in Palawan province last August 23 got the highest commendation from Secretary Roy A. Cimatu on Monday, National Heroes Day.
Cimatu awarded Joselito Eyala, a forester at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Puerto Princesa City, the Medalya ng Bayani ng Kalikasan for his “remarkable dedication to public service, bravery and leadership.”
“It is my honor to give you this award, especially during National Heroes Day,” Cimatu said on a visit to Eyala at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), where the forester was awaiting surgery to remove bullets lodged in his palate and back.
“Gusto kong malaman mo na nagpapasalamat ako sa ginawa mo at hindi ka pababayaan ng DENR [I want you to know I am grateful for what you’ve done, and the DENR will take care of you],” Cimatu said. “Kailangan namin ang mga katulad mo sa serbisyo [We need people like you in the service].”
Cimatu, a former military chief, also awarded Eyala with a Purple Heart, an honor usually given to soldiers wounded in the line of duty.
He commended the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine Air Force personnel who airlifted Eyala from Palawan to Manila and brought him to the PGH on August 25.
Besides the commendation, Eyala was also promoted from Forester I to Forester II with an increase in salary grade, Cimatu announced.
The DENR, Cimatu said, will shoulder all of Eyala’s hospital expenses and will provide financial assistance to aid him in his recovery.
Based on initial reports, the shooting incident happened when Eyala and his team apprended suspected timber poachers and confiscated an unregistered chainsaw in the mountainous village of Bacungan in Puerto Princesa at around 5 pm on August 23.
Chainsaw owner Florante Saycon retaliated by firing a homemade gun that hit Eyala in the back. The forester sustained two gunshot wounds that rendered him unconscious.
When he regained consciousness, Eyala crawled into the Casicaan River and allowed the current to carry him for five hours. He then walked and crawled in the middle of the night until he was able to get help at around 1 am of the following day.
A farmer brought Eyala on a carabao sled to barangay coucilor Daniel Anjan, who then took him to the Palawan Adventist Hospital.
Meanwhile, Saycon had also chased Eyala’s three other companions, forest ranger Roldan Alvarez and forest technicians Roy Mercader and Glenn Dexter Eleazar, who scampered for safety.
Mercader hid in the river for seven hours, while Alvarez and Eleazar sought cover in the bush the whole night. They were found at the Bacungan barangay hall at around 8 am on August 24.
Forester turns emotional
DENR Mimaropa regional director Natividad Bernardino said Eyala’s promotion takes effect immediately.
“This is the least we can do to express our appreciation to Lito (Eyala’s nickname) for his commitment to live up to his duty as a protector of the forest and our environment,” Bernardino said.
Eyala, who was still having difficulty speaking, appeared overwelmed and almost teary-eyed when he gave a thumbs-up sign.
Bernardino said that due recognition will also be given to other members of Eyala’s team.
The DENR is preparing to file criminal charges against Saycon, who is now under the custody of the Philippine National Police in Puerto Princesa City after he was arrested during a followup operation on August 24.
Cimatu wanted the CENRO to charge Saycon with violation of Republic Act No. 9175 or the Chainsaw Act of 2002 and other forestry laws, aside from the attempted murder or homicide to be filed by Eyala.
Click and watch a video clip of the awarding event below: