MANILA – Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy A. Cimatu on Friday visited the wake of slain barangay captain Ruben Arzaga in El Nido, Palawan, honoring him as a ‘Bayani ng Kalikasan’.
“Saludo ako kay Kapitan Ruben, isinakripisyo niya ang kanyang buhay para protektahan ang ating kapaligiran. Dahil dito, itinuturing natin siyang Bayani ng Kalikasan [I salute Kapitan Ruben; he sacrificed his life to protect the environment. Because of this, we declare him Nature’s Hero],” Cimatu said.
Arzaga, 49, and an active member of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area Management Board, was shot dead by suspected illegal loggers whom 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.
Arzaga’s killing was the second attack on forest protection officers by illegal loggers and timber poachers in Palawan in three weeks.
Last Aug. 23, DENR forester Lito Eyala was shot by a suspected timber poacher while he and his team were patrolling in the mountains of Barangay Bacungan in Puerto Princesa City.
Eyala sustained two gunshot wounds in his back and nape. He underwent surgery to remove the bullet lodged in his right jaw.
Cimatu denounced the two shooting cases that victimized DENR’s forest protection officers by suspected illegal loggers, baring plans to strengthen the agency’s community environment and natural resources offices (CENROs), with the help of the military and the police forces.
“Patutulong tayo sa mga sundalo at pulis na sanayin ang mga foresters natin sa security protocol at sa paghawak ng baril. Pinag-aaralan din ngayon ng ahensya kung pwede natin silang pahawakin kapag nagpapatrol o may huhulihin para maipagtanggol nila ang sarili, kung kailangan [We’ll seek the help of soldiers and policemen in training our foresters on security protocols and handling guns. The DENR is also studying whether or not to let them carry guns when they’re on patrol so they can defend themselves as needed],” Cimatu said.
Cimatu said DENR will provide a college scholarship to Arzaga’s daughter, Jesel Mae, 16, who is now in tenth grade
On Cimatu’s instructions, DENR Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino and provincial environment officials met with Major General Galileo Gerard Kintanar of the AFP Western Command (WESCOM) and Palawan Police chief Senior Supt. Gabriel Lopez to discuss cooperation in fighting illegal logging.
“WESCOM will help the DENR conduct regular aerial patrol and strengthen joint operations against timber poachers, illegal loggers and kaingeros,” 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.
Meanwhile, Palawan provincial environment and natural resources officer Felizardo Cayatoc deplored the attacks against forest workers, noting that illegal loggers have become more aggressive now.
“Dati itak lang ang dala nila, ngayon marami sa kanila ay may baril na de-sabog o kaya ay paltik [Before, these illegal loggers just brought knives, but now many of them have guns]. We cannot allow our foresters and forest rangers to be sitting ducks amidst the brazen attacks of those who destroy our environment,” Cayatoc said.
He added: “It would be impossible to accomplish our task of protecting the environment if our protectors are being killed; we need to equip them.”