ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu believes it is high time for the country's forest rangers to carry firearms during patrols and to defend themselves from illegal logging syndicates and other environmental criminals.
Cimatu then called on lawmakers to pass a measure that would establish an enforcement bureau within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and an enabling law that would authorize forest enforcers to carry firearms.
Cimatu, a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), had been appalled by the brutal death of a forest ranger from Nueva Ecija who died two days after he was shot several times by an unknown assailant.
Forest Ranger Ronaldo Corpuz, who was assigned at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) in the municipality of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, died of multiple gunshot wounds.
Corpuz was shot by an unidentified assailant while he was closing the gate of their house around 7:35 p.m. of October 25. He was declared dead on October 27 at the Premier Hospital in Cabanatuan City.
Prior to his death, Corpuz, together with members of Bantay Gubat, conducted a surveillance operation against timber poaching and illegal transport of forest products in Barangay Portal in Rizal town on October 22.
The team had seized 26 pieces of Yemane lumber, locally known as Gmelina, with a volume of 742 board feet, from three individuals, who were charged with violation of Section 77 of Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines.
"These senseless attacks against forest defenders must come to an end," Cimatu said.
Corpuz was the third environmental worker killed this year, according to the DENR.
According to the data from the DENR, Gaudencio Arana, a long-time DENR informant also assigned at Cenro Muñoz, was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding assailants on September 11.
On September 4, suspected illegal loggers stabbed DENR forest ranger Bienvenido Veguilla Jr. to death using a jungle bolo in El Nido, Palawan.
Five of the six suspects have already been arrested and charged with murder and violation of Presidential Decree 705 or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.
Cimatu said the death of these forest defenders calls for the immediate passage of a measure creating the DENR Enforcement Bureau.
"The proposed bureau will primarily benefit our foresters who are exposed to various risks and dangers when they perform their tasks on the field," Cimatu said.
In line with this, last October 24, Cimatu designated Undersecretary Jim O. Sampulna to head the newly created Office of the Undersecretary for Enforcement and Special Project.
Cimatu had earlier vowed to do everything in his power to protect DENR workers from "fearless, cunning and greedy" individuals who destroy the environment for their own selfish interests.
Appearing in a budget hearing in the House of Representatives, Cimatu asked lawmakers to pass a law that would create an enforcement bureau in order for the agency to effectively stop environmental crimes, such as illegal logging and smuggling of wildlife species.
Since June 2010, six of DENR employees have been killed in the line of duty. These include a forest guard from Cordillera, four from Caraga region, and an environment officer in Samar.