PAMPANGA

Pena: Is the Philippines a deadly place for environmentalists?

Essue

LAST November 21, an employee of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was killed. Joash Peregrino, a special investigator at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, was gunned down in his car parked in front of a store near the DENR office. He and his wife, also a DENR employee, stopped by the store on their way home.

Peregrino is the fourth DENR worker killed in the line of duty in a span of two months. Last September 4, forest ranger Bienvenido Veguilla Jr. was hacked to death when he and his team came across illegal logging activities while patrolling in El Nido, Palawan. A few days later on September 11, Gaudencio Arana, a long-time DENR informant at Cenro Munoz in Nueva Ecija, was killed by motorcycle-riding men. The following month, Forest Ranger Ronaldo Corpuz, who was also assigned at Cenro Munoz, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside his house on October 25.

DENR forest rangers are unarmed. They are at the mercy of well-armed poachers and illegal loggers. This is the reason why DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu urged Congress to pass a law creating an enforcement bureau that will give the DENR stronger enforcement powers. He wants forest rangers to carry firearms during patrols and to defend themselves from illegal logging syndicates and other environmental criminals.

How about unarmed civilians? Recently, a news came out that Philippines is the deadliest country for environmental activists. This is according to a report from the watchdog group Global Witness who said that 30 of the 164 activists killed in 2018 were from the Philippines. Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao disagrees with the figures. He said that the murdered "defenders of the environment" were actually killed in rural conflicts that had nothing to do with the environment.

The actual figures of those killed may not be accurate, but it cannot be denied that men and women in this country lost their lives while doing environmental work. Dr. Leonard Co, along with forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo, were working on a biodiversity project when they were killed in an incident involving members of the 19th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the forests of Kananga, Leyte on November 15, 2010.

Dr. Gerardo Ortega, better known simply as "Doc Gerry," who is best known for his work to promote crocodile farming in the Philippines and for his advocacy against mining on the island of Palawan, was assassinated on January 24, 2011 allegedly due to his anti-mining advocacy.

In the 80's, Macli-ing Dulag, a leader of the Butbut tribe of Kalinga province in the Philippines, was assassinated by military men because of his opposition to the Chico River Dam Project. Macli-ing Dulag's murder unified the various peoples of the Cordillera Mountains against the proposed dam, causing both the World Bank and the Marcos regime to eventually abandon the project.


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