DENR eyes to train forest officers on security protocol, gun handling

Keith Anthony S. Fabro
DENR eyes to train forest officers on security protocol, gun handling
This follows two shooting incidents targeting forest protection officers in Palawan

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) plans to train forest rangers all over the country on security protocol and gun handling, following the two shooting incidents targeting forest protection officers in Palawan.

“We will really coordinate with the police and the army and the marines to help us in this crisis,” Cimatu said, speaking before the Provincial ENR Office (PENRO) staff Friday night, September 22.

“I will be taking action to improve the protection of our foresters. We will do this because we don’t like that thing [to] happen again.”

When asked by Rappler, the former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff and retired general said the idea is under the planning stage but “that would be one of it.”

“One thing is for sure, we will be doing something also to protect themselves,” he said. “We will give them some training, some equipment.”

However, in a news release, Cimatu was quoted as saying, “the agency is looking at the possibility of arming forest rangers while patrolling and conducting apprehension to defend themselves, if needed.”

For this program, Cimatu said Palawan might be their pilot site, considering the said successive incidents, which he said no longer be considered as isolated cases.

PENRO Chief Felizardo Cayatoc noted that illegal loggers in the province have now become more aggressive.

“Before, they just carried bolo; now, most of them have air gun and homemade pistol. Unlike before, the illegalists hide but now when there’s a DENR operation, they’re the ones who attack,” he said.

DENR MIMAROPA Regional Director Natividad Bernardino said local environment officials earlier this week met with AFP Western Command’s Major General Galileo Gerard Kintanar Jr. and Palawan Police Chief Gabriel Lopez in Puerto Princesa.

“WESCOM will help DENR conduct regular aerial patrol and strengthen joint operations against timber poachers, illegal loggers, and kaingeros (slash-and-burn farmers). WESCOM will also train our forest rangers and foresters on basic security measures including the use of firearms for self-defense,” she said.

As opposed to Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment’s misgivings on arming forest protection officers, Cimatu vowed that he would not let his people be used by corporations and corrupt politicians in hiding their destructive forest activities, such as mining and illegal logging.

“They are here to serve the people of Palawan; they are here to preserve our watershed,” he said.

Cimatu underscored the need to protect over 600,000 hectare provincial forests, constituting 10% of the country’s total forest cover.

“Watershed is very important for Palawan because that’s the only source of clean water; we cannot achieve our objective of inviting tourists if we don’t have a very clean water,” he added.

Cimatu said plans to hire more forest rangers and increase their salary and benefits, and also to employ lawyers to be placed in DENR’s community environment offices in the country, are all on the table.

The environment chief personally went to El Nido town Friday morning to visit the wake of Villa Libertad Barangay Captain Ruben Arzaga, who was shot dead on September 14 while in an anti-logging operation in the watershed in Villa Libertad’s Sitio Batbat.

He honored Arzaga as “Bayani ng Kalikasan,” a recognition he gives to DENR personnel who were killed or wounded while performing their duty.

The 49-year old slain barangay captain was the chairperson of the El Nido Law Enforcement Council and an active member of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area Management Board.

On National Heroes Day, August 28, Cimatu first awarded the “Bayani ng Kalikasan” to Joselito Eyala, a DENR Community ENRO Puerto Princesa forester, who was shot and wounded by timber poachers while confiscating an illegal chainsaw in the mountainous barangay of Bacungan on Aug. 23. –

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