Group calls for 'greater state support' after killing of El Nido forest ranger
MANILA, Philippines – Environmental group Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment condemned on Friday, September 6, the murder of government forest ranger Bienvinido "Toto" Veguilla Jr, who was hacked to death by a suspected illegal logger in El Nido, Palawan.
"There should be greater state support for our forest rangers and voluntary para-enforcers. We raise alarm to the Commission on Human Rights on this matter and enjoin them to help increase the capacities of forest defenders in safety and security interventions," Kalikasan said in a statement.
Veguilla was hacked to death on Wednesday, September 4, while trying to arrest a group of suspected illegal loggers. He was part of an enforcement team that was acting on a tip of alleged illegal logging activities near Sitio Kinagawan, Barangay Pasadeña.
"Veguilla is the 18th environmental defender killed in the country's last ecological frontier since 2001, making Palawan the third deadliest hotspot for environmental defenders in the country," Kalikasan noted.
"Majority of these defenders involve forest rangers, particularly the brave para-enforcers organized by our member organization, the Palawan NGO Network Inc. Their work to secure the protected areas of Palawan is becoming increasingly vulnerable to reprisals from poachers suspectedly backed by powerful warlord interests in the island," the group also said.
In July, international nongovernmental organization Global Witness also dubbed the Philippines as the most dangerous country for environmental activists in 2018. Its annual report recorded that 30 environmental activists were killed in the country that year.
Worldwide, 164 land and environmental activists were murdered in the same year.
Kalikasan on Friday said the "culture of impunity" is clearly affecting environmental defenders – even those from within government ranks. Veguilla himself was a forest ranger of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
"Illegal logging and other environmentally destructive operations are increasingly emboldened to attack defenders knowing full well the certainty of escaping the rule of law," Kalikasan said.
The group lamented that special environmental laws that protect Palawan are "no match" to poaching activities in the province "sponsored by powerful political interests." In addition, the group said environmental defenders "are neglected by the state," adding that police forces that should be helping and protecting forest rangers "are clearly not doing their job."
Kalikasan also called for a "full-blown investigation" into illegal logging and wildlife poaching in Palawan and other key biodiversity areas in the Philippines.
"We are not only losing P50 billion a year because of illegal wildlife trade, we are losing the lives of dedicated forest defenders who are the frontlines in the struggle to stem this plunder of our biodiversity and other natural resources," the group said. – Rappler.com