Cimatu honors slain anti-logging official in El Nido

MANILA, Philippines – Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu conferred the highest commendation on a village official killed last week in an anti-logging operation in El Nido, Palawan.

Cimatu on Friday, September 22, personally presented the "Medalya ng Bayani ng Kalikasan" (Environmental Hero Medal) distinction at the wake of Villa Libertad Barangay Captain Ruben Arzaga.

Arzaga was shot dead on September 14 while in an anti-logging operation in the mountainous area in Sitio Batbat.

"I salute Captain Ruben for sacrificing his life to protect the environment," Cimatu said, as he handed the plaque to the fallen officer's wife, Adelita.

Introduced during Cimatu's term, the "Medalya ng Bayani ng Kalikasan" is a recognition given to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) personnel who were killed or wounded while performing their duty. (READ: Duterte forms committee to study total log ban)

The 49-year-old slain village chief 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.

ADVOCATE. Barangay Captain Ruben Arzaga, 49, 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.

Photo by Keith Anthony Fabro/Rappler

Cimatu said El Nido is fortunate to have had a dedicated and selfless public servant like Arzaga who, even at the cost of his own life, safeguarded the watershed that provides clean water to both residents and tourists in the town.

For Ruben's "decisive leadership and exemplary bravery," he said, "I suggest that the watershed be named after him." (READ: Illegal logging ‘hotspots’ down by 84% – DENR)

The environment secretary also handed financial assistance to the family, and a full scholarship grant to Arzaga's Grade 10 daughter, Jesel Mae, 16.

He said Jesel Mae is the first to receive such scholarship under his watch.

She can choose any college program related to environment and natural resources in an academic institution of her choice anywhere in the country.

Adelita demanded justice for his husband who was a true-blue environmental warrior dedicated in his sworn position until the end.

"We hope all people involved in his killing will be punished," the 48-year old wife said. 

"When he’s still alive, he told me: 'My job is dangerous but I will not rest until illegal environmental activities are not stopped,'" she said. "He was always saying, 'It's not only for us but for the common good.'"

El Nido mayor Nieves Rosento said the municipal government will grant a P200,000-financial assistance to Ruben’s family in a commemoration night set for him on Wednesday, September 27.

Rosento added that she will hire Adelita as a municipal government staff, and will further give scholarship to Arzaga's 11-year-old daughter, Kitty Jean.

Arzaga had joined a local enforcement team in monitoring the mountains to capture illegal loggers who gathered around 1,000 board feet of Amugis wood when they were ambushed. He was shot in the head and died while being rushed to Puerto Princesa City for treatment. (READ: DENR, NBI partner to ensure conviction of illegal loggers)

A day after the incident, authorities nabbed two suspects, Abel Villarosa, 25, and Ariel Villarosa, 23, both residents of the same barangay.

An investigation revealed that both suspects had a grudge with the victim who had seized illegally cut lumber from them on several occasions, the last being on the day before he got killed.

A case of murder and 4 counts of attempted murder were filed against the suspects at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor on September 17.

Meanwhile, the first to be honored as "Bayani ng Kalikasan" was Joselito Eyala, a DENR Community ENRO Puerto Princesa forester, who was shot and wounded by timber poachers on August 23.–