Meet our country's environmental heroes
MANILA, Philippines – While heroes can be found anywhere, not everyone becomes famous.
There are those who quietly do their job with excellence, honesty, and integrity, and are still considered heroes. Sometimes, because of their dedication, they even risk their lives. And a lot of them are serving in government.
With a known environment activist at the helm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the agency has been making headlines for its fight against illegal environmental practices such as the back-to-back shutdown of mining operations in different parts of the country. She has also urged the DENR officials to "inspire people and be proactive."
As we celebrate the National Heroes Day, here are some of the stories of our environmental heroes: those who sacrificed their lives to protect the country’s environment.
Melania Dirain, The Forest Specialist
As a forest specialist, part of Dirain’s job was the enforcement of foreign protection laws, including policies against illegal logging.
Just a month after she assumed her post as officer in charge of Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Sanchez-Mira, Cagayan, she apprehended illegal loggers and confiscated a number of illegal forest products already.
Because of this, Dirain received death threats for months, but she still continued on her crusade.
On February 7, 2012, Dirain was shot to death while talking to an office messenger. A report on the Philippine Daily Inquirer said Dirain was talking to Isaias Cereniado inside her office, when a man barged in and shot 5 five times in the chest. Her 3 sons suddenly became orphans (she was a widow; her husband died a few years before).
According to Rare, a partner international conservation organization of the DENR, Dirain “pioneered the use of cell phones to anonymously report illegal forest activities.”
Jojo Malinao, The Forest Guard
Malinao was a forest guard at the Makiling Forest Reserve in Laguna. His job included diligently patrolling the forest and protecting it against destructive activities such as timber poaching, illegal occupancy, kaingin (slash-and-burn agriculture), and littering. He also served as a witness in cases involving these illegal practices.
On the day of his death on May 9, 2011, he testified during the hearing of Armando Javier and Napoleon Oliveros, who were both charged with violation of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, according to a report from the Inquirer.
After the hearing, he went to a tarpaulin shop in Bay, Laguna, where he was shot to death by a man on a motorcycle.
According to testaments of those close to him, he was once offered P100,000 ($2,153) for bribe but rejected it and said, “Patayin na lang nila ako.” (They can kill me instead.)
Logendrin Aranca, The Forest Ranger and Bernabe Malijao, The Tree Maker
Aranca, a Forest Ranger, and Malijao, a Tree Marker, were both tasked to man a checkpoint along the main highway going to Real, Infanta, and General Nakar towns in the province of Quezon.
In the evening of August 22, 1995, a resident of Barangay Maragondon in Real, Quezon, whose passenger jeepney was loaded with Narra lumber, requested for a clearance pass. The two, however, denied the request because of lack of transport documents. The resident then rode on his jeepney again and drove through the barricade.
Onboard a motorcycle, Aranca and Malijao followed the jeepney for 4 to 5 kilometers. When they reached Barangay Paagahan in Mabitac, Laguna, the two overtook the jeepney, but unfortunately, the jeepney rammed the rear end of the motorcycle.
Aranca and Malijao fell on the ground, their bodies crossed on top of each other. The driver put the car in reverse and ran over the bodies of the two men.
The resident later surrendered to the police and was jailed for double murder.
Wilfredo Bayucot, The Forest Ranger
Bayucot, a forest ranger, was the team leader of the monitoring station of Bayugan, Agusan del Sur.
In the evening of March 23, 2003, during his duty, Bayucot flagged down an Isuzu Elf truck loaded with Gmelina lumber. When the car didn’t stop, Bayucot followed by riding on a motorcycle driven by a scaler named Marslou Bonita.
The driver of the truck then deliberately bumped Bayucot's motorcycle, causing him and the driver to fall off the motorcycle. Bayucot died 3 days later.
Isidro de la Peña, The Forester
De la Peña is a forester in DENR's Region XI office.
In 2003, de la Peña, along with a DENR staff member and a coast guard officer, apprehended the owners of 4 container vans at Davao City's Sasa Wharf that were already being readied to be loaded to a vessel. The van, carrying illegally cut lumber, did not have the necessary documents.
De la Peña was sued for robbery instead. With the case dismissed later on, he revealed to one of his team members that “someone called him up and threatened him”. He responded by saying “Gawin ninyo, wala naman akong kasalanan.” (Do it. I am innocent.)
Almost a year after the incident, on September 28, 2004, de la Peña was shot to death 3 times at the intersection of Balusong and McArthur Hi-way in Matina, Davao City. His team members then received anonymous death threats like, “You will be the next.”
Jaime Diez, The Tree Maker
Diez is a tree maker at DENR - CENRO in Bayugan, Agusan Del Sur.
During his stint, he was responsible for the confiscation of about 6,695 pieces of lumber and 951 pieces of mixed dipterocarp logs at the Ojot Monitoring Station in 2011, with an estimated value of over P2.4 million (approximately $51,600 in the current exchange rate).
Because of this, Diez received death threats until he was gunned down inside his bedroom, beside his wife, on February 22, 2012 – just 15 days after Melania Dirain was also killed. Meanwhile, the gunman was able to escape. His wife and friends, however, continued to receive death threats after the shooting incident.
Opportunities for families left behind
In June 2016, the Environmental Heroes Foundation Incorporated gave 5 of the slain employees the Environmental Heroes award. The families they left behind were given livelihood assistance worth P300,000 ($6,457).
EHFI is a non-profit organization established to promote the welfare of DENR officials who lost their lives or are permanently disabled while on duty, in the course of implementing environmental laws and policies.
In 2013, the orphaned children of the awardees were also offered scholarship program by the DENR.
During its 111th anniversary, the Civil Service Commission generated P300,000 ($6,457) from a fun run it organized. The proceeds from the event were donated to the families of the victims as well.
According to DENR, the awardees were killed during missions against suspected illegal loggers operating in so-called illegal logging “hotspots” identified by the agency. – Rappler.com
Sources: Civil Service Commission and Department of Environment and Natural Resources
$1 = P46.48
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