LUCENA CITY — The murder of 55-year-old forester Dominador Lucas spurred a call by an environment official to arm forest guards who, like Lucas, risk their lives to prevent further denudation of the country’s mountains.
The call was made as a colleague of Lucas, who asked not to be identified for fear of his life, said Lucas had been “strict” in issuing permits to transport logs and other forest products during his tenure at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office in Rizal province.
Lucas was relieved of his duty in Rizal because of threats and moved to the DENR office in Cavite province to “cool off,” according to the colleague.
Eleazar Alaira, Rizal provincial environmental officer, said Lucas headed the DENR-Rizal Compliance Monitoring and Investigation Unit.
Alfredo Palencia, provincial environment and natural resources officer in Quezon province, said a “special operations group” of forest rangers should be revived in the regional, provincial and community levels.
The group was deactivated in 2015.
The group, Palencia said, was “composed of selected and well-trained personnel.” “They should be issued firearms,” he added.
On Friday, Lucas was gunned down after leaving his house in Antipolo to head to the DENR office in Tanay, Rizal.
Alaira said Lucas had been handling “so many” cases prior to his killing.
Chief Insp. Rolly Liegen, deputy police chief of Antipolo, said investigators have yet to determine a motive.
He said police talked with Lucas’ wife, who was not aware of any threat to her husband.
Liegen, citing witnesses, said the gunman wore a face mask under his helmet and rode a pink motorcycle being driven by another suspect.
In September last year, Ruben Arzaga, a village chief in Palawan province and member of an environmental monitoring board, was killed. The case prompted Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to suggest the arming of forest guards.
Palencia, however, said there were still no guidelines on arming forest rangers.
Last February, armed men believed to be goons of illegal loggers fired at a group of unarmed forest rangers during an operation in Infanta town, Quezon.
DENR forest guards and environmental activists had been raising alarm over continued cutting of trees in Sierra Madre by
They said logging syndicates had become bolder and now regularly employ armed goons.
Logging hot spot
The northern Quezon section of Sierra Madre is considered a hot spot for illegal logging.
Sierra Madre is home to the largest remaining tract of old-growth tropical rainforest in the Philippines.
During anti-illegal logging operations that normally last a week, forest guards are equipped only with cameras, global positioning system devices, binoculars and solar-powered lights for documentation.
No government troop accompanies forest guards during these operations to avoid clashes with communist rebels known to be operating in Sierra Madre.
In an annual report in July last year, London-based nongovernment organization, Global Witness, tagged the Philippines as the most dangerous country for environmental “defenders” in Asia in 2016 with 28 forest rangers or environmental activist dead.
Since 2002, Global Witness said a total of 144 environmental activists had been killed in the Philippines.
“Half of those killed were indigenous people,” the group said in its report.
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