Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Sec. Roy A. Cimatu has vowed to do everything in his power to protect workers of their agency against “fearless, cunning and greedy” individuals who destroy the country’s natural resources for their own selfish interests.
In a statement his office sent to Palawan News, Cimatu promised to protect them as he condemned “in the strongest sense of the word” the brutal killing of DENR forest ranger Bienvenido “TotoVeguilla Jr. by suspected illegal loggers in Barangay Pasadeña, El Nido on September 4.
“I will never allow another crime such as the killing of Mr. Veguilla to happen to any of my people,” Cimatu said.
“This incident shows how greed and disregard for our laws can have appalling consequences on people and our society,” he added.
Reports reaching the DENR central office in Quezon City showed that Veguilla—together with fellow forest ranger Jenuel Casel, forest extension officer Herson Caliao, and park rangers Marvin Flamiano, Godensio Caber and Norlito Jongay—were conducting a forest patrol in the afternoon of September in an area covered by the National Greening Program (NGP) when they heard the sound of a chainsaw as they passed through Sitio Kaliwagan, Pasadeña.
Veguilla’s group followed the sound until they saw some men slicing a felled tree with a chainsaw. These men suddenly ran away upon seeing the DENR team, leaving behind the chainsaw which the group secured, the statement said.
On their way home, about a hundred meters away from the site, the DENR forest officers were chased by a group of six men armed with a bolo.
Veguilla was able to fire his service weapon as he and his companions were running for safety, the statement claimed.
However, Veguilla was cornered and hacked to death, while the others were able to seek help from the nearby barangay and police officers.
Veguilla sustained deep, multiple stab wounds on the head, arms and other parts of the body.
One of the suspects identified as Felman “Broy” Flores was wounded by Veguilla’s bullets and was brought to the hospital.
Flores, Ricardo “Carding” Fulgencio, and Ruel Fulgencio are now under police custody. A manhunt operation is ongoing for the remaining three suspects.
Cimatu said the incident calls for the enactment of a law creating an Enforcement Bureau within the DENR.
“We believe that the creation of an Enforcement Bureau under the DENR can effectively stop illegal logging, smuggling of wildlife species and other environmental crimes,” Cimatu said in the statement.
The DENR chief also appealed to House members present during the budget hearing on Friday, September 6, to help the DENR have the Enforcement Bureau in the soonest time possible.
Also last week, DENR MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado, on behalf of Cimatu, visited Veguilla’s wake to extend condolences and financial assistance to the family.
Two units of chainsaw, Veguilla’s service firearm and the bolo allegedly used to kill him have been recovered from the crime scene and are now in police custody.
Around 100 board feet of illegally cut lumber was also confiscated from Pasadeña, where the suspected illegal loggers have been cutting down trees.
Charges for murder have been filed at the Puerto Princesa City Prosecutor’s Office under Docket NPS No. 1V0s INQ 19I0224. Other charges in violation of Presidential Decree 705 or the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines and Republic Act 9175 or the Chainsaw Act of 2002 that regulates the use of chainsaw are being prepared.
Veguilla’s remains lie in state at his home in Barangay Bagong Bayan. He is survived by his wife Eloisa, an elementary school teacher, and their six children.
The 52-year-old Veguilla served as reserved warden at the DENR MIMAROPA from 1980 to 1997. He then worked as contractual protected area ranger and forest ranger from 1998 to September 2015.
In October 2015, he was appointed as a forest ranger in the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area.
Veguilla was described by his family and colleagues as hardworking and dedicated. He diligently reported for work and helped out even during weekends and holidays.