The family of DENR forest ranger Bienvinido "Toto" Veguilla, Jr. has called on the police to give him justice by arresting the suspects in his killing. (Photos courtesy of PRO MIMAROPA)

(UPDATED) A forest ranger conducting monitoring patrol in El Nido town was reportedly hacked to death Wednesday afternoon by a group of unidentified illegal loggers whose chainsaw they confiscated.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado identified their employee who was “killed in the line of duty” as forest ranger Bienvinido “Toto” Veguilla, Jr. of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of El Nido.

Adornado, who will personally go to the town on Thursday to check on the investigation of the case, said Veguilla’s team was on regular monitoring patrol in the area of Sitio Kinawagan, Barangay Pasadeña when his group encountered the illegal loggers, accosted them, and confiscated their chainsaw.

“‘Yong mga tao namin galing sa pagmo-monitor kasi may mga instructions kami for them to validate. Noong pauwi na sila ng hapon, mga 5 p.m. daw, galing sa Pasadeña, along the way may nadaanan silang mga nag-cha-chainsaw, nagpo-power saw na mga timber poachers so hinuli nila. Nadala nila ‘yong power saw,” he told Palawan News in a phone interview also Wednesday.

Adornado said that on their way back, the group of illegal loggers ran after Veguilla’s team that fled away from the area.

However, the suspects were able to catch up with Veguilla and hacked him on the back and on the head.

“On their way back ay hinabol daw silang nitong grupo kaya nagtakbuhan sila. Hindi ko nakuha ‘yong bilang noong mga suspects, pero ‘yong tao namin kasama si Veguilla mga apat ata sila,” Adornado said.

An initial report filed by the El Nido police identified a certain Cardo Fulgencio as one of the six possible suspects.

Veguilla was not the first victim of the fight against illegal logging in El Nido. On September 14, 2017,  Villa Libertad barangay captain Ruben Arzaga was shot and killed at Sitio Batbat by two assailants who had a grudge with him for apprehending their illegally cut lumber.

Arzaga, who was honored with a “Medalya ng Bayani ng Kalikasan” by the DENR, was said to be the chair of the El Nido Law Enforcement Council (ELEC) and member of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area Management Board (ENTMRPAMB).

Adornado said Veguilla was one of their most hardworking personnel in El Nido when it comes to anti-illegal logging activities.

He said his office continuously receives reports about illegal logging being perpetrated in the forests of El Nido, especially because construction is everywhere in the town.

“I’ve already asked our personnel to coordinate closely with the police so a manhunt can be ordered to arrest the suspects,” he said.

Adornado is renewing their appeal for the government to pass a measure or a law that would arm DENR forest rangers whose lives are threatened by unscrupulous illegal loggers who are ready to kill.

He also appealed to police authorities in Palawan to double their efforts in arresting the suspects in the killing of Veguilla.

“Baka dapat armahan na itong ating mga kasamahan natin para may panlaban naman sila at nang matakot ang mga illegal loggers. Kailangang ipakita natin ang ngipin ng batas dito at nang mabigyan ng hustisya itong pangalawang biktima,” he said.

The El Nido police said in a spot report sent to Palawan News by P/Col. Socrates Faltado of the Police Regional Office (PRO) MIMAROPA that “hot pursuit operation” is now being conducted along with a follow-up investigation.

This is a developing story.