Bienvinido "Toto" Veguilla Jr. (center in photo) was the enforcement team leader for ENTMRPA and was among the first batch of graduates of the USAID-funded Protect Wildlife Forest and Wildlife Law Enforcement Training in Palawan sometime ago. In photo with him were former PENRO Felizardo Cayatoc and USAID mission director Lawrence Hardy II. (Photo courtesy of USAID Protect Wildlife FB page)

The provincial government will donate 150 shotguns for the use of forest rangers in Palawan to provide them protection while monitoring and patrolling ecologically important areas.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado said the donation agreement was signed by the provincial government on July 5 this year.

Adornado told Palawan News in a phone interview that environment secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered them to speed up the processing of the guidelines for their acquisition.

“Inatasan kami kahapon na pabilisin ‘yong pag-proseso ng guidelines para sa acquisition noong shotguns to be distributed to forest rangers in Palawan. Pag-donate ‘yan ng 150 shotguns to DENR and ang intention is for protection of forest rangers,” he said.

READ RELATED STORY:DENR forest ranger killed in El Nido by illegal loggers

Adornado said they were also instructed by Cimatu to follow-up on the speedy filing of the cases against the suspects in the slaying of Bienvinido “Toto” Veguilla, Jr. on September 4 at Sitio Kaliwagan, Barangay Pasadeña in El Nido town.

“Pinapabilis din ‘yong filing of cases dito sa dalawang culprits kahapon, September 5, ‘yong murder case. Ini-expect namin mahuhuli din ‘yong apat. They’re still working para ma-capture itong apat,” he said.

Aside from murder, he said violation of the Chainsaw Act, Presidential Decree 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines, attempted murder, and murder have already been filed against the two suspects.

Second suspect arrested

Already sued in court were Felman “Broy” Flores, and fisherman-farmer Ricardo “Carding” Fulgencio, who was the second suspect to be arrested on September 5.

A police progress report sent to Palawan News on Friday by P/Col. Socrates Faltado of the Police Regional Office (PRO) in MIMAROPA said he was arrested hours after Flores was taken in by the police searching for them and four others in a manhunt operation.

The report did not say where and how Fulgencio was arrested by the manhunt operation launched by the El Nido police since Veguilla’s slaying in Pasadeña.

In the update, the police also said it has confiscated during a search in Flores’ home a bolo measuring around 25 inches.

However, the information did not say if it was the same bolo that was used in the hacking of the victim.

READ RELATED STORY: Suspect arrested in killing of DENR forest ranger in El Nido

Previously, Flores was identified as the suspect who hacked Veguilla.

Veguilla, who reportedly had his gun with him, was able to fire a shot and wounded Flores before he was overpowered.

Funeral ceremony

Adornado said Veguilla’s funeral ceremony will be held on September 14 in Brgy. Bagong Bayan.

“Saturday ng nine o’clock siya ililibing. Nakausap ko na rin ang pamilya niya noong pumunta ako. In fact, noong dumating kami, birthday pala ng anak. Nalulungkot nga sila na nangyari iyon. Hindi naman inakala na ganito ang mangyayari,” he said.

DENR Undersecretary Atty. Juan Miguel Cuna and some PENROs and CENROs, he said, will travel to El Nido to express their sympathy to the Veguilla family and as representatives of Cimatu who will not be able to attend due to a prior commitment.

“Hindi makakapunta si Sec. Cimatu, but he will send siguro mga apat na officials from the central office to be joined by some PENROs and CENROs and officials of the regional office,” Adornado said.

Premonition before death

Adornado said he personally spoke to Veguilla’s wife who narrated that before her husband was killed, he seemed to have foreshadowed his death.

There were a lot of moments when he would just sit in a corner and be quiet, not talking to anyone.

“Prior sa mga pangyayari, parang may mga signs na… kasi dati ano daw siya, makuwento, pero sabi ng asawa lately parang nasa isang tabi lang lagi, tahimik at hindi kumikibo. Even ‘yong aming mga officemate, nagpatawag ng meeting si CENRO (Allan) Valle, at dumating naman daw siya. Pero hindi katulad noong usual scenario na masayahin… dati masigla, masaya, makuwento,” he said.

Adornado said during this meeting with Valle, Veguilla was noticeably “very quiet”. However, everyone dismissed this, thinking he only had a personal problem.

Adornado added that their central office has started a donation drive for Veguilla’s family in all regional offices. The amount that will be collected will be given to them.

He added that they have initially handed an amount to his wife to help in his burial.

Adornado said he has also offered Veguilla’s son, a criminology graduate, to work with DENR.

“We have appealed to our regional offices, of course, sa central office and then kami rin for donation. Pero nakapagbigay na rin kami initially noong unang visit namin doon mismo sa asawa niya binigay. May anak siyang criminology graduate ata, inalok ko ng trabaho sa DENR kasi puwede ko i-appoint, pero ang gusto naman ay mag-police dahil criminology nga ang course,” he said.

Veguilla left behind six children.

Calls mount for swift justice for Veguilla

Meanwhile, calls for swift justice for Veguilla have mounted in Palawan and in the country.

On September 6, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Protect Wildlife posted a photo of Veguilla with former provincial environment and natural resources officer, now Puerto Princesa City community ENRO chief Felizardo Cayatoc, and USAID mission director Lawrence Hardy II, to join calls for the speedy arrest of the suspects and for cases to be filed against them.

“We join El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA) and our partners in Palawan in calling for swift justice for Bienvenido ‘Toto’ Veguilla Jr.,” the post said.

The USAID Protect Wildlife social media account said Veguilla was among the first batch of graduates of its Forest Wildlife Law Enforcement Training in the province.

His legacy will fuel our mission to continue improving environmental law enforcement in the country and to call for stronger measures to protect our environmental defenders.

Project Biyahero, a non-profit organization that inspires travel stories through meaningful connections with people and places in the Philippines, also called for justice for Veguilla on their FB page on September 5.

“Lubos kaming nakikiramay sa pamilya at mga kasamahan nang napaslang na DENR forest ranger Toto Veguilla. Totoong pagmamalasakit ang ipinamalas niya sa pagtugon ng kanyang sinumpaang tungkulin sa bayan,” it said, calling Veguilla a “hero of the environment”. (with a report from Jayra Joyce Taboada)

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.