The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the MIMAROPA Region is optimistic in achieving a strengthened forest patrolling system, with its forest protection officers now more equipped and ready in performing their duty to defend nature against violators.
In a five-day learning event held at a hotel here and at the Joint Maritime Law Enforcement Training Center on December 3-7, 2019, close to 200 foresters, forest rangers and other enforcement and monitoring personnel in the region were trained to familiarize themselves on firearms, gun safety, self-defense, and engagement protocols to help them guard the forests efficiently and effectively without compromising their safety.
“We know the risk that confronts our personnel every time they go on patrol. It is our duty, then, to make sure they are protected and equipped, especially now that attacks against us have been rampant and brutal,” DENR MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado stated in a press statement sent Tuesday.
The director was referring to the series of incidents that claimed the lives of frontline forest protection officers, such as forest ranger Bienvenido “Toto” Veguilla, who was hacked to death in September this year, when he and his team of rangers confiscated an unlicensed chainsaw while on patrol in Barangay Pasadena, El Nido.
This was followed by the shooting of personnel from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Munoz, Nueva Ecija after they have seized Gemelina lumber during their surveillance operation.
It can be recalled that in August 2017, Forester Joselito Eyala was wounded when he and his team were ambushed, also during a patrol in the mountains of Puerto Princesa City. The following month, barangay captain Ruben Arzaga of Villa Libertad, in El Nido, was shot dead by illegal loggers whom he and his group were about to apprehend.
These incidents prompted action directly from the DENR Central Office, with Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu vowing to end the senseless killings and expressing urgency for the rangers to be able to fight back in self-defense.
“This is why we need training just as professional soldiers and policemen do. You must know not just how to load and fire a gun, but also how to hit and disable the target before you run out of bullets,” the DENR chief stated in a message read by Director Adornado during the training program’s opening ceremony on December 3.
“Enough is enough. We will not go down meekly and defenseless. We will not be intimidated,” Cimatu remarked.
Staunch partner in saving the country’s last ecological frontier
In support of this undertaking of the DENR, the Provincial Government of Palawan, through the leadership of Governor Jose Chavez Alvarez, committed to donating 150 units of firearms that shall be issued to forest protection officers in Palawan to aid them in their regular forest patrol and monitoring.
Governor Alvarez also pledged to provide assistance on the purchase of equipment and materials, legal matters, hospitalization; and security of DENR personnel by sending police and marine officers whenever they go up the mountains to do surveillance.
“Kasama ninyo kami sa pangangalaga at pagprotekta ng kalikasan sa Palawan. Ang hiling ko lang ay mag-ingat kayo at alagaan ninyo ang sarili ninyo,” the governor told the trainees.
Also present to signify their support in curbing violations against nature were Philippine National Police Provincial Director Dionisio Bartolome and Western Command Chief, Vice Admiral Rene Medina.
The training program included three days of lectures on self-defense techniques, operational and personal security, basic marksmanship, hand to hand combat, arresting techniques and protocols, avoiding/escaping the ambush, emergency response procedures, as well as basic first aid and life support. It also provided the trainees an opportunity to review environmental laws and related jurisprudence on environmental cases; and guidance in filing criminal complaints about violation of environmental laws.
After the lecture, the trainees proceeded to the Joint Maritime Law Enforcement Training Center at Sitio Magarwak, Brgy. Sta. Lourdes to perform practical shooting and other field exercises, such as tactical patrol maneuvering.
“Our participants are very passionate and enthusiastic,” assistant regional director Vicente Tuddao, Jr., who was also present to join the training, observed. “I can see that our personnel are now bolder, smarter and more confident in defending the environment and natural resources,” he concluded.