The workmates, friends, and family of forest ranger Bienvinido “Toto” Veguilla, Jr. laid him to rest Saturday amidst heavy rains in Barangay Bagong Bayan, El Nido, 10 days after he was hacked to death by an illegal logger.
His wife Eloisa, their six children, his workmates at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and his friends paid their last respects to the fallen forest ranger whom they claimed dedicated his life in protecting the environment in the popular tourist town.
Eloisa, teacher-in-charge of Bagong Bayan Elementary School (BBES), Veguilla’s grieving widow, chose not to deliver her speech during the funeral service. Instead, she passed it to their son John Patrick.
John Patrick recalled that when they were young, his father cut up their slingshots (tirador) to small pieces.
Almost every kid in their community had the Y-shaped toy stick because it was used to shoot birds and other animals with small stones, he said.
But to Veguilla, it was not an ideal toy for John Patrick and his siblings to play with as it hurts the birds and could kill them.
“Sa amin nga talagang nilalapat niya ang pagiging environmental enforcer niya. Kasi noong maliliit kami, nauso ‘yong tirador. Naabutan niya kaming magkakapatid na naninirador. Nagalit siya sa amin, sabi niya, ‘ako nga ang nanghuhuli ng mga ganyan tapos kayo naninirador’. Tinadtad niya ng itak ang aming mga tirador. Wala naman kaming magawa. Unti-unti, natutunan namin na alagaan ‘yong environment,” said John Patrick.
John Patrick said this memory with his father on protecting the wildlife will stay with him until he gets old.
John Patrick said he and his siblings were aware of the threats in Veguilla’s life and they accept what happened to him knowing he stayed faithful to his duty despite its risks and died as a hero for the environment.
“Talagang napaka-delikado ng trabaho. Alam ko marami ang nagbabanta sa buhay niya. Nagtratrabaho siya as environmental enforcer, nakita ko ‘yong dedikasyon niya. Minsan doon na sila sa opisina natutulog. Minsan naman nakikita ko na lang na may nahuli na sila,” John Patrick said.
Caroly Esmenda, assistant park superintendent of El Nido-Taytay Management Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA), said Veguilla’s death is a huge loss to their team.
She said Veguilla was one of the most effective team leaders whom she trusted during environmental protection operations.
“Nakakalungkot. Isa itong malaking kawalan sa amin. Bilang isa sa mga matatagal na sa DENR sa El Nido, napakataas ng reliance ko sa kanya sa pagdadala ng tao at sa pangunguna ng mga operations. Sabi nga ng mga nakasama na ni Kuya To, maingat si Kuya To sa operasyon. May mga incidents na alanganin, tumatawag sila sa amin at sasabihin, ‘may nahuli kami’. Tumatawag naman kami kaagad sa mga law enforcers natin, sa Marines,” said Esmenda.
Esmenda said what happened to Veguilla will not hinder their team from continuously doing its duty to protect the environment. If they do, it would be like setting aside the forest ranger’s legacy.
Veguilla was buried at the Bagong Silang Cemetery.
Veguilla was reportedly hacked to death September 4 while conducting a monitoring patrol in Sitio Kinawagan, Barangay Pasadeña, El Nido town.
These killers bore grudges at Arzaga when he earlier apprehended their illegally cut lumber.
In the same month in 2017, barangay captain Ruben Arzaga was shot to death by two assailants in Sitio Batbat.