CAGAYAN de Oro City--“Counting the number of people killed in the line of duty under my watch as DENR chief is disturbing if not outright enraging.”
Thus the statement of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy A. Cimatu as he expressed outrage and sadness over the killing of Joash Peregrino last November 21.
Peregrino, a special investigator at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, was gunned down in his car parked in front of a store near the DENR office. He and his wife, also a DENR employee, stopped by the store on their way home.
Peregrino is the fourth DENR worker killed in the line of duty in a span of two months.
Other environmental workers who were also murdered include Forest Rangers Bienvenido Veguilla Jr.was hacked to death when he and his team came across illegal logging activities while patrolling in El Nido, Palawan last September 4.
A few days later or on September 11, Gaudencio Arana, a long-time DENR informant at CENRO Munoz in Nueva Ecija was killed by motorcycle-riding men.
Forest Ranger Ronaldo Corpuz, who was also assigned at CENRO Munoz, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside his house on October 25.
No let up
Despite this, however, Cimatu said there will be no let up in the DENR’s intensified drive against environmental offenders and in fulfilling its mandate to protect and preserve the country’s environment and natural resources.
“Though our intensified actions against violators of environmental laws are taking a toll on our people, we will not relent,” Cimatu said.
The DENR Secretary called on the police to bring Peregrino’s killers to justice even as he reiterated his appeal for Congress to pass a legislation creating an Enforcement Bureau within the DENR.
“Again, I urge Congress to support us in our call for the creation of an Enforcement Bureau that will give the DENR stronger enforcement powers,” he said.
According to DENR CARAGA Regional Executive Director Felix Alicer, Peregrino just received his regular appointment as special land investigator.
Peregrino was handling numerous land conflict cases at DENR Bislig, Alicer said.
"The killing of our colleague, Special Investigator Peregrino, may also have something to do with the strengthened efforts of our personnel at the field offices led by our CENR officers, on anti-timber poaching and smuggling," Alicer said.
CENRO Bislig has been active in the apprehension and retrieval of abandoned and illegally-cut trees inside government timber lands.
Senator Leila M. de Lima has strongly condemned the killing of Peregrino.
De Lima maintained that the increasing number of unresolved deaths in the country involving environmental workers should be regarded as a serious concern that should prompt the government to stop promoting the culture of violence in the country.
The lady Senator from Bicol pointed out that the killing of Peregrino and other environmental workers under the present administration warrants a serious investigation by the authorities to ensure that justice will be served to the victims.
"The government is duty-bound to finally put an end to the bloodbath in country, which victimizes, among others, environmental defenders who devoted their lives in protecting Mother Nature," she said.
In its report this year, the international group Global Witness ranked the Philippines as the deadliest country for land and environmental defenders in 2018.
The said report prompted De Lima to press UN experts to probe the unprecedented killings of land and environmental activists in the Philippines last August.
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