Threatened species, habitats and forest rangers
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
It has long been considered that working for environmental protection and natural resources conservation is no easy task. Aside from difficulties in dealing with complicated issues, particularly on resource extraction and uses, it is also a high risk job, especially if it involves actions against violations of existing rules and regulations on environment and natural resources. People who are implementing protection measures are susceptible to harassment, legal cases and worst, they are being killed. This is particularly true in instances when suspected offenders are government officials, influential and moneyed personalities, and even multinational corporations. In some cases in the past, men in uniform were singled out as suspects in killings of environmental activists and advocates.
The recent incident involving personnel of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island showed another example of danger associated with forest protection. Mat Sarcino, a utility person in MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Barangay Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana in Negros Occidental province, was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons on the night of 29 October at the very place where he was rendering his services. Attempt to save Mat in Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital in Bacolod City failed because of the fatal bullet wound he sustained on his forehead. He died on 2 November, leaving his family and co-workers in MKNP in anguish, as they have only good words to say about Mat while seeking justice to the untimely demise of such dedicated person.
MKNP Protected Area Superintendent Cecil Cañada said the incident was meant to intimidate him and his colleagues in pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Prior to the shooting, MKNP personnel had been intensifying forest protection campaign in the so called hotspot areas of illegal activities, particularly in Brgy. Codcod, San Carlos City, and Brgys. Sag-ang, Mansalanao, Cabagna-an, Biak-na-Bato and Masulog in La Castellana. As a result, volumes of illegally-sourced forest products were apprehended, including a truckload of charcoal allegedly owned by a man in uniform.
After the shooting incident, MKNP personnel received information that what happened to Mat was only the beginning, because forest rangers responsible in apprehending illegally-sourced forest products and other Mount Kanla-on personnel are the next targets of hired goons operating in the area. This situation is very alarming, and it is only necessary that concerned government authorities should immediately respond, otherwise, all forest protection efforts in the province are jeopardized if the suspected killers of Mat remain free.
Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer Andre Untal claimed that the case of Mat was the second fatal shooting incident related to forest protection in Negros Occidental this year. Untal, who is also the newly designated Protected Area Superintend of the Northern Negros Natural Park, said that last July 2012, Oscar Magbanua, an employee of Victorias City assigned as forest ranger was also shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The incident occurred after the joint operatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Philippine National Police apprehended and jailed violators of forest regulations. The case remains unsolved to date.
The two mentioned cases are worrying to all those who are directly involved in forest protection. If these incidents will not be acted by concerned government authorities, violators would just be around to commit more forest destruction, and forest rangers will have second thoughts in responding as they might be in danger. It is therefore necessary that the DENR should coordinate with investigating and other law enforcement agencies in ensuring that the suspected killers of Mat and Oscar are prosecuted. Forest rangers can only do much, especially so they belong to less compensated government employees and are not even provided with hazard pays. It is high time that proper measures shall be provided for the safety and welfare of forest rangers.
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