Meet our 2022 environment heroes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines)— The Philippines is considered as the most dangerous place for environment defenders in Asia.

In 2020, international rights group Global Witness reported 29 forest rangers were killed in the country. A year before that, 43 forest rangers were slain in the line of duty.

For the Earth Day celebration this April 22, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recognized four environment defenders as heroes.

Gaudencio Araña, Forest Ranger & Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer

Gaudencio Araña provided DENR with key information about the illegal logging activities in Pantabangan and Rizal, Nueva Ecija. This led to the apprehension of illegally-sourced wood products.

The 56-year-old forest ranger was shot to death by two men in motorcycle on September 11, 2019, while walking home. The culprits were later found to be illegal loggers.

Ronaldo Corpuz, Forest Ranger, DENR CENRO MUNOZ

Ronaldo Corpuz helped seize illegal lumber through surveillance operations against timber poaching and illegal transport of forest products in Rizal, Nueva Ecija in October 2019.

Three days after the successful operation, the 43-year-old Corpuz was fatally shot. DENR said the suspects were illegal loggers who admitted their involvement in Corpuz’ death

Bienvenido Veguilla Jr., Forest Ranger

Bienvenido Veguilla Jr., 44, was killed by illegal loggers on September 14, 2019. He was leading a group of forest rangers from a tree planting site when they passed by an illegal logging operation in Bgy. New Ibajay, El Nido, Palawan.

Initially, they only found a chainsaw. But later, four men chased them with bolos and home-made shotgun. One of the loggers hacked Veguilla to death. His colleagues were able to escape.

Miliarete Panaligan, CENRO-Real, Quezon

Miliarete Panaligan received death threats while she was still alive. She served as a long-time environment officer in Real, Quezon. Her dedication to her role led DENR to building a total of 277 illegal logging cases from 2010 to 2016.

In 2017, she worked on up to eight apprehensions a month. She also included the Dumagat Tribe in the national greening programs in Quezon province. Panaligan died of a heart attack at the age of 58.

Prioritize environment measures

These four are among the many laudable environment defenders.

Everyday, many forest rangers are risking their lives to protect the environment from the abuse of smugglers and illegal loggers. More often than not, they are not able to defend themselves.

Reynato Puno, former chief justice and founder of Environment Heroes Foundation Inc., said the next administration and batch of lawmakers should prioritize the passage of a bill to allow DENR to have its own law enforcement unit.

He is referring to House Bill 6973, filed by Antique representative Loren Legarda. This seeks to create an Environment Protection and Enforcement Bureau under DENR. However, this was not passed into law by the 18th Congress.

“This bill should be given a fresh push when we have the elections later on, we have new congress, we have a new president. This is a priority bill that should be enacted into law if we want to give more protection to our environment, more protection to the people sacrificing their lives to protect our forest,” Puno said.

Puno added the next president should also focus on saving the environment. “We see how environment is being degraded and we see the tragic results of this especially in developing countries like Philippines— we have more violent typhoons,” he said.

Environment department spokesperson Jonas Leones said the passage of the bill will help forest rangers better protect themselves, noting that some violators could be part of a big organized group. This will also allow more apprehensions of environment criminals like smugglers of wildlife animals and illegal loggers.

“[B]ecause now, we are just relying on regular law enforcement natin, the PNP, ’di naman natin sila pwedeng kaladkarin pag may illegal logging activities. Kung meron kami sariling team, mas madali kami makapunta and we can have sophisticated equipment to protect ourselves and the environment,” Leones said.

[Translation: Because now, we are just relying on regular law enforcement, the PNP, we can’t always call on them if there are illegal logging activities. If we have our own team, it would be easier for us to respond and have sophisticated equipment to protect ourselves and the environment.]