An environmental group on Friday condemned the killing of a forest ranger who was hacked to death after he caught suspected illegal loggers cutting trees in a protected area in the Philippines.
Bienvenido Veguilla Jr, 44, was attacked with a machete on Wednesday in the remote town of El Nido, in western Palawan province, after he and four colleagues stopped a group of men who were chopping off trees with a chain saw, according to Brig. Gen. Tomas Apolinario, chief of the Philippine National Police Region 4-B Command.
“We condemn [Veguilla’s] horrific murder by illegal loggers,” the Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment, a nongovernmental organization, said in a statement. “Kalikasan” is the Filipino term for nature.
“There should be greater state support for our forest rangers and voluntary para-enforcers,” the group said as it urged authorities to probe illegal logging and wildlife poaching in Palawan and other key habitat areas.
Veguilla and four other forest rangers were on patrol after receiving information about illegal logging activities in a protected area in a village of El Nido, Apolinario told reporters.
The forest rangers saw a group of men illegally cutting trees, but the suspects fled and came back armed with a shotgun and machetes. In the ensuing commotion, Veguilla was cornered and killed by the suspects, police said.
“Yes, he was hacked and died,” Apolinario said, referring to Veguilla. He said a suspect had been arrested.
Cutting off trees in the area where the killing took place “is strictly prohibited,” Apolinario said.
Last month, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, an intergovernmental regional center that promotes a healthy ecosystem, reported that the Philippines was losing 50 billion pesos (U.S. $1 billion) yearly to poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
As a result of the ranger’s killing, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) appealed to lawmakers to craft a law that would allow the agency’s enforcement personnel, particularly those who face threats from environmental criminals on a daily basis, to be armed with guns.
“It really hurts us to hear that something like this has happened again,” Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda told reporters. “We are calling on our legislators and concerned government agencies to consider arming our frontline DENR officers.”
In its annual report released last July, the Global Witness, a London-based human rights advocacy group, described the Philippines as the world’s deadliest country for land and environmental defenders, with 30 recorded deaths last year.
GW cited an incident in October 2018 when unidentified gunmen shot and killed nine sugarcane farmers, including women and teens, who were at the center of a longstanding land dispute on the central Philippine island of Negros. The following month, hitmen also killed lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who represented the victims’ families.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City contributed to this report.