MANILA — Two forest rangers of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation in Rizal were wounded after being shot on Saturday evening during their rounds, with a conservationist saying that the attack is related to the government’s closure orders against illegal establishments in the protected areas they are managing there.
Masungi managing trustee Billie Dumaliang condemned the incident as one forest ranger was hit in the head and the other in his neck, around 9 p.m. on Saturday. The two, who are assigned at Bayog ranger station, were sent to a hospital for first aid, and are not in critical condition.
As of this story’s posting, she told ABS-CBN News that bullets are still inside the victims’ bodies.
Dumaliang suspected that the attack came from violators after the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) recommended the filing of charges against several local officials and establishments in Baras, Rizal over the supposed encroachment at the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape, a portion of which they are taking care of.
“We have been receiving death threats, intimidation, and harassment on the ground from disgruntled violators,” the conservationist said in an interview.
"They need to give us proper security support and presence… We have been reporting all these threats to them,” she added.
DENR checking incident
On Sunday, DENR Calabarzon Director Nilo Tamoria, said in a separate interview with ABS-CBN News that he was “saddened” to hear about the violence committed against the park rangers.
Tamoria said he tasked Rizal’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) to send people and “check on the background of the incident” and get initial information.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has been informed about it, he added.
The regional environment head said he recently signed 43 cease and desist orders against establishments encroaching the Marikina Watershed.
“Kukunin natin yung pinanggalingan ng pangyayari… Apparently, 1 of those 43 ay yung pinagsusupsetsahan ng Masungi Georeserve… Pero, siyempre, hopefully na-blotter natin yung nangyari kagabi. Pinapuntahan ko na rin sa PNP para makakuha ng blotter report,” Tamoria said.
(We will get the background of the incident. Apparently one of those 43 establishments that received cease and desist orders is being blamed by Masungi. But we hope that the foundation already filed a police blotter. We also sent a representative to the PNP to get the report.)
The DENR regional office sought support from the Philippine Army and the Special Action Force unit of the Philippine National Police, he said, but it is important that Masungi’s park rangers would be deputized by the agency for “authority.”
“In terms of protection, na-coordinate na natin yan sa iba’t ibang law enforcement agencies… In terms of equipment, firearms, di naman kami allowed,” he noted.
(We already coordinated with different law enforcement agencies because we are not allowed to carry guns.)
“‘Yung park rangers nila, I already told them na kailangan namin ma-deputize yon. We necessarily… train kasi because they are acting outside of, unang-una hindi sila forest ranger ng DENR. They are part of the foundation who has a MOA (memorandum of agreement) with the DENR,” said Tamoria.
(We already asked their park rangers to be deputized by us because we train them. They are not our forest rangers. They are part of the foundation that has a memorandum of agreement with the DENR.)
“In that situation, kailangan ma-deputize sila para ang authority ay hawak-hawak nila. Even yung government law enforcement agencies, AFP, PNP, dine-deputize namin yan.”
(They need to be deputized to get the authority. We also deputize law enforcement authorities.)
Dumaliang said they have yet to receive updates from Tamoria’s office.
ABS-CBN News also reached out to Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya and Cimatu, as members of the country’s Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force, for comments on the development. Both have yet to respond as of this story’s posting.
This is not the first time that Masungi’s forest rangers experienced these attacks, according to the foundation.
On May 30, the nature reserve said that armed men from GSB resort, which was later on ordered closed down due to environmental law violations, threatened some park rangers with their guns.
GSB denied the allegations.
On Nov. 15 last year, Masungi reported that a guard of a private firm threatened its other managing trustee Ann Dumaliang. The firm put up tall fences in a portion of the nature reserve, blocking the foundation from accessing hundreds of hectares of land.
Masungi has up to a hundred local park rangers, many of whom were former illegal loggers before they got the chance to help in protecting the areas.
The Philippines remain as one of the deadliest countries for environment defenders. Forty-six people were killed in 2019 alone because of environment-related issues, most of which are government workers, latest available data showed.