“No longer just pen and paper”


testfiring-2“No longer just pen and paper.” This was the sigh of relief of Arnil Junia, a forest protection officer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) attending a training on proper gun handling, operation, and firing by the Philippine National Police on November 8, 2017.

Forester Junia shared how demoralizing it is for a field officer to face armed violators without any tool but pen and paper. He added that their lives as forest officers are often in danger every time they apprehend illegal loggers, kaingineros, and wildlife poachers.

Another forest protection officer, Mark Anthony Gabuco, shared that, more often than not, they encounter violent resistance when they apprehend violators. Gabuco emphasized the need to improve their capacity to defend themselves so they can efficiently perform their job as law enforcer.

Junia and Gabuco, both from Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) Brooke’s Point, are among the 143 forest officers undergoing training on law enforcement and forest protection in Puerto Princesa on November 6-10, 2017. Apart from gun handling and test firing, the training also includes lectures on challenges to environmental protection, human rights, and arrest protocols, among others. The training was prompted by recent violent incidents against forest officers in the province.

Last August 23, Forester Joselito Eyala was wounded when he and his team were ambushed while patrolling the mountains of Puerto Princesa City. Then on September 14, an active member of El Nido Environmental Law Enforcement Council (ENELEC), Barangay Captain Ruben Arzaga, was shot dead by illegal loggers whom he and other members of the council were about to apprehend.

In his message to the trainees, Secretary Roy Cimatu stressed the need to equip “those who watch the forests in the enforcement of environmental laws especially in illegal logging hot spots.” This explains why, according to the Secretary, “empowering our field personnel has always been [his] top priority.”

Meanwhile, DENR MIMAROPA Regional Director Natividad Bernardino explains that the training, the first to be held nationwide, becomes even more relevant because the trainees are tasked to protect the country’s last ecological frontier.

Apart from the training, which will also be held in all provinces, DENR is working out modalities how its forest officers can be allowed to use firearms during operations, providing better monitoring equipment, and forging closer cooperation with the military, police, coast guards, and civil society in order to improve forest protection.