Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu is looking forward to the swift resolution of the case involving the illegal arrest and police brutality suffered by a team of environmental enforcers at the hands of Puerto Princesa City Police Director Col. Marion Balonglong.
Balonglong reportedly caused the unlawful arrest and detention of eight employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and two others while they were doing field work at Barangay Iwahig in Puerto Princesa City last June 10.
Cimatu expressed outrage at what he called an isolated case, believing it would not affect the “cordial relationship and collaborative partnership” between the DENR and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in enforcing environmental laws.
“As much as I’m furious at what happened to my men, I hope this incident won’t affect the cordial relationship and collaborative partnership the DENR has with the PNP in the fight against environmental crime,” Cimatu said.
The DENR chief said he already brought the matter to Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año, who has supervisory authority over the PNP.
According to reports reaching the DENR Central Office in Quezon City, the DENR workers—together with a representative from the city government’s Bantay Bakawan and a barangay watchman—were conducting an investigation on the illegal occupation and massive mangrove cutting at Sitio Bucana when they were intercepted by Balonglong and his men.
The DENR employees, who are assigned at the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Puerto Princesa City, consisted of three foresters, four forest rangers and one forest protection officer.
At first, the DENR team thought Balonglong’s group was the police security they requested to assist them in their operation until they were suddenly subjected to full body search and told to lie down on the ground.
Balonglong even repeatedly kicked and punched at gunpoint one of the forest rangers, Roldan Alvarez, whom he accused of stealing galvanized iron sheets.
After the body search, all 10 of them were ordered to board a police service vehicle which brought them to a vacant lot supposedly owned by Balonglong. There, the police chief made Alvarez to kneel while he and his companions were being interrogated on their purpose of going to the mangrove site.
They were later brought to the police station in Barangay San Pedro where CENR Officer Felizardo Cayatoc, who approved of the DENR operation, pleaded for their release.
Balonglong ordered their release following a long dialogue and after Cayatoc agreed to sign a document stating that the DENR personnel were in good mental and physical condition when they were turned over to him.
Members of the DENR team were harassed, arrested and detained by Balonglong and his men in the absence of a warrant and without citing any violation. Alvarez sustained wounds and bruises due to Balonglong’s beating.
Upon learning about the incident, Cimatu could not hide his outrage. “It is totally unacceptable that these environmental enforcers who continue to perform their duties despite the COVID-19 pandemic have to suffer violence at the hands of the police, who should be assisting them in their operations,” he said.
The former Armed Forces chief said the DENR will assist its employees in pursuing legal action against Balonglong and his men. #