The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now looking at arming its more than 2,000 forest-protection officers nationwide.
Sources told the BusinessMirror that the idea was brought up by no less than Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, following the death of one of the agency’s forest-protection officers in Palawan recently.
Director Nonito M. Tamayo of the DENR’s Forest Management Bureau, when sought for comment, confirmed the report.
“We are looking at arming our forest protectors after the death of one of our foresters in Palawan,” Tamayo told the BusinessMirror. He said the DENR will be discussing the matter in its next executive meeting led by Cimatu. “We will still have to talk about it.”
Tamayo added in case the DENR decides to arm the DENR’s forest-protection officers, they will be made to undergo training and psychological evaluation.
As to what kind of firearm or weapon, Tamayo said: “We still need to discuss it if we decide that they should be armed.” Tamayo added he is personally in favor of arming forest-protection officers for their own protection against lawless elements.
He added that proper permit-to-carry firearms will have to be observed. “There are some areas that would really require forest-protection officers arming themselves because of the nature of their job,” he said.
But Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment, said arming forest rangers will not solve the issue of environmental protection, as their number is still inadequate compared to the vast area they need to protect.
“What we need is more forest rangers; increase their salary and benefits. It is the task of the police to apprehend and arrest armed criminals or violators of environmental crimes. The courts should hasten the process of the prosecution of violators,” Bautista stressed.
He also warned that armed forest rangers could be used by corporations, big landlords and corrupt politicians as a cover for their private security and paramilitaries to protect their destructive activities, like logging and mining.
“Cimatu is a known proponent and implementer of Oplan Bantay Laya under [former President Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo. “This plan resulted in the increased number of paramilitaries and militarization of rural communities. This led to widespread human-rights violations, particularly in mining-affected areas,” he said.