Caraga killing field for forest workers

FOREST Ranger Jacinto Dragas was shot dead while eating dinner at his residence in Brgy. Tabon, Bislig City by three unidentified gunmen using .45 caliber pistol last Thursday.

Dragas, 55, was the fourth forest worker killed after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) launched a renewed offensive against illegal logging in the Caraga Region beginning August last year.

The victim was rushed to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. He sustained three bullet wounds on the chest and one on his left arm.

“Caraga is becoming a killing field for environment workers. No less than President (Benigno) Aquino himself is taking this issue head on,” DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said.

Paje said that based on the reports from the regional office of the DENR, Dragas apprehended a six-wheeler truck loaded with 305 pieces of suspected illegally-cut Lauan and Toog timber two days before the incident.

The truck and its cargo were subsequently impounded at the DENR compound in Bislig City pending confiscation procedures which requires securing a court order for proper seizure of the contraband and the vehicle as required under Presidential Decree 705, as amended, also known as “Revised Philippine Forestry Code.”

Dragas was manning a checkpoint in Barangay Tabon as part of the drive’s operation to intercept “hot” logs transported by land to Davao City.

Paje said the Chief Executive has already ordered all concerned national agencies to beef up DENR’s anti-illegal logging campaign in the region “and make sure proper criminal charges are filed against the perpetrators.”

“This government is taking concrete steps to combat this another violent face of illegal logging aimed at defenseless DENR forest workers and volunteers in the region,” said Paje, citing as an example the recent move of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo to investigate a local official allegedly engaged in illegal logging for threatening a DENR-led task force against illegal logging.

Paje bared that illegal loggers have been reportedly hiring armed groups to regain lost grounds in the province.

Only last December 6, a DENR worker, also involved in the same operation against illegal logging activities in Caraga was killed under similar circumstances.

Rolando Sinday was also shot dead by unidentified men while he was on his way home from work in Lianga, some 40 kilometers from Bislig.

On October 29, Nelson Luna, a deputized environment and natural resources officer was killed at a DENR checkpoint in Bislig, Surigao del Sur. He died on the spot.

On August 21 last year, Lianga Police officer Christopher Mazo was killed by sniper bullets and four other DENR personnel were injured during an operation.  D’Jay  Lazaro

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