Five forest workers who lost their lives in the line of duty were honored by the Environmental Heroes Foundation Inc. (EHFI) during a simple ceremony held at the central office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City on last week.

The five received posthumous honors from EHFI – a non-stock, non-profit organization managing an endowment fund for relatives of DENR heroes – for their contribution to the government’s fight against illegal logging.

EHFI board is headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Its members include former DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje, retired Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, GMA Network chair Felipe Gozon and former Civil Service Commission (CSC) chair Francisco Duque III.

The honorees are forester Isidro L. de la Peña; forest rangers Logendrin B. Aranca and Wilfredo A. Bayucot; and tree markers Bernabe M. Malijao and Jaime C. Diez.

All five honorees were killed during missions against suspected illegal loggers operating in so-called illegal logging “hotspots” identified by the DENR.

Aside from plaques of recognition, relatives of each honoree received livelihood assistance worth P300,000.

Puno extolled the awardees as “unsung heroes, who have lost their lives to protect our own lives to live.”

“This fight has long started. And it is raging in our forests, in our seas, in our valleys, in our mountains,” said the country’s former top magistrate.

“I hope this foundation (EHFI), known as foundation for environmental heroes, will continue to live our awareness, our consciousness, to the significance of this struggle to protect our environment,” he added.

“The struggle that we cannot lose, a fight we should win by all means, and all the way.”

The EHFI was conceptualized by Puno and Paje in 2012. That same year, then President Benigno Aquino III donated P5 million from the President’s Social Fund as seed money for the foundation.

The CSC also donated some P314,000 generated from a fun run it organized in 2011 during the 111th anniversary of the Philippine Civil Service.

Aranca, 55, and Malijao, 34, died on August 22, 1995 when their motorcycle was ran over by a jeepney they were chasing after its driver refused to stop at the DENR checkpoint along the Siniloan highway in Mabitac town in Laguna. The jeepney was loaded with undocumented narra timber. The driver fled but was later arrested for double murder.

Meanwhile, then 50-year-old Bayucot fell off a motorcycle that was fatally hit by an Isuzu Elf loaded with Gmelina lumber in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur. Bayucot was brought to the hospital and was in critical condition for three days before he died.

Dela Peña was gunned down by an unidentified assailant in Matina, Davao on September 28, 2004, less than a year after he led an arresting team that seized four container vans stocked with undocumented cut lumber. The vans contained an estimated volume of 60,000 to 70,000 board feet of lumber valued up to P1.4 million.

Diez, on the other hand, was shot to death inside his home in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur on February 23, 2012. The investigation revealed that his death had something to do with his role in the confiscation of close to 8,000 pieces equivalent to more than 260,000 board feet of lumber and flitches of mixed dipterocarp in 2011. The contraband had an estimated market value of P2.46 million. ###