Efforts to reverse the despoliation of our environment is not a harmless job for our environmental workers. At times, lives are sacrificed.
Elpidio “Jojo” Malinao, 49 years old and a forest guard of Makiling Centre for Mountain Ecosystems of the College of Forestry & Natural Resources University of the Philippines Los Banos was fatally shot by a lone gunman at Bay, Laguna last May 9, Monday at 2:15 p.m. He just came from a court hearing in the municipal court of Bay, Laguna where he was a primary witness and apprehending officer of forest law offenders within the Makiling Forest Reserve. As he entered a store along the national highway in Bay, an assailant followed Jojo and shot him to death in the head with a 45-caliber gun. It was a swift, merciless and needless death of a man who’s guilty of nothing but the strong passion for his job to protect the Makiling Forest Reserve at all costs. And even after his death, his family members are being threatened.
For over 20 years, Jojo dedicated the best years of his life as a forest officer tasked to defend the integrity of the Makiling Forests. Despite many good reasons to be disheartened and half-hearted in the discharge of his duties, Jojo displayed exceptional courage and remarkable integrity in enforcing forest laws and regulations governing the management and protection of the forests. His wife, Tina, would sometimes not understand Jojo’s commitment to his duty. His family had always been distressed over his job but he would remind them, “kung ano man ang aking maging kapalaran ay tanggapin nyo ng maluwalhati dahil ako ang nasa katuwiran”. In the process he made lots of enemies because of his unflinching resolve to arrest any and all perpetrators of illegal activities within the forest reserve.
Jojo’s colleagues in the UPLB College of Forestry attest that Jojo constantly received threats to harm him yet he did not waver in his commitment to give nothing but his very best in his job, which he embraced with unquestionable and undeterred dedication. As a result, he is responsible for apprehending the most number of forest law offenders in Makiling Forests which is one reason why the forests remain lush and green to this day. Because of Jojo’s valiant efforts to uphold our forest laws, the sustainability of goods and ecosystem services that surrounding communities derive from Makiling has been secured for many years.
Jojo’s death is now a tragic addition to the lengthening list of murdered warriors for the environment.
On April 12, 2006, Elpidio “Jojo” de la Victoria, the Bantay Dagat chief of Cebu City and a dedicated fish warden, was shot dead just outside his own house in Talisay City.
His death was believed to be connected to his zealous work to protect the Visayan Marine Triangle that includes the Bantayan fishing grounds, from over-fishing and illegal fishing.
In the midst of these challenges, we may ask ourselves, “What are we doing about this?”
On November 15, 2010, Leonard Co, renowned botanist in the country, along with forester Sofronio Cortez and farmer Julius Borromeo were killed while conducting a biodiversity research in the Manawan-Kananga Watershed in Leyte. Dr. Co’s group was allegedly mistaken for an NPA unit by the 19th Infantry Batallion.
I have partnered with several environmental workers, most often with the foresters of UP Los Banos. I have been witness to their dedication and intensity of purpose, the burning passion to do something bold and concrete for the environment. I have seen how they have designed, implemented and created their own successful environmental programs.
The persisting evergreen stature of the Makiling Forests is a testament to the heroism of Jojo. His sacrifice will certainly enrich the legends of Mt. Makiling.
I filed a Senate resolution to honor Jojo’s life and his contribution in protecting the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve and to condemn his violent death. Let us express our deep sympathies to the family of Jojo and support them in their quest to achieve justice for their loved one.
An ordinary forest protection officer living with a measly salary yet with unparalleled dedication for his work, may Jojo’s passing not be in vain. His death revealed the adversities that our forest guards face to protect the country’s natural resources. These unsung heroes should therefore be respected, recognized and rewarded for the supreme sacrifice of placing their lives on the line for their routine act for the environment.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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“A Tear and Justice for a Fallen Hero of the Forests”