Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje condemned the killing of Community Environment and Natural Resource Officer (CENRO) Pierre Gillo of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) last Friday (Feb. 25) by unidentified gunmen at his residence in Tacloban City.

“If this killing turns out to be related to the government’s effort against illegal logging, then it would be a validation of our fear that the brazen response of illegal loggers have become increasingly brutal and are spreading across regions,” Paje said.

In 2010, three forestry officers were killed in the province of Apayao and in the Caraga region involving a DENR tree marker, forest rangers and a DENR-deputized officer manning DENR checkpoints.

Last July, forest ranger Kennedy Eber Bayani was shot dead in Luna, Apayao. Then DENR tree marker and forest ranger, Rolando Sanchez and Rolando Sinaday, respectively, were gunned down in separate incidents in Surigao del Sur in December last year.

Earlier this year, DENR forest ranger Jacinto P. Dragas, 55, became the fourth casualty in six months after the DENR embarked on a sustained offensive against illegal logging in the Caraga Region in August last year, prompting Paje to describe the Caraga region as a potential “killing field for forest protection workers.”

“It compels this administration to lead the way in repelling this affront on our environmental law enforcers, which is why the creation of an anti-illegal logging task force is one of the salient aspects of Executive Order 23,” Paje said, baring that his agency has been closely working with other national agencies, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to speed up the activation of regional anti-illegal logging task forces.

EO 23, which was issued by President Benigno S. Aquino III early this month, declared a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests in the country.

It likewise provided for the creation of anti-illegal logging task force to be composed of the secretaries of the DENR, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, the chief of the Philippine National Police, and the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.