Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje wants to ensure they have a watertight case against three DENR workers in Baguio City who were recently caught in an entrapment operation by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Cordillera.

In a memorandum to Regional Executive Director Clarence Baguilat of the DENR-Cordillera Administrative Region, Paje instructed Baguilat to “spare no opportunities” in working with the NBI authorities in order to strengthen the case against forester Victorino Bilayan, chief of Forest Protection Unit at CENRO-Baguio City and his two forest rangers, namely Mark Chaloping and Antonio Abellera.

“We are paying special attention on this case, considering that a forestry official holding a sensitive position in our effort to protect our forests is involved here,” Paje said, referring to Bilayan. “This should send a strong signal that there are no ‘holy cows’ in our anti-corruption campaign,” Paje said.

The three DENR employees were identified by the NBI-Cordillera authorities alleged to be part of an extortion ring operating in Baguio City with certain employees of the La Trinidad local government.

“The tragic irony here is that we have people in our ranks who have fallen to greed and have chosen to betray their sworn duty despite the glaring acts of selflessness by their peers who have given up their lives to the service,” Paje said, referring to the seven ‘environmental heroes’ whom the DENR honored recently at the DENR Heroes Park in Quezon City with President Benigno S. Aquino III leading the rites during the launch of the National Greening Program (NGP) last May 13.

Of the seven ‘environmental heroes’ honored, four were DENR employees -- one was a DENR senior forester and three were working as forest rangers. The other three ‘environmental heroes’ were non-DENR employees.

Last Sunday (May 22), the three erring DENR employees were caught in an entrapment operation with engineer Norman Simsim, land surveyor at the La Trinidad local government, while accepting marked money from a certain Beverly Moyamoy, whom Bilayan’s group allegedly asked the former to cough up some P50,000 in exchange for the withdrawal of an illegal logging case the group was threatening her with for debarking trees in violation of Presidential Decree 705.

The three, along with Simsim, have been charged with cases of robbery with intimidation, and graft and corruption in violation of Republic Act 3019 and for violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713). If found guilty, the three will be facing dismissal from service, outright forfeiture of benefits, and permanent disqualification from holding appointive government posts.

Bilayan entered the service in June 1990 as a field worker while Abellera is a few years shy from retirement having been in the service since 1979. Challoping, on the other hand, has been a forest ranger since 2002.