Five workers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), along with a diocesan priest deputized as a forest protection officer, were inducted into the roster of environmental heroes by the Environmental Heroes Foundation Inc. (EHFI) during the World Environment Day celebration on June 5.

Those honored were DENR workers Joselyn Aleste Bugaring, officer-in-charge of the Kalinga Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office; Norberto Mabini, Land Inspector I in Lianga, Surigao del Sur; Rolando Sinday, tree marker in Lianga, Surigao del Sur; Isidro Roluna, tree marker in Tandag, Surigao del Sur; Jessie Comendador, a laborer in Los Baños, Laguna; and deputized forest protection officer in Bukidnon Fr. Nerilito Dazo Sator.

They were honored at the DENR Heroes' Park in Visayas Avenue, Quezon City in physical and virtual ceremonies on June 5.

Families of the honorees received the posthumous awards consisting of plaques of recognition and livelihood assistance amounting to P1.8 million.

The EHFI said the assistance will be given to the honorees' families in three tranches of P600,000 or P100,000 per family from 2021 to 2023.

"Though our intensified actions against violators of environmental laws are taking a toll on our people, we will not relent. With these, we urge Congress to support us in our call for the creation of an Enforcement Bureau that will give the DENR stronger enforcement powers," DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu said in a message read by DENR Undersecretary for Enforcement Benito Antonio de Leon.

De Leon said his office is working in coordination with the Office of the President to certify as urgent a bill for the creation of the Environmental Enforcement and Protection Bureau (EPEB).

In the meantime, he said that Cimatu has ordered the creation of an interim enforcement bureau to be called "Environmental Enforcement and Protection Service" to provide "a more coherent and focused body to attend to the enforcement activity" of the DENR.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, chair of the EHFI board of trustees, pointed out that the foundation has "a clear-eyed vision from the beginning that most of the lives that will be lost in this battle to preserve our environment, especially our forest, will come from the rank and file employees and officials of the (DENR)."

He lamented that the DENR rank and file employees are "unarmed, virtually defenseless" against "powerful people who are used to imposing their illegal will and immoral motives from the barrel of a gun."

DENR Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and EHFI executive director Daniel Darius Nicer said the six honorees comprised the second batch of environmental heroes given recognition by the EFHI.

The organization has also conferred posthumous recognition to five individuals in 2016.

"We will be giving P600,000 of your prize to the families of our environmental heroes this year and another P600,000 each year for the next two years," Nicer said, citing the P4-million donation from the UNTV Foundation after the DENR Warriors came out as champions in the UNTV Cup Season 8 held in February 2020, and named EHFI as the team’s charity-recipient of its P4-million prize money.

Nicer said the EHFI board has already authorized the foundation to receive cash donations from donors and feelers have already been sent to possible donors "so that we can augment the funding of the foundation."

"We welcome donations from the private sector, NGOs (non-government organizations), and other entities for us to continue this work," Nicer said, noting that the EHFI criteria have already been amended to include those who are living but "worthy recipients" with outstanding contribution in protecting the environment.

EHFI board 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 and currently Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

The EHFI, a non-stock, non-profit organization managing an endowment fund for relatives of DENR heroes, was conceptualized in 2012 by Paje with P5 million from the President’s Social Fund as seed money for the foundation.

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