Four workers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) were inducted into the prestigious Hall of Environmental Heroes by the Environmental Heroes Foundation, Inc. (EHFI) during the 2022 Earth Day celebration on April 22.

Those given recognition were Real, Quezon Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) Miliarete Panaligan; El Nido-Taytay, Palawan forest ranger Bienvenido Veguilla Jr., and forest ranger Ronaldo Corpuz and forest protection officer Gaudencio Arana, both from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.

“We have lost good men and women in defense of our planet’s health, but the losses will not deter us from holding the line. Rather, they will inspire us to do better, together,” DENR Acting Secretary Jim O. Sampulna said in a message read by DENR Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and International Affairs, Atty. Jonas Leones.

The families of the honorees were given posthumous awards through recognition plaques, and will receive a P1.2-million livelihood assistance with each family to receive P300,000 to be given in three tranches at P100,00 per year from 2022 to 2024.

DENR Assistant Secretary and EHFI executive director Daniel Darius Nicer said the amount came from the P4-million prize money donated by the DENR Warriors after bagging the championship at the 2019-2020 UNTV annual charity basketball league.

The event marked the third awarding of the prestigious recognition of EHFI—a non-profit and donor-sponsored organization.

Fifteen workers have been honored by the foundation since 2016, which includes Bukidnon-based Catholic priest Nerlito Dazo Satur, who was deputized by the DENR as a forest protection officer in Bukidnon.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, chair of the EHFI board of trustees, was the event’s keynote speaker.

Puno called for stricter enforcement of the country’s environmental laws by emulating the environmental heroes who have “given the best slice of their lives, including their own lives to implement our laws, protecting especially our forests from degradation brought by illegal loggers and other criminal syndicates.”

“Rest assured however, that the EHFI will tell and retell your heroic efforts, for these are the narratives that will provide the enduring values for a foundation of a future that will last,” Puno said.

The former top magistrate also pointed out the principle of “interbeing” that will govern people’s relationship with the environment to fight “ecocide,” referring to the deliberate wanton destruction of the environment, which he said is “worse than genocide happening in various parts of the world, including the country of Ukraine.”

On the principle of “interbeing,” Puno read a passage from the “Climate: A New Story,” written by Charles Eisenstein, saying: “Who I am depends on who you are. The world is part of me, just as I am part of it. What happens to the world is in some way happening to me.”

Like the other awardees recognized earlier, this year’s EHFI awardees were slain except for Panaligan, who died in 2018 after battling a lingering illness, met EHFI’s criteria particularly for her ”consistency of track record in protecting the environment and faithfully serving the government.”

Nicer cited Panaligan’s track record as DENR’s top CENRO in Luzon and the Visayas for earning the highest number of apprehension cases numbering 277 from 2010 to 2016, and even averaged 7 to 8 apprehensions per month in 2017 despite repeated death threats.

The EHFI recognition is likewise conferred for “exemplary bravery and commitment to the protection of the environment and natural resources” aside from loss of one’s life or permanent disability as a result of enforcing environment and natural resources laws, Nicer explained.

Meanwhile, Earth Day Network Philippines president and country coordinator Wigberto Tañada Jr. lamented the failure of the 18th Congress to pass the bill that would create the Environmental Protection and Enforcement Bureau or EPEB.

“We hope it will be filed in the next Congress and our next leaders will see the urgency in strengthening the DENR to capacitate environmental defenders and law enforcers—too many of them have fallen,” Tañada said. ###