JUNE 18, 2007
 (STAR) “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy,” according to Martin Luther King Jr.

“Environment martyrs who dedicate their lives to saving the world are seldom remembered and honored.” This one was from Dan Pasia, an environment advocate.

They were from different places, but they devoted their work — even their lives — to the protection of God’s best gift to mankind: the environment.

In the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), there has been an increasing number of this kind of heroes over the years. Ricardo Serrano, 61, DENR Region 3 executive director, died from three bullet wounds in the chest in an ambush in Quezon City in 1998.

In 2004, 57-year-old DENR forester Isidro dela Peña also took three bullets in another ambush in Davao City. Orlando Flores, a Bantay Dagat volunteer in Masinloc, Zambaless, took 20 bullets as he sat for dinner with his family in 1994.

Others were luckier. DENR forest guard Raul Zapatos of Bayugan, Agusan del Sur found himself spending four and a half years in jail after fighting illegal loggers, but was declared innocent by the Supreme Court and set free in 2005.

Jose Fabrique, a former police officer in Sibuyan, Romblon; Julio Versoza, a forest ranger assigned at the Mt. Isarog Natural Park in Camarines Sur; and Rolando Rey Recto, a councilor in Buenavista, Quezon — all three suffered harassment and coercion by environmental despoilers.

On April 22 this year, the name of National Anti-Environment Crime Task (NAECTAF) agent Audy Angchangco, 42, was added to the list of these environmental martyrs. Audy was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding hitmen when he stepped out of his house in Lucena City to get a clearer signal while talking on his cellphone to his sister.

The assassins made extra sure that Audy was dead: they pumped 11 bullets into his body — six in the head, three in the chest, one each in his right arm and right leg.

The killing of Audy Angchangco is the first major crime committed this year against environmental crusaders. That it happened right on Earth Day was both an irony and a paradox.

While the incident may be seen as an attempt to undermine the government’s political will to combat illegal logging, it, at the same time, strains what British philosopher Thomas Hobbes referred to as a “social contract” among sectors of a society to push its agenda, in this case environmental protection. Definitely, Audy’s killing shows that the enemies of the environment will be ready to break the social contract at any cost in their favor.

The outcry following Audy Angchangco’s murder was defeaning. Local and international environmental organizations banded together and condemned the killing, prompting Malacañang to decide a hero’s burial for Audy at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio.

The ‘untouchables’

Audy joined NAECTAF in March 2006 when the inter-agency body was formed by virtue of Executive Order 515 issued on March 15, 2006.

Some people have likened the activities of the NAECTAF to those done by the law enforcers in the Oscar-winning film The Untouchables. Like the heroes in the film, NAECTAF enforcers are also an elite force whose mandate is to run after environmental criminals who seem to be invincible.

Set in the 1930’s, the film depicts the tale of a motley team of law enforcers formed by Eliot Ness to put Mafia Kingpin Al Capone behind bars — which they eventually did, with much difficulty because of widespread corruption in the Chicago police force.

As the story goes, Ness’ team broke the backbone of Capone’s operation of liquor smuggling and bootlegging during the so-called Prohibition Era. But it came with the great price of losing Jim Malone, a respected member of the team.

Like Ness’ team, NAECTAF’s accomplishments could well be on its way to breaking the backbone of illegal logging operation in the country, but at the price of Audy’s life.

A total of P56.9 million in value, measuring 2.74 million board ft of lumber and 6,542 cubic meters of logs, were seized in 20 NAECTAF’s operations. Of these, seven operations were either led or participated in by Audy, which accounted for some P21 million in value.

It was no small feat or a guy who rose through the ranks. Audy was not even a licensed forester or a lawyer. He had taken Maritime Engineering in college, planning to make his fortune as a sailor.

But then he found himself changing tracks. He applied and was accepted as a security guard at the Bureau of Forest Development in 1986. He then became a forest ranger for 17 years. His stint as a forest ranger must have given him the right sensibilities and skills so that he eventually earned a promotion as special investigator in 2006. In a brief span of time, he made his mark, going even behind enemy lines in Quezon and in Mindanao to conduct intelligence work against illegal loggers.

Tragedy and victory

Audy was only 42 when he died, yet he had lived longer than anyone who would dream to become a hero. Like Serrano and the others, Audy has won a place in men’s hearts, which is the only true and lasting victory.

Audy’s passing cries for justice, but it likewise carries a challenge. Almost speechless as he takes his last breath, Malone asks Ness, “What are you prepared to do?” Audy more than answered the question when he willingly gave even his life for a cause he believed in.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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