Being a woman, she would not be harmed. That was what officials in the Cagayan Valley regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources thought when they assigned forestry specialist Melania Dirain to coordinate with local governments in places considered to be hotspots for illegal logging.
They thought wrong. Last Tuesday night, a gunman entered Dirain’s office in Sanchez Mira town in Cagayan and pumped her with bullets from a .45-caliber pistol as she was talking with an office messenger. The gunman fled as Dirain, a widowed mother of three, lay dying.
As team leader of the DENR’s Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, Dirain was tasked to supervise the apprehension of undocumented lumber, flitches and other forest products. Last Jan. 27 in Alcala town in Cagayan, her team had confiscated 118 pieces of hardwood lumber being transported in a truck belonging to the Philippine National Police Regional Mobile Group. The lumber and truck are impounded at the DENR’s field office in Alcala.
The possible involvement of PNP members in a retaliatory attack should prompt authorities to turn over the probe of Dirain’s murder to the National Bureau of Investigation, or at least to another police team outside the region. Dirain is not the first forestry worker to be murdered. Other custodians of the country’s dwindling forests have lost their lives or faced harassment in the past years. Members of non-government organizations as well as journalists supporting efforts to stop illegal logging have also been killed or threatened with harm.
The DENR’s executive director for Region 2, in a report to the head office, said that because of Dirain’s gender, “we thought they would not harm her.” Obviously, her killers did not care about niceties such as gender. President Aquino should instruct authorities to ensure that Dirain’s murder is not added to the country’s long list of unexplained killings.