Environmentalist survives ambush in Surigao del Sur

SURIGAO CITY, Philippines—An environmentalist who had accused officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of conniving with illegal loggers was ambushed Monday afternoon by men suspected hired killers, police said.
Dr. Isidro Olan, executive director of Lovers of Nature Foundation, Inc. (LNFI), was hit in the chest when the gunmen fired on him on a road some 200 meters from his house in Barangay Puyat, Carmen, Surigao del Sur around 3 p.m. Monday, police said. Doctors at a local hospital declared Olan out of danger but said he needed to be moved to a better-equipped hospital for further treatment.
Olan’s wife, who was also in their Toyota Fortuner when the attack occurred, was not hurt, said Chito Trillanes of the secretariat of the Social Action Center in the CarCanMadCarLan (Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza towns), a church-led group which, like Olan’s group, is vocal against illegal logging and mining activities in the province.
Olan was declared safe by physicians in a hospital in the town of Madrid, Trillanes said, but may be transferred to Surigao City or Butuan anytime to get proper treatment.
The ambush appeared to be carefully planned, Trillanes said, noting that the assailants blocked the road leading to Olan’s house apparently to make him get out of the vehicle. As soon as Olan got out of the vehicle, the gunmen opened fire on him.
Police found one empty shell each from a .45-caliber pistol, and a .22 caliber pistol, and three empty shells from a shotgun.
Roel Aguillon, an official of the Surigao Development Corp. (Sudecor) who was among the first to respond to the shooting, said that Olan, already wounded, managed to fire back at the assailants with his .45-caliber pistol, forcing them to withdraw.
Olan’s pro-environment stance and his group’s active participation in thwarting the transport of illegally cut logs particularly in the CarCanMadCarLan would be taken into account in determining possible motives for the attack, said Senior Insp. Dominador Plaza, Carmen’s police chief.
For Trillanes, who has known Olan in the pro-environment circle for years, there was no doubt the ambush was the handiwork of “big-time illegal logging financiers.”
“He (Dr. Olan) was offered security detail by the town police after receiving death threats some weeks ago,” said Trillanes, whose group, along with Olan’s, formed the environmental watchdog Caraga Watch. “Dr. Olan declined the offer of police escorts because he would not want to bother anyone about his security.”
Citing their own “internal monitoring,” Trillanes blamed the attack on the “Boboy Loyola group,” which he claimed said was composed of former communist rebels turned hired killers. The group’s members, he said, were from upland village of Gacub, a hotspot for illegal loggers who are often caught poaching hardwood timber from the forest concession of Sudecor.
In a Philippine Daily Inquirer story published last September, Olan alleged that illegal loggers flourished in Surigao del Sur because they were vabetted by corrupt officials from local government units and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“Illegal logging prevails because they are able to acquire falsified documents and table surveys facilitated by crooks within the DENR,” a Social Action Center press release quoted him as saying. “The reason why illegal loggers are difficult to stop is due to their established connection with high ranking officials of enforcement agencies, politicians, and members of Task Force Kalikasan.”
In the Inquirer report, the Social Action Center named Rolando Seblario as a major player in the illegal logging business in Surigao del Sur.
Days later, on September 25, police raided Seblario’s warehouse in Butuan City and discovered thousands of illegally cut Lauan flitches. Seblario, who denied any impropriety, was invited by police for questioning.
Police in Carmen also attributed to Seblario the 8,000 board feet of bandsaw-milled lauan lumber they seized in an October 13 on a house near the barangay hall of Hinapuyan.

Environmentalist survives ambush in Surigao del Sur

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