MANILA, Philippines—Jesiderio Camangyan wailed over the greatest lie ever told about Davao Oriental: That while a million trees have been planted by the provincial government, a flagship program of Gov. Corazon Malanyaon, a million trees are also being felled and hauled illegally from the forests in the province’s east coast, including Cateel, the governor’s hometown.
A week before he was killed, Camangyan vowed that he would speak against this ridiculous situation, even challenging Malanyaon and other local leaders to put their acts together and put an end to it.
He expelled his challenge minus the flare of a typical commentator or the aggressively engaging voice of an environmental advocate with an unbendable cause. He was not known for being both.
In his radio program, he said: “This is my contribution to the government’s efforts to preserve the environment.”
And for days he spoke of how local government officials allow the forests of Davao Oriental to be stripped of trees and how they could do something to stop the illegal practice.
Apparently some people snapped out and got him silenced.
What happened on the night of June 14 in Barangay Old Makopa in Manay town, while the entire village was in the middle of revelry, had all the ingredients of a perfectly conspired murder, but flawed in execution.
Camangyan walked to his death.
Camangyan’s wife, Ruth, said Barangay Chair Romeo Antoling promised her husband a “bonus”—a shotgun.
“I was trying very hard to convince him to forego the invitation but he was insistent. He did not want to break his promise to his friend. Antoling was his friend. He trusted him,” Ruth said.
But his trusted friend did not even help him when he needed help the most.
From the accounts of witnesses, including Ruth, Camangyan was intentionally left to die. Antoling, Ruth said, was nowhere to be found while her husband was fighting for his life.
“I was screaming for help. No one came. I dragged my husband’s body—all soaked in blood—from the stage out to the covered court and into the road, hoping that a vehicle would be available for him to be brought to the hospital. He was still breathing then and I was begging everyone for help but no help came,” Ruth said.
Distraught and helpless, Ruth saw how her husband died a painful death.
Three days after the killing of Camangyan, Antoling executed an affidavit, saying he was supporting whatever investigation that may be made. The affidavit came four days before he was implicated in the murder of Camangyan.
It was Antoling who invited Camangyan to go to the village to host an amateur singing contest. Also invited to the same event were Camangyan’s colleagues Frank Gupit and Nonoy Bacalso, who have been very vocal about the irony between Malanyaon’s program and the existence of illegal logging in the east coast towns of the province.
Illegal logging was an issue that not too many journalists in Mati City really dared to touch, perhaps aware of the dangers that they might expose themselves if they would even think about it aloud.
There were scary precedence, of course—a police officer was killed in 2005 and an environmental officer also shot dead last year. Both of them got themselves involved in illegal logging in the province.
For Bobong Alcantara, manager of Sunrise FM where Camangyan held his program, the broadcaster had been warned about the dangers that awaited him by tackling the issue of illegal logging.
“I already warned him and the other broadcasters who were talking about it. He just told me that it was his support to the fight of the government to protect the environment, with the problem on climate change that we have now,” Alcantara said.
During the necrological services for Camangyan on Thursday, his fellow broadcaster Joanna Mabini said Camangyan “was a sacrificial offering to the greediness and barbarism of these illegal loggers.”
“But he, too, is a gift to the environment. Because of what he believed and fought for, we will not falter in seeking for justice—for him and for the environment,” said Mabini.
Senior Supt. Jorge Corpuz, head of Task Force Camangyan, said the murder could be linked to the victim’s closeness to the family of Mati City Mayor Michelle Rabat and his work as a broadcaster.
But the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in Davao City said no matter what were the “persuasions” of Camangyan, his death could not be justified as it was clearly “cold blooded and heartless.”
The only guilt of Camangyan, the NUJP said, was that he “challenged the devils in Davao Oriental—those whose pockets get fatter every time a tree is felled in the forests of the province.”
“No matter what his persuasions were, apparently Jesiderio ‘Jessie’ Camangyan hit the devils where it hurt them the most. And so they hit them back in the most despicable fashion—they sent a bullet right into his head,” the group said.
But Malanyaon, who attended the service, said it was unfair for the media to “speculate on the death of Camangyan.”
“I grieve about this. I am not really happy. But no, I don’t think we can speculate on his death. It is unfair for us to pass judgment this early. What is important is for the truth to come out,” she said.
“If we listen to all these talks, they are laced with malice. Even the word illegal logging or logging is something that we cannot be so absolute about. When is logging illegal and when it becomes legal?”
She added: “I learned that he had a cause. If illegal logging activities in Davao Oriental is true or not, I am with you as you demand that it must be stopped. But I hope that we stop all these speculations about his death. It is not proper to speculate. Let us wait for the results of the investigation being conducted by the authorities.”
The police have filed murder charges against Antoling and the suspected gunman, PO1 Dennis Jess Lumikid. Antoling remains at large while Lumikid has been “restricted inside barracks” pending the issuance of warrant of arrest by the court.