Killing of top botanist deplored

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today expressed sadness and condemnation over the death of one of the country’s top Filipino botanists who was reportedly killed while doing field research on a Leyte mountain during an alleged crossfire between soldiers and communist rebels last Monday.

Cayetano said the death of Leonardo Co, a University of the Philippines-trained botanist known for his work in helping communities identify and classify herbal medicinal plants in their locality, is not only a loss to the scientific community, but also to the environment as well as the field of traditional herbal medicine.

“I am saddened by the loss of Leonardo Co who personifies what we may call as ‘people’s scientists.’ His role in the community may have been low-key and perhaps often unnoticed, but it has brought invaluable help to our people in developing their knowledge and skill on traditional herbal medicines,” said Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on health and Demography.

“It is unfortunate that the lives of innocent civilians, including that of Co who dedicated his profession in the service of grassroots communities and the environment, had to be cut short by continuing hostilities between the armed forces and communist rebels.”

At the same time, the lady senator called for an independent investigation into Co’s death and the two forest guards who were with him when the encounter happened.

“The government must immediately conduct an independent probe to ascertain the cause of Co’s death and the two forest guards who were killed with him. It still must be established whether the bullets that took the three innocent lives came from the rebels or soldiers, or whether there was any foul play involved.”

Co’s team was reportedly in the Kananga forests conducting a study on tree biodiversity and collecting seedling specimens of wild trees for replanting as part of his work as biodiversity consultant of the Energy Development Corp. (EDC).

Finally, Cayetano called on the government to provide sufficient security for scientists and foresters doing field work in far-flung provinces, especially those known to be areas of conflict between government troops and armed rebel groups.

She made a similar appeal on behalf of medical professionals doing volunteer work in rural areas after a volunteer nurse was raped and maimed by still unidentified perpetrators in South Upi, Maguindanao last September. #

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