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Too short, yet a meaningful life for Benjie

It was a shocking early morning Saturday for conservation community in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental province, when the news broke out that Benjie Casipe, only 37 years old and a dedicated environmentalist, passed away.

A dreadful circumstance brought him to a hospital and eventually caused his untimely death. He was robbed and mercilessly beaten by a trisikad driver in one of the streets in Bacolod last week. The culprit remains unknown as of this time, but I am hoping that he will be caught the soonest possible time, and justice will be served on the senseless killing of a young person, who has dedicated his life in community service and working for the good of our environment.

I could hardly recall the first time I met Benjie, but I vividly remember when he was working with the Philippines Reef and Rainforest Foundation Inc., and he was holding office at the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc. at South Capitol Road, Bacolod City. I witnessed how jolly the person he was and so passionate about what he was doing, particularly in promoting environmental education and dealing with community affairs.

The last time we were together was in April 2013 when we went to the project site of the NFEFI at the Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed in Barangay Sta. Cruz, Murcia. At that time, he was already connected with the Bacolod City Water District. The watershed is also the project site of Baciwa and provides assistance to the community on forest protection, rehabilitation and sustainable livelihood, of which Benjie was taking the lead.

It was a very happy reunion for Benjie and me, and he was so excited to share his initiated environmental campaigns while working in Baciwa. He encouraged the participation of Baciwa personnel in conservation events, like the Environment Month and Wildlife Month in Negros Occidental. He also asked me to be one of his advisors on his thesis for a master's degree.

There was no dull moment in the company of Benjie. He shared his story full of life with matching jokes, and no one would ever thought that somebody will even attempt to run after his life. He was a kind-hearted, very personal and loving person, too.

There were several instances when he sent me inspiring quotes and Bible passages via text messages. In one of our text exchanges, he told me he was resigning from Baciwa to concentrate on community service in La Castellana town, a calling, which he described as one that would give more wisdom to his life, and that was the last time l heard from him.

When the news of his death came out, that was only when I learned that Benjie was back in PRRFI as manager for its Danjugan Environmental Education Program, a kind of work he really wanted and loved.

Gerry Ledesma, president of PRRFI, said Benjie was an excellent community worker and a staunched conservationist. A sorry loss of a good man, Ledesma added, as he pointed out that whoever had beaten up Benjie must know how precious he was.

Bacolod Councilor Jocelle Batapa Sigue, on her Facebook post, expressed her sadness on the untimely demise of her friend, and claimed that she will work hard in fast tracking the passage of an ordinance regulating the trisikad and tricycle operations in the city. Sigue said she would do it in spite of possible political repercussions, as some individuals warned her, since nobody dared in the past to touch the issue of the unregulated operations of tricycle and trisikad in Bacolod. Sigue and Benjie were together in the Bacolod Earth Day Network.

Benjie was also a very active volunteer of the Green Alert Negros. Rusty Biñas, one of the GAN's prime movers, has this to say for Benjie: “We will celebrate your life and contribution to the environment activism. You touched us in many ways, and your peculiar way of telling your story makes us all happy. We will always remember you and your work, especially in protecting the wildlife of Negros when you gave them voice for more than two decades.”

Several members of GAN posted Benjie's photos in black background on their FB walls, with the caption “Justice for Benjie”.

Life is too short for Benjie, but it was indeed a meaningful journey for him. While he is no longer with us physically, his memories will always linger to many people who have been touched by his jokes, presence, stories, company, friendship, and service to the community and environment.

We will dearly miss you, Benjie. Take your final bow and farewell!*

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