On the night of Tuesday, February 7, Rare alumna Melania Dirain received a call at home and hurriedly returned to her office at the Philippines Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR). As she spoke to a messenger in her office, a man walked in and fatally shot her. She was 47. The motives of the man charged in her murder remain unclear, but the Cagayan police director believes he was hired by an illegal logging syndicate. Her three orphaned sons (her husband died of a heart attack seven years ago), who are in college and high school, now live with Dirain’s sister Antonette Balanay who remains in shock and prays for justice.
“I knew someday this might happen,” says Rully Prayoga, a colleague of Dirain’s from when they partnered with Rare in 2004. She had been threatened during her Pride campaign, which combated illegal logging. “I really admire her strength and spirit to persistently work with that challenging situation.”
Prayoga and the other members of her Rare class called her “Mama Lani” because of her nurturing nature. She would cook for them and resolve quarrels. She always brought a quiet, reassuring confidence to all of her endeavors.
After the completion of Rare’s program, she continued using the social marketing tools Rare taught her. She brought the Rufous hornbill mascot to classrooms where her maternal instincts won over children. Her gentle demeanor turned intense when she spoke about corruption and talked to the community about forest conservation’s benefits. She spoke with an unwavering integrity and resolve that captured the farmers’ trust. She approached conservation with humanity, always trying to find solutions for the people. In her final report for Rare Dirain wrote, “They are poor people and they should be understood … The residents are becoming aware of their moral and social obligation to report any incident of destructive activities.”
Dirain pioneered the use of cell phones to anonymously report illegal activity - a technique now used in many Pride campaigns. She also helped expand Rare’s Philippines program by speaking candidly about how working through her fears and challenges were rewarded with noticeable changes in her community and organization. During a recruitment workshop for the current class of Rare Conservation Fellows in the Philippines, she spoke with such passion that she moved the prospective trainees to tears. “I admire her courage to persevere,” says Rare Conservation Fellow Ruby Mendones who attended the workshop. “I also admire her tenderness. Hers is a life taken from those who dared to make change work. Thank you Miss Lani. What an inspiration you impressed upon me. I will keep you in my heart.”