BUTUAN CITY—The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has shut down 94 of 119 wood processing firms in the Caraga region in connection with the department’s implementation of President Benigno Aquino’s executive order banning commercial logging nationwide.
A top DENR official in the region said the firms were ordered closed since they could no longer get wood from legal sources as a result of the EO and were getting their raw materials from illegal logging in the region.
Moy Saruang, DENR regional technical director for forestry, said the number of wood processing companies that were ordered closed comprised some 80 percent of the total number of wood firms operating in the region.
He said based on DENR studies and investigation, only 20 percent of the total number of wood processing plants in the region have access to legal sources of wood.
“Only 25 out of the total 119 wood processing firms and sawmills have legitimate supply contracts for raw wood materials,” Saruang said.
Although a ban on logging exists, Saruang said wood processing plants and sawmills with sustainable sources of logs from private plantations and timber concessions duly accredited by the DENR are allowed to operate.
“It’s very clear from EO 23 that wood processing plants and sawmills with sufficient imported logs and log supply contract or agreements with private tree farmers duly and actually verified by the DENR are not covered by the ban,” Saruang said.
A timber or log supply contract issued by the DENR determines whether timber used as raw materials of wood processing firms came from legitimate sources, Saruang said.
Prior to the crackdown, Caraga hosted 119 wood processing companies, including those considered as exporters.
Saruang could not provide a list of the wood companies that were told to stop processing wood under the government’s crackdown on illegal logging operations in the two Agusan and the two Surigao provinces.
But he said these included plywood and veneer factories and sawmills.
Saruang said the closed wood processing plants “were the culprits behind rampant illegal cutting of trees and environmental destruction in several forest areas in the region.”
“Because we curbed their illegal operations, remaining forest covers in Caraga have been spared and the government and tree farmers can now reforest and plant more trees,” he said.
Caraga is known as the country’s timber corridor and supplies the bulk of the country’s timber and wood product requirements.
It is among timber-rich areas covered by the nationwide ban on logging that was issued amid widespread illegal cutting of trees that has long been blamed on corruption in the DENR and involvement of powerful politicians.
Saruang said P20 million worth of illegally cut logs have so far been seized in Caraga since the ban was implemented.
He said the DENR had not pinned down the main players in the illegal logging operation and that it had no evidence on the alleged involvement of politicians.
“We have heard reports that there are mayors and law enforcement officials involved, but there had been no solid evidence to back these allegations,” he said. Franklin A. Caliguid, Inquirer Mindanao