DENR to go after illegal loggers in MindanaoBy Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Saying it’s not enough that illegal log shipments are apprehended, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje has created two teams to go after illegal loggers in Mindanao and look into the possible participation of his own personnel into the matter.
Paje said he wants the fact-finding teams to investigate the liability of environment officers, either through negligence or collusion with illegal loggers, in the unauthorized felling of trees in southern Mindanao and the Caraga region.
“There is a need to pinpoint who should really be made answerable and accountable for all this blatant disregard of our environmental laws, which would impact not only on us but also on the generations of Filipinos that will come after us,” Paje said in a statement.
He noted that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had seized big volumes of undocumented logs and other forest products from Mindanao. Among them were lumber loaded in 55 vans that were seized at the North Harbor in Manila last month. The cargo was shipped through the MV Lorcon Dumaguete, which came from Davao City.
The confiscation was not something to completely rejoice about because these were “actually, by themselves, a negation of the real intent behind the issuance of Executive Order No. 23, which is to prevent the trees inside the natural forests from being cut.”
The President issued EO 23 in February last year declaring a moratorium on the cutting of timber in natural and residual forests in the country. The order also prohibited the DENR from issuing tree-cutting permits.
Relief of officials
Paje added that the bulk of the confiscations have been traced to Mindanao, particularly Davao Region and Caraga. “This is unacceptable in the light of EO 23, which has been in effect for over a year now,” he said.
Earlier, Paje ordered the relief of 31 officials and employees, including two regional executive directors, for their alleged failure to curb illegal logging in southern Mindanao and the Caraga region.
As of end-June, 33 DENR personnel have been dismissed, suspended, fined or reprimanded, while another 34 have been formally charged. One hundred eighty personnel were also directed to explain their actions with regard to illegal logging operations.
Paje said his directive to suspend environment officials was intended to help fulfill the President’s green agenda, which includes a vow to cripple if not eliminate illegal logging operations.
In Pangasinan, a government team on Friday arrested two persons while bulldozing a forest area in Mangatarem town.
Reports reaching the provincial police office in Lingayen town said Harry Agbayani, 52, and Roger Lleno, 33, were arrested after environment officials, policemen and Army soldiers saw them paving a part of the forest in Sitio Marapudo in Barangay Bantocaling in Mangatarem at about 4 p.m. on July 13.
Raymundo Gayo, DENR community environment and natural resources officer here, said a case for violation of the Revised Forestry Code was filed against Agbayani and Lleno on Saturday.
Gayo said the two are detained at the Mangatarem police station and their bulldozer was seized by Bantocaling officials.
He said the arrest of Agbayani and Gayo was a good start in the effort to build up a case against a suspected illegal logger operating in the Pangasinan and Zambales mountains.
In March, environment officials discovered that trees had been felled in the boundary of Pangasinan and Zambales. No illegal logger, however, has so far been arrested.
On April 30, Gayo led foresters and Army soldiers in pursuit of suspected illegal loggers. But they did not find the suspects after four hours of search in Mangatarem.
Gayo discovered the following day that the illegal loggers had opened new roads into the forest. He said the roads may have been built to evade a military checkpoint in Barangay (village) Muelang in Mangatarem, where a 19.5-kilometer stretch of the 54-km Mangatarem-Sta. Cruz Road (Zambales) is located.
Data posted on the DENR website said the virgin forest cover near Pangasinan and Zambales is about 21,520 hectares. With a report from Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon