Robredo confronted head of anti-illegal logging task force, Paje saysBy DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines – Weeks before he died, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo confronted the head of the government’s anti-illegal logging task force about a “worrisome” meeting he had with people with logging interests in the Caraga region, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said
He said Robredo had asked retired Major General Renato Miranda to explain why he had met with officials of an association of wood processors in Caraga, which consists of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
“There was worrying information that General Miranda met with the producers of plywood and lumber in a restaurant in Caraga, so Jesse confronted him about it,” Paje said in a phone interview.
The information about the meeting had come from Robredo’s informant, Isoceles P. Otero, who was later designated by Robredo as a Special Assistant in the Department of the Interior and Local Government, according to Paje.
Miranda, however, “categorically denied” insinuations that the meeting was irregular. He explained to Robredo that the meeting, sometime in late July or early August, was only so he could extract valuable information from concerned groups, Paje said.
“General Miranda said it was an open meeting, not a clandestine one, and that it was his effort of getting information. So when Jesse asked why it had to be in a restaurant, he answered that the most effective way of extracting information was by asking it casually,” he said.
Paje said he was not sure if it was Robredo or Miranda who made the first call but the two later met at the DILG head office in Quezon City to talk about it.
Asked how he learned of the incident, Paje said: “The one who told me about the worrying report was Secretary Robredo, but the one who told me about their meeting was General Miranda.”
Paje said he still trusted Miranda but found a need to investigate the allegations of Otero, who accused Miranda, along with other officials, of protecting illegal loggers and financiers in Caraga region.
“Of course, since the task force appointed him, we trust him [Miranda]. But we need to get to the bottom of this. We need to investigate it also to be fair to everyone, including General Miranda,” he said.
Paje said Robredo often called him about problems in enforcing the anti-illegal logging campaign, but the first of Otero’s two reports dated Aug. 11 did not come up in their conversations. The second Otero report was dated Aug. 18, the same day Robredo’s plane crashed off Masbate, thus presumably, Robredo never got to read it.
He said the DILG investigation was actually prompted by Paje’s own request to convert the civilian-led anti-illegal logging operations in Mindanao into police or military one.
Paje noted that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “has no firepower and has incurred more than 20 casualties” in the anti-illegal logging campaign.
The latest fatalities were Forest Protection Officers Rolando Intas and Wilmer Pelor, who were shot dead on July 13 in Surigao del Sur, and Forester Rogelio Miang, who was killed in Zamboanga City on July 29.
Paje also recalled asking Robredo to lead the police operations in Mindanao, as they were becoming increasingly dangerous to the DENR’s foresters.
“The DENR requested Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to assign active military officers to the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force, in view of the active presence of the Left in Caraga,” he said, adding that Gazmin assured him that his department would issue the corresponding orders.
The task force is chaired by Paje. Other members are the heads of the DILG, the Department of National Defense, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police.
The office of Miranda, who as executive director is involved in day-to-day operations, is based in Mindanao.