Paje: Robredo ‘confronted’ antilogging headBy DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Several weeks before his death, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo “confronted” the head of the government’s anti-illegal logging task force about the latter’s meeting with people with logging interests in Caraga, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said Saturday.
According to Paje, Robredo asked retired Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda to explain why he met with an association of wood processors in Caraga, which covers Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat islands.
Paje said he still trusted Miranda but that he found it necessary to investigate the allegations of Isoceles P. Otero, who accused Miranda, along with other officials, of protecting illegal loggers and financiers in Caraga region.
“There was worrying information that Gen. 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 had come from Robredo’s informant, Otero, who was later designated by Robredo as Special Assistant to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), according to Paje.
Miranda, however, “categorically denied” suggestions 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 [Miranda] answered that the most effective way of extracting information was by asking it casually,” he said.
Paje said he was unsure if it was Robredo or Miranda who made the first call but the two later met in 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 Gen. Miranda.”
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 turn the civilian-led anti-illegal logging operations in Mindanao into police or military operations as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “has no firepower and has incurred more than 20 casualties” in the anti-illegal logging campaign.
Paje also recalled asking the late secretary to lead the police operations in Mindanao, as they were becoming increasingly dangerous to DENR foresters.
Sought for a reaction, Miranda said he would willingly quit to clear his name of the allegations that he was protecting illegal loggers.
“I am willing to resign my post and submit myself to an investigation if only to save the organization,” he said. He also said he would resign on the spot if anybody could produce concrete proof of freshly cut illegal logs in the region.
Miranda confirmed that Robredo had summoned him to his office to thresh out the issues about the “worrying information” about a week before the secretary died.
“He asked me, ‘was I drinking with the enemy?’ But I explained to him the issues. In fact in my report to him, I included my dialogues with the loggers and wood processors because I wanted to find out the true picture of the problem,” he said over the phone.
In his report, he said he told Robredo that the anti-illegal logging campaign should come with socioeconomic support for the affected communities.
Miranda said it was a shame that the Sept. 8 Inquirer story on the Otero report did not point out that the issues raised by Otero had already been “cleared” with Robredo.