Starting next year, the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be at the forefront of the government’s campaign against illegal logging in Mindanao.
The anti-illegal logging task force (AILTF) has approved the reclassification of the campaign against illegal loggers in Mindanao as “active military operations” and dissolved existing civilian and retired military contingents of the task force, including the removal of retired general Renato Miranda as head of the AILTF Kalikasan.
Miranda, a retired marine major general who led a failed coup on February 2006 against then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, had been previously tapped to head the anti-illegal task force Kalikasan, which was formed to crack down on illegal loggers in Mindanao.
There were previous insinuations that he had been conniving with big-time illegal loggers in the region but he had denied the allegations.
At a press conference Thursday at the the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje announced a resolution of the AILTF to tap the military in spearheading the fight against illegal logging in Mindanao due to the presence of armed groups and insurgents and the increasing number of civilian casualties in the enforcement of the total log ban.
The AILTF, chaired by Paje, is composed of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome and AFP Chief of Staff General Jessie Dellosa.
In its resolution, the AILTF unanimously approved to convert into active military operations the previously civilian-led drive to rid Mindanao of illegal loggers and disbanded existing civilian and retired military contingents of the task force.
The resolution terminated the service contracts of all civilian and retired military contingents of the task force.
Paje said that under the AILTF resolution, the defense department through the AFP will “lead all the anti-illegal operations in Mindanao, including but not limited to confiscation of illegally cut logs or lumber and the apprehension of violators.”
The environment secretary further said that the AILTF members and senior military officials agreed on Sept. 11 to modify strategies in the campaign against illegal loggers in Mindanao because of the presence of armed groups in the area.
Paje observed that 31 of the 197 illegal logging hotspots in the country are concentrated in the Caraga and Davao regions. He also noted the increasing risk to the lives of forest rangers in enforcing the total log ban in natural and residual forests under Executive Order 23 signed in February last year by President Aquino.
Paje noted that since the civilian contingent started the implementation of the executive order, it has had at least 25 casualties.
Apart from the military, the police has been tasked to arrest suspected illegal loggers for prosecution while the DENR would assign technical personnel to assist the AFP Mindanao operations.
His department, Paje added, would also provide the DND and the AFP with an operations manual detailing the guidelines on illegal logging operation, orientation and training.