TURNING POINT: The Legal Implications of Tree Cutting at MSU Naawan

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ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/02 March) — The recent cutting of 30-year-old Narra, Mahogany, Ilangilang and other trees at the Mindanao State University (MSU) Naawan if carried out without authority from the Environment Secretary or his authorized representative, is a statutory crime punishable under Republic Act 3571 and under Section 68, PD 705, as amended by Executive Order 277 Series 1987, otherwise known as the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines.

RA 3571, as amended by PD 953, is a law that prohibits and punishes the cutting, destroying or injuring of planted or growing trees, flowering plants and shrubs or plants of scenic values along public roads, in plazas, parks, school premises or in any other public ground.

The only exception to the regulation is when the cutting, destroying, or injuring of same is necessary for public safety, or such pruning of same is necessary to enhance its beauty and only “upon the approval of the duly authorized representative of the head of agency or political subdivision (Section3, PD 953).”

On the other hand, Section 68 of PD 705, as amended, prohibits and punishes anyone who shall cut, gather, collect or remove timber or other forest products without authority, from any forest land, from any alienable or disposal public lands, or from private land.

Incidentally, the Mindanao State University is a government corporation allowed by law to purchase and own land to be used for public services as an institution of higher learning. The parcels of agricultural land the University campus now occupies at Naawan, Misamis Oriental were purchased from private landowners covered with titles and/or tax declarations and are, therefore, private lands within the purview of Section 68 of PD 705, as amended. Thus the cutting of trees within MSU Naawan premises is also covered or governed by Section 68 of said decree.

Moreover, the cutting specifically of Narra and other premium hardwood trees requires special permit under DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Adm. Order No. 78, S. of 1987 and DENR Memo Circular No.22, S. of 1990. And under DENR Memorandum Order dated February 5, 2013, the cutting of Narra needs to be approved by the DENR Central Office, particularly by the Office of the Undersecretary for field Operations,

There are two distinct and separate offenses punished under Section 68, of PD 705, as amended, to wit:
(1) Cutting, gathering, collecting and removing timber or forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable or disposable public land, or from private land without any authorization; and
(2) Possession of timber or other forest products without legal documents required under existing forest laws and regulations.

The offenders and/or persons liable and subject to arrest with warrant or in instances without warrant, with respect to prohibited acts above are the following: the cutter, gatherer, collector, receiver, and the possessor, or in the case of a corporation, the officer or officers who appear to be responsible to the commission of the offense.

All tools and equipment used in committing the offense shall be confiscated and seized and forfeited in favor of the government.

The offenses committed under RA 3571 and PD 705, as amended, are malum prohibitum offenses, that is, crimes committed in violation of statutory or regulatory laws. Hence, criminal intent is not an essential element in the offense. In other words, those who cut the trees or keep and possess the timbers without authority or legal documents committed a criminal act punishable under the existing laws regardless of the motive or purpose it was pursued. So such argument that the trees were cut in order to give way to the construction of a school building, or to fabricate chairs and tables for the school will not justify the act or mitigate the effect of the crime.

The violation of RA 3571 is punishable by prison correctional in its minimum period to prison mayor in its minimum period.
The violation of Section 68, PD 705, as amended, is punishable as qualified thief under article 310 in relation to Article 309 of the Revised Penal Code and whose penalty may range from a few months to as long as 20 years of imprisonment depending on the total worth or value of the stolen goods.

For instance, in a case involving 111 board feet of lumber and logs worth P20, 930.40 from a narra tree cut in a private lot, the offender was penalized by the court four (4) months and one (1) day of arresto mayor, as minimum, to three (3) years, four (4) months and twenty (20) days of prision correctional (Sarmiento Merida vs. People of the Philippine, GR No. 158182).

In another case (Villarin & Latayada vs People of the Philippines, GR No. 175289), the possession without legal documents of 4326 board feet of timber valued at P108, 150.00, the second offense contemplated in Section 68, PD 705, as amended, caused a penalty to the offender of two (2) years, four (4) months, and one (1) day of prision correctional as minimum to sixteen (16) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal.

Were the cuttings of premium hardwoods at MSU Naawan campus covered by permits issued by the DENR Secretary or his authorized representative?

MSU Naawan has, accordingly, applied for said permits, but whether the applications were approved or granted by DENR is another matter. The application for special permit to cut trees, particularly protected hardwoods, inside public school grounds and in private land, is usually acted upon by DENR authorities only upon compliance of certain requisites, or upon submission among others of the following:
1. Vicinity map and sketch of the area where the trees to be cut are located
2. Inventory of the trees to be cut which covers
a. Number and species
b. Diameter and height of each tree and estimated volume of timber to be generated
c. Estimate of total volume in board feet of cut lumbers/woods and their estimated value
d. Utilization plan of the cut timbers
3. Infrastructure/physical development plan of the area where the trees are found
4. Building permit
5. Community consultation on the cutting of trees
6. Confirmatory assessment by DENR environmental officers of the site and the trees to be cut

Once compliance is made, DENR may issue the permit to the requesting party often with certain conditions, like the possibility of saving some trees by moving the construction of the building a little away from premium trees, or by earth-balling and relocating the trees; the submission of a replanting plan for the replacement of the felled trees; fixing the schedule or timeframe of tree cutting; and the supervision of the cutting by the CENRO or other DENR environment officer.

The permit has exclusive period and is not transferable. No cutting shall be started without the presence of the DENR supervising representative(s). The presence of a DENR officer is important to control the cutting because if the number of trees cut exceeds the number requested and the period of cutting goes beyond the period permitted, the permit may be rendered null and void. Penalties may be imposed in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

Now, has MSU Naawan management complied with all the requirements to warrant the issuance of a tree cutting permit in connection especially for the construction of a gymnasium or a Training and Student Activity Center on campus?

Accordingly, the application for permit was submitted to DENR 10 sometime in late November or early December 2013. The cutting of trees on the other hand was commenced sometime in the middle of January 2014. Obviously, there was no material time to comply with the requirements in the issuance of a permit, so much so that the cutting involved 28 Narra trees which needed the approval of DENR Central office.

By the mindless way it felled, bulldozed, uprooted and the careless manner it dumped the trees in a log site that was also cleared of some trees, a permit is apparently absent. We have not also read or heard of any public notice or announcement on scheduled consultations anent the cutting of trees with community stakeholders, particularly with the constituency of MSU Naawan campus who planted, nurtured and cared for the trees for years. And no DENR officer was ever around to supervise the cutting of the trees.

But, was there really a permit as claimed (without showing) by the MSU Naawan Chancellor during an interview with ABS CBN on February 13, 2014?

If the answer is affirmative, then MSU Naawan management has nothing to worry. It may instead put DENR 10 in hot water on the possibility of issuing a hanky-panky permit.

If, on the other hand, the answer is negative then all concerned in MSU Naawan are in for big trouble. DENR is in the position of filing a case against the responsible persons in the proper court. (William R. Adan, Ph.D., was a research and extension worker, professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He was a British Council fellow and trained in 1994 at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, on Participatory Planning and Environmentally Responsible Development. Upon retirement, he served as national consultant to the ADB-DENR project on integrated coastal resource management. He is the immediate past president of the MSU Alumni Association)

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  1. why were the posts removed? Dr. Adan, are you ashamed that people will know? here are some of them.


    salamat sa mga nagpost. I had been following aning si Dr. Adan.
    Ngano? I am familiar of the area and naa sa MSUNaawan gaeskwela ako manghud.
    Very clear Ada is killing himself with an envious heart. Matingala gyud mi
    ngano nga pirmi siya opposes kung unsay maayo nga developments sa school. I
    know he was the Chancellor for 12 year, REMEMBER, 12 LOOOONNGG YEARS!!. Unsa
    iya nahimo? 200 plus ra nga estudyante ug MESC building nga puro lang haligi
    worth 10 MILLLION plus, note, 10MILLION plus way back in the ’90s. In fact,
    known man na siya nga VERY CORRUPT CHANCELLOR MAO NGA mga haligi ra iya nahimo
    out of the 10Million. Dili gyud ko (ug akong pamilya) makasabot ngano nga he is
    doing his very best to put down MSUNaawan. Suko siya kaayo sa mga trees and birds
    nga nawala. Wala man gani gareklamo ang mga faculty and staff nga maoy naghago
    ug tanum. Ngano? tungod kay mas nakasabot sila sa development sa campus. Abi ko
    ba bright SIYA NGA cHANCELLOR. nGANO DILI siya kasabot? Bakakon pa ra ba gyud
    sa iya post. Kuha siya picture nga mosupport unsa naa sa iya hunahuna, dili
    niya i-storya ang true developments nga nagakahitabo. Bakakon gyud! Dr. Adan,
    why don’t you discuss instead what it was during your 12 LOOONGNNGG YYEAAARS
    and what it is now? Basin ug naa ka maclaim nga legacy mo, that would make
    sense. Kaning gihimo mo is showing clearly of your ENVIOUS HEART. Paglingkod ug
    paghunahuna and do something with your envious heart. ingon pa ani nagpost
    diri, ENVY KILLS THE HEART! Maayo pa ug motabang ka nga matagaan ug opportunity
    ang mga tao, dili lang birds and trees imo hunahunaon. BUT ingon pa diri ako
    igsuon, wala man gani diay kuno ka kapaeskwela sa imo mga igsuoon. Too bad!
    Pareho ra mo ug espiritu ani si Sony de Guzman nga nakita ko sa post mo–ang
    pinakaHAMBUGIRA nga tao sa tibuok kalibutan!!


    just a poor boy

    I feel sad sir that at the stage of your
    life when you are supposed to have acquired enormous wealth of experience you
    still are more concerned of the trees and the birds, unmindful of creating a
    better life for the young who are born with poor families like many of us, you
    included MSUAN ka man. MSUN in its 34 years (1983-2007) of existence served
    more the pockets of some employees including yours than served its purpose of
    creating opportunities for the community and its people. And 12 years of these
    (1989-2001) was under your administration as Chancellor. I admit being a
    Naawanon that you were material in planting of trees in the Campus. But, is
    this the only legacy you were committed to deliver, not mentioning the MESC
    (MESS) you left with post and beams after spending 11 million? What happened to
    the fishponds, to the Prawn Hatchery after SPDA left? They are now back to
    harness after a decade of being abandoned. Your “clutter of a MESC”,
    is now with 12 classrooms, 2 air-con rooms for faculty and VC for Academic
    Affairs. Are you not happy that the living witness of your
    “inutility” is now covered? For 34 years, less than 500 students
    every school year were benefited with education they were forced to choose in
    the absence of other courses. Conveniently you said this is our mandate but
    what is obvious is the ease, the predictability and convenience of running a
    small entity, anyway you do not get more pay for more work. Your easy way out
    was, there is no budget for expansion. For 12 years you made us believe that
    giving more opportunities for the young and poor was not possible.
    Unfortunately, a Naawanon rose to the occassion and proved you wrong, The
    enrollment grew to 800, to 1400, to 1800, to 2,150 and now to almost 3,000.
    These are indicators of relevance. The people had shown their appreciation that
    maybe their dreams, in the midst of their poverty, can now possibly be
    realized. In appreciation to this positive development, the National Government
    poured more funds to accelerate development of human resources initiated by the
    later administration unfortunately yours not included. Obviously, this is one
    of the causes of your crusade to bring down this administration. But please
    think many times, you are instead shooting down many dreams for better life.Your
    poor performance was because of your own neglect and never the fault of this
    administration. And I have reason to believe, it is not the purpose of the
    recent administrators to do good just to highlight your failure. I think you
    understand, that we need to have more facilities to compliment this growth
    which is a wish of every administrator in his right mind. I am confident you
    are still in your right mind with array of excellent credentials you have. If
    so, I ask you to help this administration strengthen their human errors and I
    will rally with you to plant more trees and replace those uprooted and have
    better abode for the birds and the bees. But for the meantime let us secure the
    future of the children of the less privileged and the depraved. A nobler legacy
    we can bring to our graves than move every mountain to put into prison those
    who work so hard for the welfare of the poor.


    o momentsgone just a poor boy • 15 hours ago
    I can really be a witness to this
    one. Would you imagine, during our time in college, there is this building that
    was left there in the middle of nowhere. They say kulang daw sa budget para
    matapos yung building. I was a 2nd year college that time.. naka graduate na
    ako.. pero yung building tiwangwang pa din..

    Now I heard that building is already
    built. We could have enjoyed that new builing kung hindi nya binulsa ang pera
    ng bayan. I think mas maganda siguro if this former chancellor should be
    audited by the congress and senate. I am going to do a screenshot of this
    article and I will try to email the government to look into this situation. If
    Sir Adan will not stop messing the name of MSU-NAAWAN

    I will go home from
    Canada to be a witness to the court trial.


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    momentsgone • a day ago

    Thank you for
    sharing your side of the story. First of all, I am really observing how you
    always attack the management of MSU Naawan, ever since you got kicked out in
    the chancellor level.

    I think it is clear
    to me now that you are just doing this mainly to destroy the credibility of the
    management. Let me just remind you, during your time that you are a chancellor,
    what development did you to inside MSU Naawan? Just plant trees? Grow fishes?
    Excuse me. You did nothing but aimlessly plunge yourself in the government’s
    money. Do you want a proof? How many class rooms where you able to build? Did
    you even have thought that MSU Naawan is a “university” not a forest?
    Hello! They just cut those trees, because they are expanding. Ang hirap sayo
    kasi satsat ka ng satsat dahil sa totoo lang naiingit ka sa nangyayari now sa
    MSU Naawan.

    Now you are
    thinking who am I? I am just a former student under your time of being a
    chancellor. At first I do admire you sir. But this time.. you have gone too
    much. Too much envy kills. And are you really sure that there is no permit?
    Baka mamaya nyan sir eh baliktarin ka ng facts.

    What you do here
    does not affect the management of the MSU Naawan, You are destroying the
    credibility of the University itself! the Name MSU NAAWAN, which is my alma
    matter.. Where I got my college degree and is now working as a Professional
    here in Canada.

    You should wake up
    and see what you are doing. ENVY kills sir!.

    Just a word from a
    former student who admires you as a chancellor.

    God bless you.. may
    the Lord give you peace always..

    Allah bless you!


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