Bukidnon proposes shutdown of industrial tree project

Zubiri told MindaNews the provincial government of Bukidnon and the people "have not gained a single centavo" from the firm's 16 years of operations.

Environment Secretary. Lito Atienza chairs the BFI board where Zubiri is also a member as Bukidnon governor.

The announcement came two months after Zubiri said he preferred to convert parts of the BFI area that still needs reforestation into a jatropha plantation.

He said many ancestral domain claims have been set on BFI's 39,000 hectares where the firm has failed to reforest despite full operations.

"It was supposed to be cut and reforested but it was not," he said citing figures of what so far had been replanted.

Zubiri reiterated a plan he made public earlier to negotiate with the claimants to make the land productive.

He said they plan to plant thousands of hectares of barren lands with jatropha (locally known as tuba tuba) within the BFI area ahead of the termination of the Integrated Forest Plantation Management Agreement (IFMA) in 2016.

Zubiri said the province plans to introduce jatropha in at least 21,000 hectares of BFI's 39,000-hectare area by availing of the national government's P10-billion fund for the program.

The governor's son, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, is the principal author of the Biofuels Act, which promotes the use of fuel from alternative sources such as ethanol. The older Zubiri admitted he still needs to consult several ancestral domain claimants who are poised to take over the area when BFI's IFMA ends in 2016. But he said there is no need for them to wait for 2016, as the BFI could hardly sustain its operations.

Zubiri said then the provincial government will provide the Lumads with capital to buy seeds, get farm support such as fertilizer and even living allowance for two years under the provincial livelihood program.

But he noted the need for caution because there are overlapping ancestral domains claims over the BFI area.

He admitted they are still in the planning stage.

He also clarified the proposal will not touch around 500 hectares of pine trees, which help provide this city with a cool climate as the Diocese of Malaybalay during a recent pastoral assembly called for more consultations and studies in the planting of jathropha, instead of pine trees.

The governor said earlier he no longer favors BFI activities claiming the corporation could no longer sustain its operations.

Manuel Casiño, BFI general manager, earlier told MindaNews that the company has been able to pay wages even if it is existing on a "hand to mouth situation."

He admitted that initial replanting operations were a disaster but that they have perfected the reforestation project since 1995.

He said BFI has succeeded in replanting at least 6,300 hectares, about half of which have been planted to Caribbean pine trees.

But he also admitted that about 18,000 hectares of its "plantable" area of 21,000 hectares still needs replanting. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)