The bishop said he has submitted a proposal to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to “deputize priests and pastors as environment officers to help curb illegal logging activities in the region.”
He said they would also help protect and promote biodiversity and sustainable environmental management in the region.
In a press conference here the Bishop also announced that Lumads and farmers would be tapped for tree planting instead of being “hired” by illegal loggers to cut naturally grown trees.
He pointed out the difficulty of stopping illegal logging without providing alternative sources of income to people who depend on forest products particularly the Lumads.
“The beauty of this program is that the money to be used mostly comes from the contributions of illegal loggers,” said de Dios Pueblos, adding most illegal loggers are "very influential” people.
De Dios Pueblos, who heads the Caraga Conference for Peace and Development (CCPD), said the plan to mobilize priests and pastors as “environment officers” is now being ironed out for implementation. It will be finalized during the visit of DENR Secretary Joselito Atienza Jr. in the region, he added.
But Fr. Carlito Clase, CCPD executive director, told MindaNews that the Bishop’s proposal was still being discussed and might take a long time to be finalized.
Rampant illegal logging activities, including the operation of unlicensed mini-sawmill, were earlier reported in the towns of Trento, Rosario, Bayugan, Talacogon, Sibagat and Esperanza, all in Agusan del Sur.
Weeks ago, some 5,000 pieces of illegally cut lauan logs were apprehended along the Agusan River in Esperanza. The seized logs, whose volume was initially placed at 508,800 board feet (1,200 cubic meters), are now impounded at the DENR compound in Butuan City.
Caraga DENR Regional Executive Director Edilberto Buiser said unscrupulous financiers hired members of the Higaonon tribe to tow the contraband hidden along the riverbanks in several tributaries of the Agusan River.
He cited the cooperation of Agusan del Sur Gov. Ma. Valentina Plaza and Bishop de Dios Pueblos as “the key factors in the recent apprehension."
The CCPD, a church-based multi-sectoral advocacy group, has been conducting a series of activities aimed at preventing and managing conflicts related to extraction of forest resources particularly in the PICOP Resources Inc. areas since June last year. (Alden Pantaleon Jr./MindaNews)