Cutting of trees still rampant in Surigao City watershed

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/12 October) — Even as Surigao City continues to grapple with dwindling water supply for household consumption, cutting of trees has remained rampant at the Parang-parang watershed in Barangay Mat-i, currently the city’s major source of potable water.

Benjamin R. Ensomo Jr., Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD) general manager said that 1,011.74 board feet of hot lumber has been confiscated this year alone.

Data made available on August 16 this year showed that 2,151 board feet of lumber was confiscated last year.

There’s no record however on the volume of timber taken by other wood poachers for housing needs and household use such as firewood.

In an interview with MindaNews, Ensomo said that trees cut in the area were mainly used by small-scale miners for their tunnels.

He said that last year, about half a hectare of the watershed area was cleared for agriculture. But nobody has been arrested for the offense.

Forestry laws ban the use of watershed areas for farming.

Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and of its attached agency, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, could not be reached for comment.

The SMWD has drawn flak for its failure to provide ample water supply to the city’s 16,000 households, a problem it attributed to the degradation of the Parang-parang watershed.

Local broadcaster Jun Clerigo last week said he went to the water district’s reservoir at Ceniza Heights in Barangay Washington and discovered that the water level there had sunk to 10 millimeters.

A small-scale miner in Parang-parang who requested anonymity refuted an earlier SWMD report on the existence of 115 illegal mining tunnels, saying there have actually been 400 tunnels from that period until today.

However, officials of the Nagkahiusang Gagmayng Minero (Nagami) belied the figures mentioned by both the SMWD and the unnamed source. They said there are only 60 tunnels and only 38 are operational.

Eleazar Conod, a Nagami official from Barangay Mat-i, said in a radio interview that the tunnels in the area would not affect the water source because they are operating at the foot of the said watershed.

Conod, however, admitted that some miners encroached beyond the one-kilometer radius set as the buffer zone of the watershed.

The SMWD has admitted its failure to provide enough water to its consumers for the past few months but it blamed the problem on illegal loggers, wood poachers and illegal miners, aside from attributing it to the drought.

It was learned that the SMWD needs a production capacity of 160 liters per second to meet the demands of city residents.

Some local officials have remained mum on the issue of water crisis. However, Congressman Guillermo A. Romarate, Jr., of Surigao del Norte’s Second District, said that only political will can solve the problems confronting the watershed.

He said public officials should “implement a public policy or law for the benefit of the public without fear or favor, no matter who gets hurt.” (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)