Lumads appeal for release of logs; Greens cry foul

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/09 June) – Tribal chieftains from Agusan del Sur and a town in Agusan del Norte have come out to claim ownership of some 2,400 confiscated Lauan logs seized along Agusan River here on June 3 and appealed to the city mayor during a dialogue here on June 8 to release the logs. The logs are worth P2.4 million pesos.

“We would like to request you mayor that since you were the one who led the confiscation of the logs, we are sure you can also order their release. In the law we are allowed to cut these trees as part of our social practices as stated also in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). We need the logs to send our children to school since it is the opening of classes,” Dominador Calderon, also known as Datu Sumosunod of Las Nieves in Agusan del Norte, said.

Sumosunod and other leaders of indigenous peoples (IPs) or Lumads from Esperanza, La Paz, Talacogon and Loreto towns in Agusan del Sur, argued that they have rights over the confiscated logs under IPRA, claiming these logs came from their ancestral domain.

Datu Yambugis Lingkisan of Esperanza said Sections 17 and 57 of RA 8371 or IPRA provide that “we are responsible in anything within our ancestral land. Through this law, why is it that they could not give the true justice that our tribal justice will be followed, and governance under Section 13?”

Sec. 17 states that the IPs have the right to “determine and decide their own priorities for development affecting their lives, beliefs, institutions, spiritual well-being, and the lands they own, occupy or use.”

Sec. 57 provides that the IPs have “priority rights in the harvesting, extraction, development or exploitation of any natural resources within the ancestral domains” while Sec. 13 provides the recognition by the state of the IP’s inherent right to “self-governance and self-determination and respects the integrity of their values, practices and institutions.” Noli Colantes, known as DatuMapandoy of Talacogon, said that if there is an existing ban on logs, sawmills should also be banned from operating and hardware stores from selling lumber.

Colantes said some 2,000 families have been affected by the log confiscation. “So why don’t you, Mayor, ban everything, since it would be unfair for us,” he said. President Aquino on February 1 last year issued Executive Order 23, declaring a moratorium on the “cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests” nationwide and creating the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force.

The EO prohibits the DENR from issuing “logging contracts/agreements in all natural and residual forests, such as Integrated Forest Management Agreements (IFMA), Socialized Integrated Forest Management Agreements (SIFMA), Community-Based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA) and other agreements/contracts with logging components in natural and residual forests.”

The EO also provides that the DENR would “close and not allow to operate all sawmills, veneer plants and other wood processing plants who are unable to present proof of sustainable sources of legally cut logs for a period of at least five (5) years within one month from effectivity “ of the EO.

No power Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr., said he feels the hardship and pain the IPs are feeling but stressed he does not have the power to release the logs. “I completely understand your side and share the feeling of how hard life in the mountains is and how much you need the money for the education of your children. But I don’t have the power to give in to your demands since the logs are now under the custody of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and we have procedures and rules to follow in this process,” Amante said.

He suggested to the IP leaders to file a resolution stating their complains as well as their claim of ownership over the logs. “It would be better if you yourselves should (pass) a resolution, and we will help you bring your voice to the President. Because he himself would be the one who is to decide if the confiscated logs can be returned to you and not me,” said Amante. Vice Mayor Lawrence Fortun explained the confiscation is not final until the investigation is done. He said the IP’s should wait for the process Fortun said that although the logs that were confiscated are allegedly illegal, the law presumes the accused innocent until proven otherwise.

“That is why we need to wait for the investigation, as to where the logs came from, who towed, where their papers are, whether it is illegal or not. So whatever the outcome of the investigation, that is the time that the different line agency would decide as to what actions would be taken, “Fortun said. Roel Otaza of La Paz, an operator of a pumpboat that tows the logs along the river, admitted he also had several logs mixed with the pile. He said they operate discreetly so that the monitoring stations will not catch them.

Otaza said they monitor the DENR monitoring station along the river in Talacogon and wait till about 2 a.m. when the DENR personnel are asleep, before moving ahead.

“We did it because we need the money for our children’s education,” he said. Domestic or traditional use, OK but commercial? Dominador Gomez, director of the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), said that while he is “on the side of our tribes, I can say that what they did was illegal.” Other groups expressed disbelief that the IPs complained when they knew what they did was illegal.

“The resource erights and resource ownership might not be a question for the IP. But the volume shows that this is for commercial purpose and not for domestic or traditional use. This does not exempt the IP from other National laws such as the revised Forestry Code,” said Carl Cesar Rebuta, Direct Legal Servicing Officer of Legal Rights & Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/FoEPhilippines. In an online interview, Rebuta said if the logs are to be used commercially, the IPs are obliged and must respect other existing laws.

Nokie Calunsag, Campaign Officer and Media Coordinator for Green Mindanao said that even if the IP’s would cut all the trees in the forest which is inside their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and they would build a huge building it would not be a problem. “But in this case since they transported these logs outside their domain, then they must secure permits to make it legal.

CADT holders must regulate the protection and the conservation of the environment. If they have to commercialize their resources then they must follow the laws and process and not turn it into a huge magic act,” said Calunsag. The nationwide ban on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests nationwide has not been lifted. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)