Logging firm's IFMA in Surigao Sur 'defective and erroneous'

CORTES, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/15 October) — A large-scale logging firm whose Timber License Agreement (TLA) expired two years ago continues to operate inside ancestral lands in Cortes and Lanuza towns of Surigao del Sur using a “defective and erroneous” Integrated Forest Plantation Management Agreement (Ifma), an official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples on Tuesday said.

Charlene Binghoy, Surigao del Sur’s NCIP officer, told government officials, chieftains and members of the Mamanwa and Manobo tribes that Ventura acquired the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) for its Ifma “through short cuts,” making it faulty.

“The FPIC consultation processes were not complied [with], there was money involved and signatories have no authority [from the organization],” Binghoy said in a dialogue held at the social hall of Barangay Mabahin’s here on October 12.

Republic Act 8371, or the indigenous Peoples Right Act of 1998, requires projects and business ventures to obtain the indigenous peoples’ FPIC through consultations before the NCIP may issue a certification.

It also empowers IPs to stop or suspend any project in their communities that do not comply with this requirement.

Members of the Kahugpongan sa Tribong Mamanwa ug Manobo (Katrima), a tribal organization composed of Mamanwa and Manobo communities in Lanuza, Cortes and Tandag town, have been complaining that the the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “hurriedly” approved VTC’s Ifma despite their strong opposition.

Katrima’s 13-member council passed a resolution dated Nov. 8, 2009 citing its opposition to the Ifma.

The united Mamanwa-Manobo organization is the holder of the certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) covering 11,765 hectares in the three towns.

But four of the 13 council members and nine non-members were “invited” by Eulo Nogan of the NCIP regional office to meet VTC officials on February 9 in Butuan City. There they were reportedly made to sign a memorandum of agreement that they had already consented to the conversion of VTC’s TLA to an IFMA in exchange of P40,000 in cash.

Bae Aniceta Gonzalez, chair of the tribal women’s organization, told MindaNews that ”wala ko mopirma sa MOA kay dili ko kasabot sa eningles. Midagan gyod ko pagawas sa hotel.” (I did not sign the MOA because I can’t understand English. I really ran out of the hotel).”

Gonzales said it was Nogan who handed them the P40,000 and wine.

Binghay said NCIP regional director Jake Dumangan appointed Nogan to head the eight-man team that would conduct the FPIC process.

The VTC applied for the conversion of its TLA to Ifma covering 2,762 hectares in three tribal villages (Mampi, Sibahay and Nurcia) in Lanuza town and two others (Burgos and Mabini) in Cortes town.

VTC’s TLA was approved on March 1983 and ended on March 28, 2008.

In Tuesday’s dialogue initiated by Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel, an agreement was reached to redo the whole process of consulting the tribesmen as requisite for the approval of VTC’s Ifma application.

The move was based on Binghay’s finding that the Ifma issued by the DENR on February 12 was defective because no proper consultation was done.

But Manobo chieftain and Katrima vice chair Primo Falcon reiterated the tribe’s stand against logging operations in tribal villages. He said cutting of trees in tribal forestlands should be stopped right now.

Cortes Mayor Pedro Trinidad however said VTC’s logging operation may continue in Lanuza town but that in Cortes should be suspended.

But Mayor Salvacion Azarcon of Lanuza and some members of the tribe  supported VTC’s operations after they were promised jobs and other benefits.

Pimentel cautioned that the “agreement” was not binding as far as the VTC is concerned, although he said it can be brought to court and a petition for injunction can be filed against VTC.

“I cannot revoke the IFMA and cannot stop the logging operation of the VTC,” he said.

Lawyer Glocelito Jayma, Katrima’s legal counsel, said he will consult with his clients on legal remedies. He added he is contemplating to file charges against the VTC and other personalities involved. (Alden Pantaleon Jr. MindaNews)