TURNING POINT: One Crooked Thing in Daang Matuwid

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/30 March) — Absurd, anomalous and irresponsible.

How else would you describe the act of Regional Executive Director (RED) Ruth M. Tawantawan of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 10 in issuing a permit to MSU Naawan to cut 87 trees after the fact, that is, months after the trees were already felled to the ground?

The DENR records show that the Chancellor of MSU Naawan filed with DENR 10 two permit applications to cut trees in connection with the construction of some school buildings on campus. One was submitted on 03 May 2014 involving 19 trees and another on 24 May 2014 affecting 68 trees, mostly large Narra and Mahogany planted by students, faculty and staff of the university some 30 years ago.

For one reason or another, the applications got stranded in the Office of the Regional Executive Director (RED) and were not acted upon.

The trees were cut, nonetheless, in different occasions without the benefit of permits as required by law.

The latest tree cutting incident that wasted 68 trees was executed within the middle of January 2014 to the first week of February 2014. This was done in clearing the area and in the groundbreaking activities for the construction of a gymnasium otherwise known as Training and Student Activity Center (TSAC).

Naming the gym as Training and Student Activity Center was clearly resorted to circumvent certain expenditure policies. The P1.1B Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) fund given to the Mindanao State University System (MSUS) through the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) was intended to meet the basic instructional needs of the 11 campuses of the University, specifically for badly needed classrooms, research laboratories and their attendant facilities and equipment.

The initial construction activities were commenced without a valid procurement contract. The deed of agreement between the Mindanao State University and Jacinto Gerona Construction was only approved by the Board of Regents of the University during its 226th meeting on 12 March 2014, in Diliman, Quezon City. Moreover, the construction was pursued, and to date is on-going, without building permit as evidenced by the absence of a poster near the site displaying the permit number and the date of issue as required by law.

The tree cutting incident was brought to the attention of the public online by MindaNews on 13 February 2014. The report saw print in Mindanao Gold Star Daily News on 20 February 2014. The local ABS CBN TV Patrol also featured the incident in its newscast on 13 and 14 February 2014.

I formally reported the incident to Red Tawantawan on 18th of February complete with a video footage (a video link to YouTube) on the felling of trees and some pictures of the event. Another report was submitted to her on the 20th of February on the continuous slicing of logs and the operation of an illegal sawmill on campus, likewise supported with video footages and pictures which I personally took.

Apparently on account of my report, RED Tawantawan made two simultaneous conflicting actions: (1) creating an investigating team to look into the incident as reported; and (2) issuing an order to the Provincial Environment and Resources Officer (PENRO) to rectify the requirement deficiencies in the applications of MSU Naawan for a tree-cutting permit to facilitate their processing.

Pressed whether or not she had earlier issued a permit to MSU Naawan that led to the willful cutting of trees, she categorically answered in the negative, saying that it is the very reason why an investigation had to be conducted (TURNING POINT, MindaNews, 09 March 2014).

PENRO Special Order No. 008-2014, series of 2014, constituted an investigating team supposedly composed of 4 DENR personnel, a representative from the LGU, the PNP, and the AFP and the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force in the Area. The investigating team, however, that conducted the actual investigation on site and who met with me on 10 March 2014 to validate my report of the incident were only three DENR foresters, two from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) and one from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO).

Meanwhile, the deficiencies that the RED noticed in revisiting the applications of MSU Naawan which she wanted rectified and complied with included the following:

  1. Tally sheets and stock table duly signed by those who conducted the inventory attested by the concerned CENRO and should be subscribed and sworn to;
  2. The stand and stock table should be prepared by species and species group (i.e., premium species, common hardwood, and lesser used/lesser known species;
  3. Photocopy of the land title;
  4. Certification from the Secretary, Department of Agriculture, or his authorized representative that the edible fruit-bearing trees applied for are allowed to be cut pursuant DAO No. 18, Series of 1994; and
  5. Justification from the proponent that the cutting of trees cannot be avoided and possible options to minimize the impact/damage to the surrounding environment

RED Tawantawan reneged, however, on her assurance to be transparent in dealing with the issue at hand. When I requested from her the report of the investigating team, a month after the site investigation, and a certification that she has not issued a permit prior to the cutting of trees at MSU Naawan, she replied that my request would only be given due course as a matter of procedure after the conduct of an administrative hearing on the incident.

Yet on 08 April 2014, about a month from the conduct of the investigation, or two weeks from the alleged pursuit of the administrative hearing on the incident, RED Tawantawan, instead of charging the alleged offender(s) in the proper court, absolved all and sundry of their offenses by issuing a permit to MSU Naawan allowing it to cut the 87 trees applied for, all of which it had already been cut several months back.

For all intents and purposes, the conflicting orders of RED Tawantawan may explain why the investigating team was not fully constituted but was composed only of PENRO and CENRO personnel. The 3-men team was not there to conduct an impartial investigation of the incident and determine the offenses or violations of all concerned but to follow the directives of the RED and the PENRO to rectify the deficiencies in the tree-cutting permit applications of MSU Naawan to facilitate their processing in favor of the institution. The whole motion was a charade evidently to cover up the negligence, omission and inefficiency of the Office of the Regional Executive Director, that is, in its failure to act on the aforementioned permit applications for almost a year.

Whatever, the administrative hearing was obviously never conducted. Otherwise, the hearing officer should have invited me as a witness because I was the one who reported the incident to DENR. I never was. And it would have been easy and ministerial for the RED to furnish me a copy of the transcript of said proceeding as requested if there was any. Not one of my requests was granted to this day.

The alleged conduct of administrative hearing appears to me a design to weary me and lose interest in the case. Again, it was part of the whole charade to control the damage and protect the skin of DENR 10 officials, particularly that of RED Tawantawan.

RED Tawantawan is clearly an anomaly in the daang-matuwid policy of the Aquino Administration. How can we protect and preserve our resources and environment when those officially mandated to do it betray their very own duties and responsibilities? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph. D., is a former professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan)