A log ban was imposed nationwide in December 2005 following the floods that killed thousands of persons in Luzon. The ban, however, was lifted in March 2005 in three Mindanao regions, including Southeastern Mindanao.
In a letter dated August 28, the town’s town's Parish Pastoral Coordinating Council and the Cateel Multi-sectoral Alliance warned that illegal logging was being done alongside legal logging activities, with a reforestation project alleged to have been used as front for illegal logging.
"Its existence (illegal logging) has bred anarchy, alienation, and ruin (sic) ecosystem due to indiscriminate, exploitative, and irresponsible utilization of natural resources," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by MindaNews.
Ricky Arisola, coordinator of the Cateel Multi-sectoral Alliance that led non-government and peoples' organizations in supporting the move, said they have major reasons to "strongly propose and recommend" the total log ban.
Arisola said government and environment officials from the local to the national levels, for instance, “have displayed unity in allowing the cutting of trees both legally and illegally.” He said illegal loggers intensified their activities in the area “more so with the approval of the Integrated Forest Plantation Management Agreement (IFMA)” of a logging company in January 2001.
"Illegal loggers have used the IFMA as front and protection to cover logging outside it," Arisola said.
Arisola said that Mandaya tribal communities and settlers have protested the granting of an IFMA in both Cateel and Baganga towns, covering a total of 10,083 hectares, for allegedly encroaching on parts of their claimed ancestral domain.
The groups claimed that the logging industry operating in the areas have also used the poor and marginal sectors as "fronts of illegal logging operations."
"They claim that the logging operations help the poor augment their income, but the truth is the poor are still poor despite that and their environment has deteriorated even more," Arisola told MindaNews in a telephone interview.
Arisola, Cateel's former municipal tourism officer, said the illegal logging industry in Cateel and neighboring towns in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley have jeopardized socio-economic programs and projects and infrastructures in the area.
"How could you work for sustainable agriculture with sufficient irrigation, if your watershed is in trouble?" he asked.
He said the group believed that the government and the logging industry did not have a reforestation program to match the rapid loss of natural resources-based products, warning that the natural resources in the area are already beyond the critical threshold. He said a critical situation in one town or province could affect the other ecosystems.
The groups said the situation could spell further trouble when placed alongside what they described as a DENR and local environment offices in the two provinces with “incapacity and organizational constraints to protect and regulate natural resources and its biodiversity".
They claimed that local government units in the municipalities and the two provinces “have no strong political will” to stop illegal logging.
But Arisola said that it was the collapse of the Aliwagwag Bridge in Cateel on August 20 “that became an eye-opener for people to go back and work for the ban”.
A logging truck loaded with an estimated 23 to 25 metric tons of logs downed the 15-tonner bridge. The damage caused the detour of vehicles between Cateel and Davao City, increasing travel time by another 10 hours
But Marciana Hofileña, DENR’s information officer for Southeastern Mindanao, said “the local government has a focal role in controlling illegal logging in their areas”.
Arisola said they would send the letter to Reyes on September 12 as the signature campaign is still continuing.
Arisola said they have a multi-faceted campaign to work for the log ban, with requests for interventions from national and international groups. He said they have already sought the help of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
On Sept. 11, the groups will stage a parade-symposium on the issue in Cateel in their bid to generate wider public understanding, with an audience mostly of students. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)