DENR allows cutting of trees for 'ecotourism park' in Bukidnon

Roughly one hectare of trees has been cut at the 220-hectare Nicdao Reforestation Project put up by the DENR in 1989, a move that has incensed members of the provincial board.

"This is foolish, stupid, and dubious," Board Member Rogelio Lago said after the special session yesterday where local DENR officials were asked to explain their action.

Lago, a former mayor of Baungon, told MindaNews the reforestation project was funded by the Asian Development Bank. 

The project site, which was planted to gmelina, was cleared on January 6 based on a memorandum of agreement between the municipal government and the DENR regional office, he added.

Then DENR regional director Maximo O. Dichoso and Baungon Mayor Ardan J. Roa signed the agreement on November 17, 2008. 

Dichoso issued a memorandum on December 19, 2008 indicating his approval of the cutting of trees.

A total of 550 gmelina trees with an estimated volume of 253 cubic meters and a diameter of 20-35 centimeters each were cut down, he said citing a report from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office.

"How could they allow the cutting of the trees in a reforestation project just for them to plant trees? This can push us to doubt their integrity," he said.

Lago said the clearing is shameful and that the provincial board is poised to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation. 

"We could even proceed to filing of administrative cases and complaints at the Office of the Ombudsman," he said.

"Shame on them for allowing the clearing. The DENR has approved the cutting of trees when in neighboring Cagayan de Oro people are suffering because of the floods," he said.

The eco-park project is eyed at Sitio Kamatayon, Nicdao, Baungon, near a site where Lago said he had proposed a tree park during his time as mayor. He said his proposal did not include cutting of trees.

Narzal Muñez, CENR officer of Talakag whose jurisdiction includes Baungon and neighboring towns, appeared at the session to explain DENR’s side, as he was the one who gave the recommendations for the MOA to Dichoso.

Muñez cited in a letter about the MOA to his superiors that "the development plan (of the project) necessitates the removal of the existing gmelina trees to pave the way for the introduction of engineering structures, ornamental and flowering plants.”

Board members, however, lambasted Muñez. 

"How could you as a forester allow that [cutting of trees in a reforestation site]?" Board Member Oliver Owen Garcia said.

Lago pointed out that while the DENR has certified that the area is within a “timberland project” it also said the land has undergone a cadastral survey which would make it qualify under the alienable and disposable category of lands.

Timberlands are owned by the state while alienable and disposable lands may be titled in the name of private persons or corporations.

Lago also said there were discrepancies in the tax declaration of the heirs of Segundina Abugaa, who claimed the 200-hectare reforestation project is part of her family's property. 

"I couldn't see they paid taxes for cutting down the trees. There is no permit to transport tax here," he said showing a tax declaration document.

The MOA provided that Abugaa, referred to as "PO (people’s organization)/claimant" may use 75 percent and the DENR 25 percent of the sales from the felled trees.

Lago vowed to dig deeper into the case. He said he and Board Member Glenn Peduche, chair of the committee on environmental protection, land use, and zoning, will initiate the probe next week.

Baungon is one of the few areas where the rare large flower Rafflesia grows. 

Scientists have discovered 23 species of Rafflesia aside from four others which are yet to be verified.

The official state flower of Sabah in Malaysia, Rafflesia is also found in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Thailand. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)