Baungon mayor apologizes for eco-park lapse

Board member Rogelio Lago, who presented the mayor to the board to explain his side, said  they were on third round of inquiry following a privilege speech he made on the issue of the cutting of the trees three weeks earlier.

Lago presented a certification from the Sangguniang Bayan of Baungon showing that the Council did not issue authorization to Roa to sign the Memorandum of Agreement to adopt a park with DENR Region 10 signed by Maximo Dichoso, regional director.

Roa said he believed he was signing a memorandum of understanding, not a MOA, which he said "does not require authority from the town council".

The mayor pointed to the DENR as responsible for the tree-cutting. He told MindaNews Dichoso issued an authority to cut the trees.

Although Lago said that the eco-tourism project was laudable, the mayor "deserves a reprimand from the provincial board because of the lapse.”  

"We all have loopholes. Let the mayor be reprimanded so he won't do it again," Lago said.

"Give him friendly advice," presiding officer Roland Deticio told Lago, who is Roa's predecessor as Baungon mayor.

The provincial board moved to refer the matter to the Committee on Environmental Protection for further investigation.  Lago said he submitted documents accusing DENR officials of irregularities, to the Committee on Environment for filing of cases at the Office of the Ombudsman.

Garcia said the issue boils down to the barangay captain of the village and the CENR officer.

"We need to hear the side of the Penro and others involved," he said.

Vice Gov. Alex Calingasan was reported to have called for the declaration of Narzal Muñez as "persona non grata" but Deticio said Munez should be allowed to air his side.

Roa told this reporter they would still pursue the project despite the slip on the cutting of trees.

Last week, it was reported that DENR officials allowed the cutting of trees in a reforestation project in Baungon, Bukidnon to give way to the ecotourism park,  touted to become a "municipal landmark" and "tourist attraction."

Roughly one hectare of trees has been cut inside the 220-hectare Nicdao Reforestation Project of the DENR, a move that has incensed members of the provincial board.

"This is foolish, stupid, and dubious," 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 is 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.

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 qualify it 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. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)