Officials in 2 T’boli villages tagged in illegal logging

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/28 February) — Environment officials in South Cotabato have tagged officials of two upland villages in T’boli town as allegedly behind the rampant poaching and illegal logging activities in portions of the town’s remaining forests.

Ramon Ponce de Leon, Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said Monday they received reports that several officials of Barangays Basag and Salacafe in T’boli town had been involved in the reported illegal logging and cutting of trees in the two villages,
which were already considered as among the province’s “environmental hotspots”.

He said some of the concerned village officials, whom he did not name pending an ongoing investigation by the provincial government, were supposedly even leading the illegal activities.

“We already have the names of all those involved and we’re currently gathering the necessary evidences for possible legal actions. It’s time to stop them,” he said in a radio interview.

Ponce de Leon said they already dispatched some of their personnel to closely monitor the identified logging “hotspots” in coordination with police and military units.

He said they earlier established checkpoints in various entry and exit points of the two villages to prevent the transport of the illegally-cut trees and timber.

He said they were still verifying the extent of the poaching and illegal logging activities in the two villages but noted that it had been going on for quite some time now.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. earlier directed PEMO personnel to check on the reported illegal logging activities in T’boli as well as other cases of environment-related violations in several parts of the province as part of the local government’s environmental thrusts.

Last year, the provincial government launched a massive crackdown against the rampant extraction of mineral ores in Tampakan town, which is known for its huge copper and gold deposits.

The campaign netted hundreds of tons of illegally-extracted ores and the exposure of the supposed financiers and backers of the illegal activity, which included a Taiwanese national and a retired military official.

Ponce de Leon said they were very much concerned with the illegal logging activities in Barangays Basag and Salacafe as the areas cover portions of the province’s critical watershed.

Salacafe is located near crater-lake Holon (formerly Lake Maughan) and Mt. Melebingoy (formerly Mt. Parker) as well as the headwaters of river-tributaries that drain towards the Allah River.

The Allah River, which traverses nine localities in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces, is one of the biggest rivers in the area and a major source of irrigation of farming communities in the two provinces.

Lake Holon, about a mile in diameter, is a natural reservoir of some 50 million cubic meters of water.

In 1995, a landslide in one of the lake’s walls caused its water level to rise and eventually dumped 30 million cubic meters into the Allah River and its river-tributaries.

It was the worst disaster to hit South Cotabato in decades, leaving 53 people dead, 14 of whom were not recovered. Damage to property and infrastructure was pegged at P212 million. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)