5 cops sacked over illegal logging in South Cotabato

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/17 May)—Five police officers have been relieved from their posts in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato for apparently failing to contain illegal logging activities in the area, with the poaching of natural-grown forest trees valued at P324,693, officials said.

South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy, Jr said Monday evening the policemen were recalled to the provincial police command in this city pending results of the investigation on the illegal logging activity in Barangay Tasiman, Lake Sebu town uncovered last week.

“Illegal logging continues there due to the apparent failure of intelligence information gathering on the part of the local police,” Pingoy said.

Senior Supt. Nilo Wong, South Cotabato police provincial director, ordered Supt. Benito Siron to assume the post of Insp. Valerio Pado, Lake Sebu police chief.

Pado, Insp. Tirso Ontolan, Police Officers 3 Solomon Ocong and Edwin Cahurao, and Police Officer 2 Lorito Malon were directed to report to the provincial police command on Sunday.

Wong said Tuesday he issued the relief order following reports that some members of the Lake Sebu police station were supposedly directly behind the poaching and illegal cutting of trees in Tasiman.

“We’re not saying they were guilty or involved in the case. This (relief) is a routine action to ensure the impartiality of our investigation,” he said.

But Wong admitted that they received reports that the relieved policemen were allegedly involved in the illegal logging activities in Tasiman.

On May 11, joint operatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Cotabato Provincial Environment Management Office and the provincial police command seized 12,987.74 board feet of illegally cut logs in Barangay Tasiman in Lake Sebu town.

Leonisa Alfaro, DENR-South Cotabato chief for community-based forest management unit, earlier said the raid came after they conducted a biodiversity monitoring in the area.

“These illegally cut logs are from naturally-grown trees particularly Nato, Tanguile and White Lawaan,” Alfaro said in a report from the provincial information office.

Logging in the village is banned because it is part of the Allah Valley Watershed Reservation and Protected Area, she added.

The alleged operator of the illegal logging activity was identified as Alas Kandadao, whom Pingoy vowed to hail to court, along with his cohorts.

The illegally-cut logs were found stacked inside a newly-built warehouse owned by Kandadao.

Precy Mama, DENR-12 Forest Resources Conservation Division acting chief, said on Tuesday the agency was still investigating the illegal logging incident to determine the persons who may be charged in court.

Deputy provincial police director Supt. Jose Calimutan said they created a special task force that will spearhead the investigation on the alleged involvement of the relieved policemen in the illegal logging activities in Lake Sebu.

He said that if there is enough evidence they will not hesitate to file the necessary administrative and possible criminal charges against the accused policemen.

“But rest assured that everything will be done through due process and we will uphold (the right of the accused policemen to) a competent and impartial investigation,” the police official added.

Pingoy said the confiscated illegally-cut logs would be made into tables and chairs for use in public schools in the province.

The provincial government, DENR and the Department of Education earlier forged a memorandum of agreement in which illegally-cut trees will be utilized for public school fixtures.

Pingoy said they have earlier completed 15,000 chairs for elementary schools, and this time the illegally-cut logs are intended for use in public pre-schools.

In a bid to prevent more illegal logging activities in the village, Pingoy said that community livelihood projects would be implemented in the area, as Barangay Tasiman is part of the 200-hectare provincial green forest program, a project supported by the Development Bank of the Philippines. (Bong Sarmiento and Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)