Despite ban, logging is business as usual

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/10 May) – Despite the order of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III last February 1 for a total log ban following the harrowing impact of climate change induced floods and landslides that greeted the year, the seizure of illegal timber here Monday morning may have indicated that logging in Northern Mindanao and in the critical Lake Lanao watershed in Lanao del Sur has been operating business as usual.

The anti-illegal logging strike force of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Northern Mindanao seized about 20,000 board feet of lawaan flitches in a stakeout in Brgy. Puerto early morning Monday. One of the trucks even tried to hurdle the checkpoint and had to be chased before being waylaid in Brgy. Tin-ao here.

One of the trucks, an Isuzu 10-wheeler with plate no. RJY 384, is allegedly claimed by Emely Chua who owns the White and Son Sawmill in Opol, Misamis Oriental. Chua has been in the logging business since the 1990s. The truck contained 148 flitches of lawaan wood, with a total volume of 10,607.19 board feet. This truck which tried to evade the checkpoint in Puerto was stopped by pursuing authorities in Brgy. Tin-ao 7 a.m. Monday, but its driver managed to escape and is now at large.

The second truck, a Fuzo 10-wheeler contained, 141 lawaan flitches with a total volume of 9,584 board feet. Its driver, Casan Samer, has been detained.

The trade of lawaan (Shorea species), a dipterocarp tree that mostly grows in natural forests, is regulated locally and internationally.

Investigation by the DENR revealed that the logs came from Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur.

Lawyer Florenda Lamason-Yap, chief legal counsel of DENR-10, said that they are filing criminal cases against the owners of the seized illegal timber for violation of Sec. 68 of the Philippine Forestry Law or Presidental Decree 705.

The perpetrators are facing stiff penalties because Sec. 28 of PD 705 “penalizes those engaged in cutting/ harvesting, transporting and trading of illegal logs with a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, a penalty similar to that imposed in cases of qualified theft,” said Yap.

Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (Cenro) Aldrich Resma said that at prevailing market prices of P30 per board feet, the value of the timber in both trucks is about P600,000.

Under Executive Order 23 signed by the President last February, all logging in natural and residual forests composed of indigenous trees and those not planted by man has been put on moratorium.

Further investigation on the trade of logs which Malacañang had ordered stopped revealed that the DENR central office issued last April 26 a permit to transport 1,668.28 cubic meters of logs from Maguing, Lanao del Sur to M and Jr. sawmill in Camaman-an, Cagayan de Oro City and to Chua’s White and Son Sawmill in Opol town.

Environmentalists are furious upon learning of this development.

DENR Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo issued permit to allow the shipment of timber products from Lanao del Sur of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) after ARMM Environment Secretary Usman Sarangani certified that the logs owned by the Bualan Rebel Returness Cooperative led by a certain Kumander Camar M. Disambaron were harvested or “cut prior to the effectivity E.O 23.”

Environmentalists say Sarangani’s claim is preposterous and “lumang tugtugin” (literally, “old music,” referring to old habits folks are used to doing habitually).

“It is a good that these things have come to public knowledge now. This should be investigated to verify if these timber products are just awaiting transportation or cutting operations are ongoing despite the ban, in the already scantily forested areas of Maguing, Lanao del Sur,” said Sustines Magallanes, of the Centre for Alternative Rural Technology, Inc. (CART).

He added that authorities better come with hands clean on this matter as conserving the remaining forests in a climate changing world has become a very urgent public concern.

At an average of 15 cubic meters per truck, the logs allowed to be traded by the DENR Central Office is more than 100 truck loads of timber products, he said.

Aside from the transport of lawaan, the DENR also approved the transport by the Bualan Rebel Returnees Cooperative 150,000 meters of rattan pole from Lanao del Sur to Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental.

The issue of transporting to sawmills in Northern Mindanao from the ARMM has been a very thorny issue in the last 20 years, with environmentalists in Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon engaging the loggers in non-violent human barricades in the 1990s until 2000.

To address this issue, the DENR national office and the ARMM regional office have a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) regulating the movement of forest products from the ARMM to other administrative regions. This MOA requires DENR-ARMM to seek clearance from the DENR national office before transporting forest products outside ARMM.

A study by the United Kingdom-based environmental watchdog Earthsites Institute early this year revealed that dipterocarp timber like lawaan, bagtikan and bangkirai from Mindanao have found their way to the UK market. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)