Iligan officials demand probe on logging operations

IILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/19 January)  —  Officials here are demanding a probe on logging operations in the Lanao provinces which survivors of the flashfloods on December 16-17 blame for the massive destruction of lives and property in the villages of Orchids, Santiago and Bayog island.

Iligan’s representative to Congress, Vicente Belmonte, has asked Congress in a privilege speech on January 17, to conduct a legislative inquiry. The City Council had earlier passed a resolution asking the national government to create a task force and inquiry on the logging operations thave have apparently been continuing despite President Aquino’s total log ban directive  issued early last year.

Belmonte said the investigative body will determine and identify loggers who are operating in the hinterland communities of the two Lanao provinces and to stop these logging companies from wanton destruction of the remaining forest reserves in Lanao.

Belmonte, in his privilege speech in the House of Representatives on January 17 explained that the national government must hold accountable those engaged in illegal operations.

Iligan city reported in its website 5,683 homes totally damaged, 16,788 homes partially damaged and two elementary schools totally damaged. Most of these were destroyed when logs slammed on houses and schools at the height of floods at around 1 a,m. on December 17.

A total of 890 bodies were recovered, 666 of them identified while the remaining 224 were unidentified. At least 566 persons remain missing while 4,511 were injured.

Carino Antequisa of the Catholic Overseas Development Agency (CAFOD) , an agency currently conducting an independent study of logging operations in Lanao, said the extent of damages from the flood was aggravated by  logs from Kapai town in Lanao del Sur which hit the houses along their path.

Lawyer Saidali Gandambra, vice chair of Christian and Muslim for Peace (CAMP) bared that among those who are engaged in logging in the watershed areas of Lanao del Sur thru an Integrated Forest Plantation Management Agreement (IFMA) are Vicmar Development Corporation, Bualan Rebel Returnees Association, Timber Industries of the Philippines Inc. (TIMPI), and Consunji Company.

Gandambra said that they are operating in the areas of Kapai, Tagoloan, Bumbaran, Maguing and Wao of Lanao del Sur. Some of these areas have actually encroached on watershed areas of Lake Lanao, he said.

Gamdambra also revealed that the Bualan Rebel Returnees Association has undisposed logs of about 1,600 cubic meters. under an IFMA issued by the previous administrator of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Gandambra said that these logs are transported to  Iligan, Ozamiz and Cebu cities.

Councilor Moises Dalisay said Vicmar is a company registered as an agricultural industry with an office at Makati city but is doing logging operation.

Pastor Tenorio, chair of the Civil Society Organization Forum for Peace (CSOFP) called for the cancellation of the IFMA of the companies operating in Lanao.

Under Executive Order 23  of President Aquino declaring a total log ban, Section 2.3 states that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “shall review/evaluate all existing IFMAs, SIFMAs, CBFMAs and other forestry agreements/contacts and immediately terminate/cancel the agreements of those who have violated the terms and conditions of their contracts/agreements as well as existing forest laws, rules and regulations at least twice.”

The EO also provides that these agreements “be immediately terminated/cancelled if the holders thereof engage in logging activities in any natural or residual forest or abet the commission of the same.”

While a group of lawyers in Iligan has organized to file a class suit against the loggers, Tenorio proposed that this be coordinated with other lawyers in Cagayan de Oro who are also planning to file a class suit against these companies.

“It would be more helpful if we will stand together with ecologist lawyers in Cagayan de Oro to give justice to survivors and those who died during the flood,” Tenorio said.

Loggers reportedly use the Mandulog river to transport the logs which are then intercepted in remote barangays near the river banks and loaded onto trucks.

“Our ground investigations proved that there are still logs left in Kapai towns and along the river banks, said Lt. Col. Seigred Espina, commanding office of 65th Infantry Batallion of 103rd Brigade based in Marawi.

Espina said that his team will support and secure groups that would investigate logging operations in Kapai town. (Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)