Zubiri says Bukidnon reforestation effort a failure, wants it stopped

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/9 January) – The reforestation efforts of the Bukidnon Forest Inc. (previously the Bukidnon Industrial Tree Plantation Project or BIPP) was allegedly unsuccessful, so its operations have to be stopped, Bukidnon Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. said

Zubiri said at the Monday convocation program of the provincial government Monday that BFI must be asked to stop operating ahead of the expiration of its 25-year industrial forest management agreement (IFMA) in 2016.

BFI is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) under the National Resources Development Corporation. As BIPP, it was funded by the national government of New Zealand until it was terminated as a foreign-assisted project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1998.

Zubiri said the 38,000-hectare industrial tree plantation project’s area should instead be given to the indigenous people who have applied for Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title over it.

He cited BFI in his speech during the program where he reacted to accusations that massive deforestation in Bukidnon should be blamed for the flashfloods brought by tropical storm Sendong that hit Cagayan de Oro in December.

“It hurts me to hear that they are blaming Bukidnon. We are not at fault,” he stressed.

Zubiri cited that there are no illegal loggers in the province. But he said instead there is “legal logging” with BFI allegedly as the biggest operator. He said the firm is cutting more trees than it is planting. He added in an interview that only one portion of the 38,000 hectares had been reforested, referring to only 6,000 hectares in Manolo Fortich.

He wanted the government to cut the IFMA by four years because the BFI, in his opinion, was unsuccessful.

Reynaldo Abordo, BFI general manager, admitted to MindaNews that they were able to reforest only 7,000 hectares, not 6,000 as Zubiri said. But he denied they were unsuccessful in reforestation.

Edwin Okit, BFI operations chief, said only 18,000 hectares of the area can be reforested and they were able to reforest 13,000 hectares since the 1990s. But he blamed an interplay of factors, including forest fires, that their output to 7,000 hectares.

Abordo also denied they were cutting more trees. He added they were able to reforest 700 hectares in 2011 but logged only 150 hectares, or equivalent of 30,000 cubic meters of lumber.

He said the DENR is extending about P16 million this year, the first time since 1998, to augment funds for reforestation. He said it will be used to reforest 1,000 hectares with a different forest tree species and additional 1,000 hectares for coffee plantation with the indigenous peoples.

He also admitted that BFI was not prepared with complete equipment to operate in the long run when it was transferred under the NRDC. He said this is one reason their operations in the past have lagged compared to their targets.

Of the P200-million target sales in 2011, they were able to earn P40 million, he added.

But he said they are optimistic they can recover with the help of the DENR and the prospects of buyers this year.

Abordo said they will definitely apply for renewal of the 25-year IFMA in 2016.

“This is the government’s only showcase of industrial tree plantation. We are confident of the interest of the government to renew it,” he added.

He said they will include in their negotiation the share and role of the indigenous peoples claiming the plantation area as their ancestral domain. But an officer at the NCIP Bukidnon said BFI would need to obtain a free and prior consent with the indigenous cultural communities in the area, which they were not able to do back in 1989 when the project was started during the administration of President Corazon Aquino.(Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)