WHERE HAVE ALL THE FORESTS GONE?: Illegal logging intensifies in Surigao Sur despite total log ban

2nd of three parts

CARMEN, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/18 September) – On August 18 and 19,  the Surigao Development Corporation (Sudecor), together with local police, apprehended some 190 round red Falcata logs or an equivalent of 157.62 cubic meters, estimated to cost P900,000 at the roadside of Barangay Cancavan, part of their concession area.

CLEAR CUT. Despite the log ban, illegal loggers managed to clear this portion of the forest managed by the  Surigao Development Corporation. The company's operation closure has opened the floodgates to illegal loggers. MindaNews photo taken September 8, 2012 by Roel N. CatotoA month earlier, between July 14 and 17, round logs and sawn lumber of  yakal and red lauan hardwood species were found strewn and abandoned by illegal loggers  in various parts of Barangay Hinapuyan, also part of the Sudecor area, apparently waiting for transport under cover of darkness.

A documentation report sent to the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) showed photographs of wreckers in Km. 18 along the Esperanza line in Sitio Gacub, Barangay Hinapuyan and another in Km. 20 at Sagimsim Spurline.

For the Social Action Center (SAC) and environmental watchdogs, the seizure of these logs has opened a Pandora’s box as it led to allegations of  involvement of  officials ironically tasked to oversee the implementation of  Executive Order 23.


Rowil Aguillon, Woods Division head of Sudecor’s Management Committee, said that on Aug. 18, a certain “Jhero King” talked to him over the phone and ordered the immediate release of the logs confiscated that day.  Aguillon narrated that when he refused, King, who was later identified as Roland Seblario, allegedly threatened him: “Wag niyong pakialaman yang mga kahoy ko kundi magkakaputukan tayo.”(Don’t you dare touch my logs or we’ll shoot it out).


Aguilon alleged that the logs documented in July were also owned by Seblario. “Iya man ni tanan ang kahoy, basta gani naa ng wrecker iya na.”(He owns all those logs; when you see a wrecker that is his).


He said they have been sending to Cenro and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources regional office documentation reports, including photographs, of illegal logging activities within the Sudecor area, since June 2011, when the company shut down operations.


He said Seblario also started to drop names including “Gen. Miranda” and Secretary  Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).


“Gen. Miranda” is retired Marine Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda,  Executive Director of the national Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force.


A peeved Miranda told MindaNews in a telephone interview Monday that he will have Seblario arrested if he is found to be “violating a regulation.”


He said he will not tolerate the use of his name to  “commit a crime.”
Miranda figured in the national scene as one of the brains behind several coup attempts against the Arroyo administration. He has availed of the Aquino government’s amnesty program and was appointed head of the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force.


Miranda said DENR Caraga, headed by Undersecretary Marlow Mendoza is tasked to investigate the confiscated logs, not him.


In the company of


Aguillon narrated that sometime on August 28 and 29, a police official informed him that Seblario and retired Army colonel Harry Taladua, the regional head of  the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force  in Caraga, were at the Community Environment and Natural Resources (Cenro) here “presumably to retrieve the logs.”


“What we are wondering is why (Seblario) was with Taladua when he is with the anti-illegal logging task force,” Aguillon said.
But Taladua denied allegations he went to the Cenro to help Seblario retrieve the logs.


He told MindaNews in a telephone interview on Sunday night, that he was at the Cenro here, as representative of the task force. Part of his job, he said, is to attend to the concerns of businessmen involved in the buying and selling of wood.


Taladua said Seblario earlier went to his office in Butuan City in Agusan del Norte province to seek “clarification” but denied knowing him on a personal basis.


Private property


“I am not helping anybody. I am just giving them the opportunity to talk,” Taladua said, adding Seblario brought with him a copy of a land title of a Manobo named “Iligan” to show proof that he bought the logs from a private individual.


“It will be up to the Cenro to prove whether the documents are legal since it is now under  adjudication,” he said.


But Aguillon said the company has a GPS reading, pictures and other documents to show that the logs in question did not come from a private land.


He said the logs were cut along the Diwalwal, Plaka and Agasan areas in Sitio Gacub, Barangay Hinapuyan, Carmen and not in the supposed “private property” which he identified as Kadilotan.
Lanuza is the next town from Carmen, some 15 minutes away from the Sudecor compound.

Aguillon said the logs could not have come from Kadilotan because that place is inaccessible and if, indeed, cutting was done there, they would not have been able to take the logs out.

Taladua explained that his visit to the Cenro should not be a cause for alarm as he was “in the Cenro office and in front of the police” and  “not in other places.”
He also said the logs confiscated in August were planted species, not from natural and residual forests. EO 23 bans cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests.


But Aguillon asked, “who owns the land and who planted it?” He added the company still has authority to apprehend the logs because it is under their Integrated Forest Management
Agreement (IFMA) and even the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Merlinda Manila “has recognized this authority given to us.”




Aguillon also explained that the issue is not whether it was planted but Seblario failing to provide the pertinent permits needed to validate his claim. These include the transport and cutting permit and, if it is from a tree plantation, an ownership permit.


Taladua said the government encourages private entities to plant trees which is why it also has to provide help to people who engage in wood trading.


He said the groups who questioned his presence in the Cenro are alleging that the logs impounded in the Sudecor compound are “hot logs.”


“That’s why I told Cenro that it will be up to them to decide whether Seblario’s documents are valid.  “Mananagot din si Seblario niyan pag peke yung dokumento, pero pag hindi naman wag natin pigilan,” (Seblario will be answerable if the documents he presented are fake but if they are not, we should not stop him), he added.


He said those who question the propriety of his meeting with Seblario at the Cenro, “have a wrong impression. I am very strict when it comes to illegal logging.”


The Philippine Wood Producers Association (PWPA) listed a Roland Sevlario as one of its members through its website www.pwpa.org.ph with Jeroking Enterprises as his company.


MindaNews last week made several calls to Jeroking Enterprises in Upper Doongan, Butuan City, the company listed in Seblario’s name, but was informed by the person who answered the call that it was a residential number. Several calls were also made to his mobile number but these went unanswered.
MindaNews went to Jeroking Enterprises in Butuan City on Tuesday (September 18), a compound with an eight-foot high gate and a watch tower but no signage and was told by  Junry Umbal, who claimed to be a guard there, that Seblario was not around and that he left for Manila on August 29.  (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)
[Tomorrow: Unlikely ally]