GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 26 Feb) – Police and environment personnel in Region 12 have launched a deeper investigation into the recovery of an estimated 8,000 board feet of “export quality” illegally-cut lumber while being transported aboard a truck in nearby Koronadal City over the weekend.
Senior Supt. Joselito T. Esquivel Jr., Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Region 12 director, said Tuesday they received intelligence information noting that the intercepted lumber were supposedly owned by a retired police official based in the region.
He did not name the former police official but said the reports indicated that he was involved in alleged illegal logging and poaching activities in parts of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato provinces.
The official said they were still validating the report as well as gathering some vital information that would help identify the source and the real owner of the recovered lumber products, which were made up of Lawaan and other hardwood species.
“Our investigation is ongoing but rest assured that we will file the necessary charges against all personalities who were involved in this illegal activity,” Esquivel said.
A report released by CIDG-South Cotabato said the lumber cuts, which were concealed in a 20-footer container van, were intercepted by their operatives around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday along Alunan Avenue in Koronadal City.
During inspection, the truck’s driver and “escort” failed to show any permit and other related documents regarding the lumber cargo, which was reportedly loaded in Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat and due for delivery to an unidentified consignee based in this city, said Chief Insp. Rodolfo Pascua, CIDG-South Cotabato head.
He said they arrested the truck’s driver and escort, who were identified as Ernie Bacus and Ediberto Espiritu, for violation of Presidential Decree 705 or the Anti-Illegal Logging Act.
The suspects are now detained at the CIDG-South Cotabato headquarters in Koronadal City pending the formal filing of appropriate charges against them, he said.
Pascua said the Isuzu Prime Mover van with license plate number RDU-924 and the illegally-cut lumber was turned over by the team on Tuesday to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region 12.
Datu Tungko Saikol, DENR-12 regional executive director, said the results of their initial evaluation showed that the intercepted lumber was composed mainly of naturally-grown Lawaan hardwood species.
He said the cutting of such tree species is strictly prohibited as provided for by Executive Order 23 (EO) issued By President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
Under EO 23, which had set the total logging ban in the country, he said the utilization of naturally-grown forest products are prohibited and only planted trees may be allowed for cutting or use, subject to proper permits from the DENR.
“Lawaan is a hardwood species and the cutting of these is illegal. No bail bond is recommended to anyone who would be charged or arrested for violation of such provision,” said Saikol, who led the opening of the container van by virtue of an order issued by a local court.
The official said illegally-cut lumber cargo was initially valued at P360,000 but cited that since most of them were composed of Lawaan hardwood, their market value might reach “millions.”
“These are fine and high-quality lumber cuts. Based on the quality of the finished products, I think they’re likely intended for export or shipment abroad,” Saikol said.
He said they are presently coordinating with their personnel in Sultan Kudarat province to determine the possible sources or areas of origin of the illegally-cut lumber products.
The official said they will immediately deliver the apprehended lumber cuts to the Department of Education (DepEd) so it could utilize them for the production or manufacture of additional chairs, tables and other classroom fixtures.
He said such move was based on a standing agreement between DepEd and DENR that sets the donation of confiscated forest products to local school divisions and their utilization or processing into various classroom fixtures. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)