GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 21 March) – Government troops seized around 300,000 board feet of illegally-cut logs and lumber worth an estimated P5 million in a series of operations in the last three days in an illegal logging site and lumberyard located along the Daguma Mountain Range in Sultan Kudarat province.
Col. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, said Thursday they recovered the logs and lumber products in an abandoned logging area at a portion of Sitio Balugo, Barangay Kabulanan in Bagumbayan.
He said the seized forest products mainly comprised Lawaan hardwood and other tree species that were indigenous to the area.
The upland areas of Bagumbayan town, specifically those located within the Daguma Mountain Range, are part of the watershed forest reserve of the 92,450-hectare Allah Valley Protected Landscape.
Pangilinan said they launched the operations after receiving information regarding the rampant illegal logging activities in the area that were reportedly protected by an armed group.
He said that while proceeding to the site on Tuesday, their troops were initially met with bursts of gunfire supposedly coming from the group but they were able to fight back and forced the illegal loggers to withdraw.
At the logging site, he said they found huge volumes of abandoned lumber cuts and logs as well as gasoline fuel, a log loader and various logging equipment.
Pangilinan said they later found an abandoned lumberyard near the area where volumes of logs and lumber cuts were stockpiled.
In a separate interview, he said that suspected supporters of illegal loggers exchanged gunfire with elements of the 46th Infantry Battalion and members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) Wednesday morning as the armed men attempted to take back the logs.
A composite team of Army soldiers, CAFGUs and personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from Sultan Kudarat are now securing the logs, Pangilinan said.
“They continue to hear some occasional gunfire, possibly coming from the illegal loggers who might be planning to take back the site,” he said.
Pangilinan said they are currently strengthening their positions at the site and assured that they would not abandon the area until the illegal logging activities are effectively stopped.
“We’re presently gathering information regarding the armed group and all personalities who were involved in this illegal activity,” he said.
“Based on our assessment, the illegal logging operations there may have been ongoing for over a year now. There were some cut trees there that already dried up,” Pangilinan said in an interview with local television station ABS-CBN.
The official said the logging activities in the area appeared to have started on a small-scale basis but eventually turned large-scale when it became a lucrative business.
Citing their initial estimates, Pangilinan said the logged area now extends to about six kilometers in diameter.
“The damage to the site was very extensive as shown by the recovered logs and lumber as well as the actual logged area,” he said.
Meantime, Jerry Dalauta, acting head of the DENR’s Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Tacurong City, said they are set to transfer the recovered forest products to a safer site so they could conduct a proper inventory and evaluation.
He said they are initially eyeing the 601IB’s main camp in Barangay Kalandagan in Tacurong City as temporary holding area for the recovered logs and lumber cuts.
“It will depend on our higher officials later as to how and to whom they would be disposed,” Dalauta said.
The cutting of indigenous naturally-grown tree species like Lawaan is prohibited by the national government as provided for in Executive Order (EO) 23 issued in 2011 by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
EO 23 specifically declared a “moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests” in the country.
The order was issued in light of widespread flooding and landslides in various parts of the country, which the national government blamed on rampant illegal logging activities. (Allen V. Estabillo with Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)