DENR-12 still clueless over identities of SK illegal loggers

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/31 March)—The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12 is still clueless on who could be behind the massive illegal logging activities uncovered recently in Bagumbayan town in Sultan Kudarat province, a top official admitted Sunday.


Datu Tungko Saikol, DENR-12 regional director, said no case has been filed against those behind the seized 300,000 board feet of illegally cut lumber, valued at P13.5 million.


“Wala tayo ma file-lan ng kaso kasi di identify kung sino sila (We cannot file a case because we don’t know whom to sue),” he told MindaNews in a phone interview.


But Saikol said that various armed groups, which he did not identify, have surfaced as possibly behind the illegal logging activity, noting though “that the DENR could not pinpoint them.”


With still no one to be held accountable for the seized illegal lumber flitches, Saikol said they would automatically be forfeited in favor of the government.


The official said the sawn forest products are considered illegal with the issuance of President Benigno Aquino III of Executive Order 23 in 2011, which imposed a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests.


Saikol said they are planning to haul the seized forest products with the help of the military to the lowlands.


To prevent further illegal logging activities in the mountains of Sultan Kudarat, Saikol suggested for the military to take the lead since the DENR has no capability of going after “these usually heavily armed men.”


On March 20, the military conducted an operation, together with DENR-12 personnel, that led to the recovery of the 300,000 board feet of illegally cut lumber.


A 30-minute firefight ensued between the government troops and the armed men behind the illegal logging activity, who later withdrew to unknown directions, Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesman, said at the time.


A text message from an anonymous concerned resident there that day claimed that the armed men allegedly belong to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).


In a statement issued last Tuesday, the DENR-12 said that the seized forest products are equivalent to 150-truckloads at an estimated 2,000 bd. ft. per load.


The illegal lumber products, in assorted sizes, were stock piled at Sitio Salatan, Barangay Kabulnan in Bagumbayan town, it added.


DENR-12 said the uncovered illegal logging activities fall within the Industrial Forest Management Agreement  (IFMA) area of Silvicultural Industries, Inc. (SII).


SII is a private company that has an existing production sharing agreement with the DENR under IFMA 022, hence had the obligation to protect its leased area.


It was the SII management who sought the assistance of the local DENR to quell the encroachment of illegal loggers in their IFMA area, the statement said.


The operation was jointly carried out by elements of the Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion based in Barangay Kamasi, Ampatuan, Maguindanao, and the DENR personnel stationed in Tacurong City.


In the statement, Saikol lauded the efforts of the Army personnel for risking their lives in going after the illegal loggers.


“We need the fire power of the military in pursuing violators of forestry laws who are usually armed. Our forest rangers and other members of the law enforcement teams need all the support of the military during operations to ensure their safety,” he said.


The anti-illegal logging operations in Mindanao was converted from civilian to active military operations on November 8, 2012 by virtue of Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force Resolution 2012-005 due to the presence of insurgency and armed groups, the DENR-12 statement said.


The DENR-12 statement said that the office of Community Environment and Natural Resources Office headed by Jerry Dalauta, in coordination with SII, was “set to conduct further investigation on the case in order to identify the culprits.” (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)