Tandag diocese bares illegal logging of ironwood in Surigao Sur

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 09 February) — The Diocese of Tandag in Surigao del Sur has expressed alarm over reports of alleged unabated illegal logging of ironwood (locally called magkono) inside an abandoned logging concession area in the province.

Fr. Raymond Ambray, representative of the Diocese, told top officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) during the 7th Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders Forum in Cagayan de Oro City last week that illegal cutting and transport of ironwood in Surigao del Sur have been going on since November last year.

He said they learned about the illegal logging of magkono, after several concerned residents reported to them that local tree cutters, guarded by armed men, have felled the trees in the abandoned logging concession areas of the defunct Lianga Bay Logging Company (LBLC).

Surigao del Sur. Map courtesy of Google

The logs were reportedly transported by ship bound for Legazpi City.

“Vulnerable” due to decreasing population

Often used to make expensive furniture, magkono (Xanthostemon verdugonianus) is categorized in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list 2018 as “vulnerable” due to its decreasing population.

The IUCN noted that at the border of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur, “which is known for their ultramafic soil, ‘the species grows copiously along the road like the bushy Santan’ but large trees of the species are now “becoming more scarce.”

According to the IUCN, it is estimated that over the last three generations, magkono “has experienced a population reduction of between 30 and 49% due to felling of the species for timber and also due to clearance of the species habitat caused by mining activities.”

Cliff Abrahan, head of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) in Lianga, was seen at a beach resort near the old seaport of LBLC allegedly waiting for the shipment of the magkono loaded on three 10-wheeler winged vans on December 8.

Abrahan denied the allegations saying the forest products loaded on the ship were chopped lauan and yakal lumber used as a material in building boats.

He told MindaNews he could no longer confiscate the shipment of the forest products since it was already inside the boat and was already under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Coast Guard.

But Abrahan noted that there was confiscation of illegally transported magkono in the past few months, including those in Surigao City, Cantilan in Surigao del Sur and near Bayugan City.

While he admitted magkono smuggling is still rampant in their area, Abrahan said his office “cannot stop those being slipped out and escorted by heavily armed men during nighttime.”

Evidence needed

Concerned residents disclosed that smuggling of magkono took place on November 29 last year and on January 22 and  February 3.

“The Regional Executive Director (RED) of DENR-Caraga and an undersecretary were already informed and we are now gathering substantial evidence to convince the RED of the (need for) reshuffling,” Ambray said.

One of the concerned residents sent a text message to DENR-Caraga RED Nonito Tamayo asking for Abrahan’s relief, but was told that the DENR regional office still needs to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter.

“I need to have a strong basis. My action needs to be supported with strong evidence. Kawawa din naman siya kung wala akong dahilan para siya palitan (It would be a pity if I replace him without sufficient ground),” Tamayo’s text message to the concerned resident said. 

The DENR-Caraga chief further explained that “anyone can just send me info like this to malign the integrity of our people.”

“But I will seriously look into your allegation very, very seriously,” he said.

Tamayo’s text reply was dated February 1 but there was no update yet on the progress of their investigation. 

MindaNews sent Tamayo a text message on February 8 but he has yet to reply. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)