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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE: 5:40 PM) Five town mayors in the provinces of Agusan del Sur and del Norte are in hot water over their alleged failure to act on the shipment of P16 million illegally-cut logs that passed through their areas of jurisdiction.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo has directed Mayor Leonida Manpatilan of Esperanza town; Mayor Ronaldo Corvera of San Luis town; Mayor Isaias Masendo of Talacogon town; Mayor Ambrosio Lim of La Paz town; and Mayor Reinario Rosales of Las Nieves town to explain in writing why they should not be held administratively and criminally liable for allegedly failing to act and intercept 7,255 pieces of logs worth P16 million on the way to a wood-processing company.
Also asked to explain are local employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the towns and local police chiefs and village officials.
Robredo, who visited Butuan City last week, was informed by Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr. that huge log shipments were able to slip past several checkpoints manned by DENR employees in the riverside towns of La Paz, San Luis, Talacogon, Esperanza and Las Nieves without being detected and inspected.
Robredo said President Benigno Aquino has already issued an executive order declaring a total ban on commercial logging nationwide and the same order mandates mayors and other local officials to seize illegal logs in favor of the government.
Robredo also rejected a claim by an indigenous people’s group led by by a certain Victoriano Vidal, consultant of the Manobo-Banwaon-Higaonon Tribal Council of Elders of Agusan del Sur, who said the logs were not illegally harvested and these came from their ancestral domain.
Although tribal communities were allowed to harvest logs under an agreement between the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the DENR, Robredo said turning over the seized logs to them would set a bad precedent in the government’s effort to curb illegal logging.
“It’s non-negotiable. President Aquino has imposed a ban on logging and it stands,” he said.
Robredo cited for engaging tribals on hot logs
Meanwhile, socio-civic organizations, environmental groups and the academe support the DILG decision to push for the relief of check point monitors who failed to stop the hot logs, as well as Robredo's move to engage the tribal groups on the disposition of the seized logs.
Robredo earlier asked DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje to remove the personnel of the four monitoring stations for allowing the 4,236 pieces of illegally cut Lawaan logs to pass through their respective stations unchecked.
Butuan City Mayor Ferdinand Amante Jr. also drew praise from different sectors in the city for his swift decision in apprehending the logs being towed across four municipalities in Agusan del Sur and heading for Butuan City.
Green Mindanao, which worked on environmental projects in different parts of the Caraga region, said, “We salute the action initiated by the LGU in spearheading in the confiscation of the illegal logs. We hope that the DILG and the LGU’s aggressive actions will continue and that nothing will hamper the drive against these illegal loggers operating here and other parts of Caraga region,” said Nokie Calunsag, Green Mindanao campaign officer.
Calunsag said similar situations prevail in the entire region and hopes that local executives would also take a look at small towns like in the province of Surigao del Sur, where cutting of logs is still rampant.
Carl Cesar Rebuta of the Legal Rights & Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of Earth (LRC-KsK/FoE) pointed out that the size and volume of the logs suggests the problem is pervasive.
Father Saturnino Urios University, President, Rev. Fr. John Young Mayor said that mayor Amante should be commended for taking the initiative in enforcing the law.