ARMM crackdown on illegal logging now in high gear PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 January 2012 18:01

The crackdown on illegal logging in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has shifted to high gear with the planned audit of forest charges collected by revenue agents in recent years to check if proportionate with the volume of logs shipped out using questionable permits issued by the ARMM’s natural resources department.

Environmentalists, among them officials of non-government organizations involved in environmental protection activities, said poachers, until last week, following the suspension of all forms of logging activities in the autonomous region by its newly-appointed officer-in-charge Mujiv Hataman, ravaged no less than a hectare of the ARMM’s estimated 200,000 hectares of contiguous forests each day since 1990.  

Hataman said he has invited the former DENR-ARMM secretary for a meeting on so many issues, but has not responded yet to his formal invitation.
Malang said they would have an extensive accounting of the forest charges levied from loggers and the volume of logs and indicated in documents issued by the ARMM’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, particularly those made to appear as “prior cuts” before moratoriums on
cutting of trees in the autonomous region were issued by past administrations.

Permits to ship out “prior cuts” are the most convenient means of smuggling out logs even as the regional government has an existing ban on cutting of trees in the region.

“As if prior cut logs from forests in the ARMM have an infinite volume,” Malang said.
Hataman said the former DENR-ARMM secretary has issued permits to cut forest trees despite standing moratoriums issued by previous regional governors.

Malang said funds generated by logging operations in the region the past years can be spent for relief operations in flood-stricken areas if still intact in the ARMM’s treasury.

The biggest logging operator in the ARMM, whose operation has been suspended since Hataman issued a moratorium on cutting of forest trees in any part of ARMM last week, is the Makati-based Vicmar Development Corporation (VDC), which forged an Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) with the regional government in the 1990s.

The IFMA between the VDC and the ARMM government was crafted by the region’s governor then just before the expiration of the firm’s Timber License Agreement issued by the central office of the DENR before the creation of the autonomous region in 1990.

“That IFMA effectively gave that logging firm a special privilege to continue cutting forest trees in Lanao del Sur, despite the region’s being under a total logging ban,” a local official in Lanao del Sur, whose town is adjacent to the forested areas where VDC operates, Hataman said

The area covered by the IFMA spans from Barangay Kibolos, in Kapai to and Barangays Gayacay, Bayug, Kibulag and Salinsing, in Tagoloan II, all in Lanao del Sur.

There have also been more than a dozen mini-sawmills in remote towns in Lanao del Sur processing timber harvested from “private lands,” something Hataman also want investigated.

Hataman said he has been keeping President Aquino abreast on the regional government and Malacañang’s joint environment protection thrust.

Forested areas in Lanao del Sur comprise the watershed for Lake Lanao, the country’s largest, with a surface area of about 200 square kilometers, and whose downstream flow propels several state-owned hydro-electric plants that supply about three-fourth of Mindanao’s power requirement. — Felix Ostrea