Lumber smuggling raps tarnish Army 6th Division’s image PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 08 December 2013 14:07

The foiled attempt by soldiers of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division to sneak out lumbers smuggled from a protected watershed in Alamada, North Cotabato badly tarnished the unit’s image and shamed its rank-and file personnel, 6th ID insiders lamented.

Two soldiers escorting the undocumented forest products were wounded in a shootout with members of the Alamada municipal police that flagged them down after having been tipped off by villagers and barangay officials.

The 6th ID has been subject of public criticisms for two weeks now, after policemen in Alamada, North Cotabato intercepted an Army captain and his men while trying to haul, using military trucks, some five tons of undocumented lumbers cut from trees harvested in a forested area in the municipality without any permit from the government.

Local executives in North Cotabato had urged Malacanang to immediately relieve, in keeping with the military’s “command responsibility doctrine,” 6th ID’s commander, Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz, while efforts to determine his culpability are still underway.

Gapuz, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1982, is due to retire from the military service by April 2014.

Officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is a mounting impression among soldiers in Camp Siongco, the command center of 6th ID, that their companions caught in the act of hauling the illegal forest products could end up “singled out” as the sole culprits that acted on their own, as cover up for the real brains in the smuggling attempt.

“It’s so unfair to use them as ‘scapegoats,” or sacrificial lambs just for the real masterminds to go unpunished,” an Army colonel told reporters, referring to the Army captain and his men implicated in the smuggling attempt.

Peace activists in Central Mindanao were saddened by the controversy, which hogged the headlines after the 6th ID had outlived the impression of being a “puppet militia” of the once feared Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao, whose fiefdom waned after the infamous Nov. 23, 2009 “Maguindanao Massacre” that left 58 people dead, more than half of them journalists.

Ambulo Batugan, a district officer in North Cotabato of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, whose jurisdiction covers Alamada and surrounding towns, confirmed to reporters that there was no license for the harvesting of the Lawaan trees that were cut into flitches, called “tablon” in the local vernacular, which members of the Alamada police had seized from the 6th ID soldiers two weeks ago.

Senior DENR officials in Administrative Region 12 had also told reporters that it was impossible for the government to issue a permit to harvest forest trees in the area, being a protected watershed, where rivers supplying water to farming enclaves in its surroundings spring from.

A cause-oriented group in North Cotabato, the Watchful Advocates for Transparent, Clean and Honest Governance (WATCH) had asked President Benigno Aquino III to immediately act on the controversy.

“That incident was absolutely saddening and so shameful for Malacanang to ignore. We are very apprehensive of a `whitewash,’ which is something we don’t want to happen,” the president-convenor of WATCH, Abner Franciso, told media outfits in Central Mindanao via email.

Most practicing journalists in the region, among them reporters of Cotabato City’s two major broadcast outfits, the Catholic station dxMS, and the Radio Mindanao’s dxMY, have agreed to observe a “coverage holiday” on all activities of the 6th ID in protest of the involvement of soldiers in illegal logging activities.

The reporters agreed, during a meeting in Cotabato City last Thursday, to resume with their coverage of the 6th ID only after Gapuz retires in April 2014, or gets relieved from his post sooner than he bows out from the military service.