Journalists protest against lumber smuggling by soldiers in Cotabato PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 11:40

The “coverage holiday” on all activities of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division being observed by Mindanao journalists has been continuing since last week, amid a lumber smuggling controversy hounding its rank-and-file personnel since last month.

The move by members of the media was triggered by a foiled attempt by soldiers to smuggle undocumented forest products about three weeks ago from a protected rainforest in Alamada town in North Cotabato.

Catholic priests and Protestant preachers were among the latest to have called on President Benigno Aquino III to immediately order an immediate overhaul of the 6th ID leadership, after many innocent soldiers complained of demoralization in their ranks as a result of the misbehavior of several colleagues.

Reverend Troy Cordero, leader of a Christian sect in Cotabato City, said he urged his followers to pray for the national government’s intervention on the controversy.

“We’re not antagonistic or confrontational about it. We just want the controversy resolved expeditiously because we already have so much problems brought about by the perennial flooding in many parts of Cotabato City. The rivers in Alamada flow down to the Liguasan Marsh, whose waters causes the frequent inundation of our barangays in Cotabato City during the rainy season,” Cordero told reporters.

Local executives and religious leaders in North Cotabato have earlier called on Malacañang to immediately relieve 6th ID’s commander, Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz, while investigations on the controversy are still underway.

Soldiers, led by an Army captain, were intercepted by members of the Alamada municipal police last month while transporting Lawaan lumbers from the municipality to somewhere in Central Mindanao using military trucks from Camp Siongco, the command base of 6th ID.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of 6th ID, said their local Board of Inquiry (BOI), and officials of the Philippine Army’s national headquarters have launched separate investigations on the issue, which sparked indignation from among local sectors in Central Mindanao, and various peace advocacy organizations and environmentalists.

“We cannot issue any statement yet on the issue pending the outcome of the investigations. We need to wait for results before we can issue an official statement. I hope the 6th ID’s temporary silence will not be negatively misconstrued,” Hermoso stated in a text message to reporters in Cotabato City.

Junior officers and enlisted personnel of the division have complained of having been shamed and demoralized by the involvement of their colleagues in smuggling of lumbers.

“How can those trucks leave the camp without blessing of senior 6th ID officials? So shameful, so embarrassing,” an insider, who asked not to be identified, said.

Reporters have been receiving text messages from members of the 6th ID, urging for a deeper probe on the controversy, which has caused demoralization in their ranks.

Two soldiers escorting the forest products policemen intercepted in Alamada had been shot and wounded for refusing to disarm.

Ambulo Bantugan, district officer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in North Cotabato, confirmed that the lumbers seized from the soldiers were undocumented.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza earlier said she will ask the DENR office in Region 12 to allow the use of the impounded Lawaan flitches for school desks and chairs for public schools in the province.

Members of Central Mindanao’s media community said they will only resume their coverage of the 6th ID’s activities only after Gapuz had retired from the military service in April 2014, or if he gets relieved earlier than his retirement.