By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Are military personnel involved in large-scale, illegal logging operations in the country?
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) is convinced that this is a possibility. It advised Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje to launch investigations into the matter.
Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said the DENR’s supposed campaign against illegal logging in the country has not been successful because the agency, for the longest time, has been turning a blind eye on the activities of the military when it comes to logging. He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should not be used in the fight against illegal logging because many elements and even ranking official AFP officials serve as protectors of logging syndicates.
Recently, Paje said the DENR would seek the military’s support in the campaign against illegal loggers. He has taken up the matter with Department of National Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
Paje wants the military to provide support to deputized forest enforcers, whose job includes monitoring illegal logging activities. He said battling illegal loggers needs military solutions and not regulation.
The official also expressed frustration with how the AFP is not the lead agency in the fight against illegal logging activities despite being a member of the anti-illegal logging task force.
The anti-illegal logging task force was created to implement the logging ban. It was created under Aquino’s Executive Order No. 23, which provides for “a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests.”
Among the members of the task force are the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of National Defense (DND), the chiefs of staffs of the AFP and the Philippine National Police, with the DENR Secretary as chair.
In the DENR’s recent call to arms against illegal logging, it announced that officials and staff of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Marine Industry Authority (Marina) are also part of the campaign.
Pamalakaya’s Hicap, however, said the involvement of the military in forestry issues has a direct connection to the increasing danger to forest rangers. According to reports, a total of 20 forest rangers have been killed in the line of duty since 2010.
“What if the people responsible for the death of 20 forest rangers are the military themselves who are on the payroll of big time logging syndicates in the country? Secretary Paje is not using his coconut. We’re dealing with the AFP here – an institution known for being behind extrajudicial killings of civilian and, gross violations of human rights. The AFP is also protector of big businesses,” he said.
Hicap minced no words in saying that there is a connivance between the DENR,the military and large-scale logging companies.
“In the last 30, 40 years they have been co-conspirators in operations that diminish the country’s forest cover.They should be blamed for the rapacious plunder of our forest reserves. It’s sickening to hear the DENR and the AFP declaring themselves as protectors of the environment when in truth they directly responsible for the rapid denudation of Philippine of forests” he said.
The DENR has announced that it has gained many successes in its campaign to reduce the number of illegal logging “hot spots” in the country, from 197 sites to 28. These hotspots are mostly in the Caraga and Davao regions.
Early in July this year, it was reported in SunStar Davao that the DILG is investigating at least seven local chief executives from different regions for alleged involvement in illegal logging.
In the meantime, 31 DENR executives were also fired for failing to stop illegal logging activities in their areas of responsibility in Caraga and Davao regions. The relief of the officials was connected to the confiscation of P16 million ($380 thousand) worth of “hot logs” in Manila North Harbor said to have been shipped from Davao.
The SunStar report, however, said illegal logging operations continue in the boundaries of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Agusan and Surigao provinces.