Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sierra Madre natives skeptic about Aquino’s log-ban pronouncement

Mountain natives of the Sierra Mountain range are skeptic about President Aquino’s pronouncement on the imposition of a ban on logging, claiming that illegal logging continues to threaten the vast mountain range.

Ramcy Astoveza, a leader of the Agta/Dumagat tribe and executive director of the Tribal Center for Development Foundation Inc., recalled that after the 2004 killer floods and landslides in northern Quezon, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a logging moratorium in the Sierra Madre and other parts of the country.

“But the real intention to save the forest from further destruction miserably failed because of insincere implementation of the log ban. As a matter of fact, illegal logging never stops and continues to rape our natural habitat up to the present,” Astoveza said on the phone Saturday morning.

Astoveza said his tribe was saddened because despite its earnest effort to support Arroyo’s total log ban, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not seriously implement it.

He noted that almost all past presidents of the country had declared different forms of log bans.

“But all of them failed. They all blew their chances to really save our forest. Now, here comes another one from President Aquino. Truth is, we are not optimistic that another log ban would really solve the problem of continued forest rape,” the tribal leader said.

On Friday, President Aquino announced that he was considering imposing a total log ban throughout the country as a long-term measure to prevent floods and other forms of calamities resulting from continued environmental destruction after he made a quick survey of flood-stricken provinces in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

Father Pete Montallana, OFM, chairman of the Save Sierra Madre Network, claimed that illegal logging operations continued in Sierra Madre in Aurora province and northern part of Quezon and blamed corruption in the DENR for these.

In an open letter to President Aquino dated January 13, Montallana cited documented cases of illegal logging allegedly in cahoots with corrupt DENR personnel in Aurora and Quezon.

“Environmentalists have welcomed your administration with much hope that things would finally change at the DENR. But as far as the destruction of the forests in the Sierra Madre is concerned, it has been business as usual,” the activist priest said.

Montallana charged that the public has been deceived by the rhetoric of DENR press releases on its anti-corruption campaigns and claimed log confiscations.

“These may be good but DENR has not really addressed the corruption inside itself. If only there was a big camera in the Sierra Madre, then the whole country would know the real score regarding the destruction of the forests. The big question is this: Can DENR heal itself?” the priest said.

Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona, head of the Prelature of Infanta, also blamed corrupt DENR personnel for the continued destruction of the Sierra Madre.

Tirona called on the government to “wage an all-out war, not words only” against illegal loggers and miners in Sierra Madre.

Three DENR Quezon chiefs have been sacked due to failure to stop illegal logging in the Sierra Madre. One of the sacked environment officials, Emrich Borja, managed to return to his old post last year.

Citing their long years of experience as forest watchdog, Montallana told Aquino that the situation remains the same in the Sierra Madre under his administration.

Montallana posted photos of fresh illegally cut logs floating on the Umiray River in General Nakar, Quezon, in his Facebook page.

He said he received information from a concerned environmentalist on the presence of the floating logs suspected to have been illegally cut in the Sierra Madre in transit to Mauban, Quezon, a known transshipment point of hot logs.


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