Sunday, February 6, 2011

Save Sierra Madre, save forests

AMONG the reports of logging and charcoal-making in Umiray in Quezon and Aurora was the one that I received at 8:23 a.m. on Jan. 10. An environmentalist from Umiray, General Nakar sent a text message that said “ang dmi ng khoy d2 sa Umiray ay more or less 10 taw pcs. Nakagayak na po un para ibyahe. Dp lang makaalis at ml2ki ang alon. (The number of logs here in Umiray is more or less 10,000 pieces. These are ready for transport. Departure is delayed due to big waves.)”

When I called up, I was informed that the logs were destined for Mauban. Immediately, I asked our informants to take a picture of the logs, but the heavy rains prevented them from doing so. However, I had pictures of charcoal from freshly cut trees in the same place taken on Dec. 18, 2010. Because of Simbang Gabi I did not have time to communicate this to our network.

Casualties, destruction

With so many dead and injured and so much destruction in the Philippines and in other parts of the world, Filipinos must know what is happening so that we can act fast to help mitigate the impact of global warming. The destruction of Sierra Madre is one issue that needs immediate attention.

The massive flooding and landslides in different parts of the country have focused the nation’s attention on the urgent need to address climate change due to global warming and to institute radical solutions to the degradation of the environment caused by man. More so because the poor are most vulnerable to calamities.


Environmentalists welcomed the new administration of President Benigno Aquino with much hope that things would finally change at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). But as far as the destruction of forests in Sierra Madre is concerned, it has been business as usual.

With one big difference—people have been deceived that logging has stopped with so many press releases from the DENR regarding its anticorruption campaign announcing that it has installed surveillance cameras in offices, removed checkpoints, confiscated logs and donated these to schools, etc.

These measures may be good but the DENR has not really addressed corruption in the department. If only there were a big camera in Sierra Madre, then the whole country would know the real score on the destruction of its forests. The big question is: Can the DENR heal itself?

Rubber stamp

Take the case of logging and charcoal-making in Dingalan, Aurora and General Nakar, Quezon. Task Force Sierra Madre (TFSM), among other groups, has sent so many letters or reports to the DENR but it has barely acted on these.

The Multisectoral Forest Protection Committee (MFPC) in Dingalan has turned out to be a rubber stamp for those who earn from the forests. Inventories of charcoal have been good opportunities to bring out all the stocks that could not be “legally” transported. There has been no change in the MFPC.

Still, in March 2010, I told the community environment officer (Cenro) about illegal logging in Barangay Dikapanikian in Dingalan. He challenged me to go there with him. I told him I had pictures.

In the same place, on June 9, 2010 we took pictures of many flitches again. This was reported to the Cenro who immediately went there. I was told later that the flitches were placed under the custody of the barangay chair. Nothing more was heard about them. Where did so many flitches end up?


After the flash flood of July 18, 2010, 809 people from Dingalan wrote a letter to the President about the environment. They asked “that the permit of San Roque Saw Mill be cancelled because this is also being used by the illegal loggers of our town of Dingalan.”

The petition also calls for a stop to the transport of logs from Isabela and Quezon through Dingalan; enforcement of a total log ban throughout the Philippines; a probe and punishment of erring local and DENR officials for not doing anything or for not having a program to protect the environment.

The department interviewed some of those who signed the letter but nothing was heard of after that. What happened to the investigation? We were never informed.

Trucks blocked

Due to the campaign of the Church, parishioners from Sitio Setic, Barangay Ibona in Dingalan, were emboldened to protect their mountain. They said they were worried because the cutting of trees in the mountains continued without let-up. They blocked a truck hauling logs from their mountain and reported it to barangay officials and the DENR on Aug. 25, 2010.

The department simply texted back, saying it coordinated with the security guard to tighten watch. I was told later that the people were threatened by loggers and were advised not to bring the letter to the authorities.

It was on Sept. 4, 2010 that DENR personnel came to Sitio Setic. Not finding any more logs, they told the people that when they report they should make sure that there were logs to be seized. When the people answered that they should instead climb the mountain and see for themselves that the trees were almost gone, they did not go. Instead, the Cenro said, “why do you keep signing what Fr. Pete asks you to sign. If the operations of San Roque stop, many people will go hungry, you are to blame.” Then they left and their chief, the Cenro said, he would go to Barangay Umiray to see what Fr. Pete wants people to sign, the residents said.

Protective of saw mill

It is interesting to find out why the Cenro seems to be so protective of San Roque.

It is time the National Bureau of Investigation came into the picture. People talk about “grease money” flowing into the hands of local officials. On Nov. 14, 2010, another informant signed an affidavit that he saw logs of narra and kamagong, cut 4x4x6 by the side of the river in Bukbuk (Barangay Ibona, Dingalan and in the place between Sikbing and Muklapa, “I saw logs, cut 4x4x6, of which six were narra. The logs were loaded. Roque owns the hand tractor.),” he said.

In the dialogue of Nov. 28, 2010 between the Church and local government, Mayor Zenaida Padiernos of Dingalan said that at the last meeting of the MFPC it was agreed that only three sacks of charcoal would be allowed by the DENR to be carried by the bus. The reality is the opposite. One time, we noted a bus with so many sacks of charcoal. We texted an environmentalist to observe what the people at the checkpoint would do. They just let the bus pass by so easily.

During the Simbang Gabi, I was informed by a parishioner that aside from the legal fees asked by the DENR for the transport of siit (small driftwood), people still have to give a bribe to the DENR personnel.

She was scared to sign an affidavit because she might be harassed by the same DENR personnel.

I am so exasperated by this situation. The people are already suffering so much, and yet DENR personnel still milk them. I know that without documentation this cannot stand by itself, but taken with the other proofs, this only intensifies the need for immediate action—clean up the DENR.

Act now

As we reported to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on June 16, 2008 and to which she and then environment secretary Joselito Atienza agreed, the biggest problem in the DENR was corruption.

The former president then agreed to create an independent citizens’ investigating committee to be implemented by the environment secretary, but this was not done. The department tried to lure the Church to be part of a monitoring committee. We never accepted that. How can we monitor together with suspected corrupt officials?

Our experience in the Aquino administration is that things have not changed. The present environment secretary has not really implemented anticorruption policies that would have lessened the destruction of the forests.

NGOs and the Church can only do so much. We have other things to attend to. We pay our taxes in order to pay for the salaries of DENR personnel to guard the environment and not protect those who destroy the environment.

If the department was really serious about its job, San Roque Saw Mill should have been closed, and there would be no more logs cut outside designated areas because illegal logs could not pass the checkpoints.

Get serious
What is happening around the world should alarm us. The government should consider the declaration of a total log ban throughout the country. It has to choose between the welfare of the people and the income of financiers. Should we continue to destroy our forests? At what price?

Environmentalists were disappointed with the first three major speeches of the President, which mentioned nothing about climate change and global warming—among the world’s most critical problems.


Our prayer is that the President will act soon—to urgently address corruption in the DENR through an independent investigating committee. Corruption is just so embedded in the department that good people could not do anything about it.

The government, too, has to address the plight of poor woodcutters and charcoal-makers being taken advantage of by the financiers and unscrupulous government officials.

We are not sure of what will happen to us this year. I experienced the flash flood in General Nakar on Nov. 29, 2004 and Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in Manila on Sept. 26, 2009. With the way the DENR is operating, we might have more massive flooding than we can handle. God forbid!

Paradigm shift

The government is challenged by these calamities to make a paradigm shift and redirect its strategy on development toward social, economic and ecological sustainability. We urgently ask the President to prioritize the survival of the Filipino people above all other considerations by:

1. Imposing a total commercial log ban in all natural forests;

2. Canceling immediately all Integrated Forest Management Agreements (Ifmas) that have become fronts for illegal logging, and legislating the cancellation of the rest of the Ifmas because of imminent public danger;

3. Providing an alternative livelihood program for small loggers and charcoal-makers to liberate them from the clutches of their financiers and unscrupulous government officials;

4. Implementing a massive and genuine reforestation program to combat the rapid denudation of the forests;

5. Strengthen the forest protection program by providing sufficient funds to guarantee the presence of well-trained and -equipped forest ranger units in critical areas to arrest illegal loggers; and by ensuring the formation of multistakeholder forest protection coordinating councils in every local government unit with active participation of nongovernment and people’s organizations, the Church, the academe and other sectors; and

6. Cleaning up the DENR, through an independent investigating committee, of corrupt officials so that it can be truly responsive to a just and sustainable use of natural resources.

This year, dubbed by the United Nations as the “International Year of the Forests,” we want to share Mr. Aquino’s optimism that “pwede na ulit mangarap (we can again dream.).” Dreams, however, can only be realized by exercising political will, particularly on the environment. We hope that the government act before another catastrophe happens.


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