Former Chief Justice urged a stop to illegal logging, illegal mining in Caraga Region

by Ben Serrano

     April 12, 2011


            BUTUAN CITY (PNA)  - Reacting on the question raised during press conference here on continuing illegal logging activities in Agusan River, retired Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno in reply wanted a stop to all destructive activities affecting environment like illegal logging and illegal mining 

Environmental watch groups claimed President Aquino's E.O. 23 has been secretly continuously defied even right from the start as government banned hardwood species were allegedly mixed in huge volume with falcata wood species to make transactions legal but actually huge volume of hardwood  were smuggled, sneaked out of the Caraga forests. 

Said smuggling of illegally-cut logs has been on going for years and had never stopped due massive corruption.

               However, the retired Chief Magistrate also urged government to offer alternative livelihood to people who are too dependent in the logging industry.

               DENR-Caraga regional executive director Leonardo Sibbaluca for his part admitted major livelihood of people in Butuan City and in Caraga region over the years anchored usually in natural resources based livelihood like cutting trees or logging or engaged in mining both small-scale and large-scale. 

                " There is some degree of difficulty to convince people engaged in logging to go into farming because it seems the culture is ether logging or mining as only source of income" Sibbaluca said while admitting corruption has also lead increased of illegal logging and illegal mining activities flourished in Caraga region over the years. 

            President Aquino has issued Executive Order No. 23 banning cutting and transporting natural grown trees particularly dwindling hardwood species after he discovered in his visit here last January 2011 kilometers by kilometers long pile of illegally cut and transported logs floating along Agusan River on the way to wood sawmills here in Butuan City. 

            Records from DENR, EMB who issued temporary Environmental Certificate Compliance (ECC) to these sawmills for years now showed there are about 36 small, medium and large scale wood processing plants or sawmills situated at the bank of Agusan river,  


            Environmental watch groups wanted relocation of the sawmills claiming it is not only buying and processing illegal logs but alleged said wood processing plants unknowingly and knowingly dumped toxic sawdust to the river hindering it almost biologically dead apart from serving as catch basin of dumped toxic mercury and cyanide materials from mining activities both legal and illegal

            But the Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the Butuan City Council Dr. John Nery claimed he was not aware of any moves to relocate the sawmills saying barangay officials even allegedly endorsed continuing stay of the sawmills.

During meeting with local officials here at Butuan airport in his January 2011 visit, President Aquino at one time got irked on the requests of some government officials to release billions and billions of pesos of government funds to repair damaged government infrastructures brought about by massive flooding that hit Butuan City and Caraga region when local officials and government agencies allegedly failed to do something against continuing illegal logging and illegal mining activities that wrought havoc to environment and one of causes of the flooding that destroyed billions of pesos 

            The retired Chief Justice for his part claimed it is the reason why during his time as Supreme Court Chief Justice, the High Court institutionalized implementation of Writ of Kalikasan providing legal remedies for ordinary citizens to report any destructive activities against environment. 

 However, the retired High Court Magistrate admitted citizen’s arrest is to risky without cooperation of law enforcement authorities saying “illegal loggers and miners are armed and dangerous”.

  “That’s why we wanted to strengthen enforcement policies whereby civilians can tap any law enforcement personnel to accompany in any citizens pro-environment efforts” Puno said.

Puno admitted planting trees and protecting environment is his latest personal advocacy, “a legacy I can leave to my countrymen” Puno said.

 Puno cited the importance of the role of local Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) chapters in the country in the environmental protection efforts and again citing efforts of some local IBP chapters to join further establishment of Center for Environmental Justice and Protection to be visible, accessible in the countryside.

 In his speech at the launching ceremonial tree planting Puno advises Butuan City Government to sustain the grow a million tree project saying he wanted the project to succeed where he can see trees planted grow tall thus it served its purpose

                “The secret there is to make the community and people owned the tree planting project so that they took care of it until it will be fully grown” Puno said.

For his role as legal consultant in the Butuan City Government’s anti-illegal logging and environmental protection program, the former Supreme Court Chief Justice admitted it will be a tough job.


 “The key for successful prosecution for environmental violators to pay crimes they commit is total people’s organizations, NGO and multi-sector involvement in the campaign” Puno said.

Puno said planting trees is mitigating measures to combat disastrous effects of climate change.

Puno said the country’s forest cover has deteriorated over the years with only 24% in every million hectares of land covered.

“The ideal forest cover of the country must be 54% so nakikita ninyo napaka delkado na ang nangyayari sa ating bansa tayo’y nagiging biktima na sa climate change”, Puno said

“Dahil din sa kawalan natin ng forest cover yung ating mga plants at hayop natin ay unti-unting nawawala o namamatay. Dito po sa Butuan at Surigao madalas din po nababaha konting ulan lang baha na” Puno said.

Puno said he and DENR Undersecretary precisely came here to Butuan City to see to it how the one million tree a year project will work.

Puno said one thing he got attracted to the project is that everybody in the community owned it, “and in that case this project will not fail because this project is own by the people”.

DENR undersecretary Ernesto Adobo for his part said that the launching was timely in time of President Aquino’s signing of executive order requiring all government agencies to plant 1.5-B trees in 1.5-M hectares of land staring this year up to 2016.

Adobo said that the assurance of the Department of Education to help the tree planting project whereby one pupil is required to produce ten tree seedlings can help boost President Aquino’s Tree Planting.

‘Apart from seeing trees planted, the impact of awareness for environmental awareness and protection through this project is great because we are slowly educating Filipino” Adobo said.

Under the Butuan greening project which is planting one million trees per year, socio civic organizations like the Freemason, NGOs. Barangay Local Government Units , business sector like the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International, government agencies  and other business establishments affirmed their participation and cooperation to the project. (PNA/Ben Serrano)

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