Logging firms shifted to mariculture to create jobs to 800 displaced families in Aurora

By Jason de Asis


CASIGURAN, Aurora, April 12, 2011-The largest logging concessionaire in the province shifted to try other means of survival including mariculture pending reconsideration of Executive Order 23 that declared two months ago a moratorium on tree-cutting in natural and residual forests nationwide as President Aquino ordered for total log ban in the country.


With the suspension of logging activities of five (5) major logging concessionaires, the Industries Development Corp. is now venturing on mariculture at the Casiguran Mariculture Park (CMP) here for some 800 residents displaced by the ban.


“The mariculture production was one of the options that we considered, if only to enable the displaced families to eke out a living,” IDC President Michael Ong said, saying that they have to find a way or they have to tap other means while hoping for the EO to be lifted. “These people have been with us and we owe it to them,” Ong said.


The 321.6-hectare CMP, which borders on the coastal barangays of Cozo, Dibacong and Dibet, was launched in May 2006 by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. It was a pet project of Sen. Edgardo Angara, Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara and Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo.  


The project was intended to increase fish production in the province by 50% even as the yield of the country’s coastal fishing grounds is declining by an average of 2.66%. It has several components covering the entire production chain from broodstock, to nursery to processing plant. This covers hatchery development for seabass, grouper, siganid, saline tilapia, freshwater prawns, blue crab and abalone and establishment of land-based nursery ponds for bangus (milkfish) and high-value finfishes.


The targeted beneficiaries of the CMP are small fisherfolks and a manpower pool for fish cage operation, fish hatchery and nursery operation, fry gatherers, feed suppliers and feedmill operators, cage frame fabricators among others.    


Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional executive director Ricardo Calderon ordered the suspension of  operations of IDC and sister firm RCC Timber Company Inc., CKY Trading, San Roque Sawmill, Benzon Realty Corp. and Pacific Timber Co. in line with EO 23 issued by Mr. Aquino and DENR Secretary Ramon Paje last February where the firms’ sawmills were closed and their heavy equipment pulled out from concession areas to ensure compliance with the directive.


IDC, which has been operating for the past 50 years, is considered the largest logging concessionaire in the province. It has an Integrated Forest Management Agreement covering 48,877 hectares in the northern towns of Dilasag and Casiguran which is to expire on December 5, 2026 and has log and lumber dealer permit which is set to expire on October 31, 2012.


Ong said that since the EO took effect, their twin firms’ work force had been reduced to only less than 10% to only 60 from a high of 700. He said their firms used to provide direct employment to over 500 residents in the northern towns of Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag and 300 indirect jobs to rattan gatherers, charcoal and furniture makers.


“The IDC spent P40.7 million in salaries and wages, paid P40.4 million in forest charges, built P11.3 million in community assistance projects such as rehabilitation of national and provincial roads, bridges, culverts and irrigation facilities and P4.3 million in assistance to government projects such as lumber donations, lending of a pool of equipment and technology transfer to farmers,” Ong said, explaining that their twin firms are planning to put up a furniture plant which could have readily employed 500 people but this had to be put on hold indefinitely because of the moratorium.


“Our heart goes to our employees who have been with us for a long time. But we have to comply with EO 23,” Ong furthered, saying that the moratorium also led to heightened illegal logging activities in the province’s forests, confirming earlier fears raised by industry experts.


Ong said illegal loggers are now “feasting” on cutting trees in their old concession area. “Namumunini na sila ngayon (They are now having a field day),” he said.


William Esguerra, IDC manager reported in a letter to northern Aurora DENR community environment and natural resources officer (CENRO) Alfredo Collado said that only three of their concession guards were retained in their IFMA area, which is not enough to protect it from illegal loggers.


“The presence of our concession guards was a deterrent to timber poachers but compliance with EO 23 is a must. Our company can no longer pay them,” he said. “Our company fears that the forests that it has managed and protected in a sustainable manner for the last 50 years will be illegally burned or cut by forest violators ruthlessly,” he warned in his letter. 


The head of one of the logging firms who did not want to be identified said that the suspension of their operations triggered a “domino effect” in the province. He said that aside from displacement of logging employees, the moratorium has affected the local government units of the province from the provincial government down to the municipal governments and even to the barangays which used to receive a share from forest charges collected from these firms.


He said his firm has laid off 300 employees when the ban took effect.


CKY Trading, owned by Johnny Chua also reportedly laid off 200 of its employees, which also indirectly affected 800 dependents. (Jason de Asis)

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