THE cutting of trees, especially in the country’s remaining virgin forests, should be stopped even within or near mining tenements, environmental group Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) said.
Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE, said Roy A. Cimatu should revoke the exemption given to all mining firms under former President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Executive Order (EO) 23, which declared a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests.
“What he should do is revoke the exemption given to mining companies and enforce EO 23—[a] no exemption [policy],” Bautista said in Filipino.
EO 23, or Aquino’s “total logging ban”, he said, “exempts mining companies from cutting trees within its mining tenement because they can easily get tree-cutting permits from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Mines and Geosciences Bureau [DENR-MGB] or other concerned offices. “Like in Brooke’s Point, Ipilan Nickel Corp. was able to cut trees even with [a] dubious tree-cutting permit,” Bautista added.
He said the exemption to mining companies rendered Aquino’s EO 23 “useless”, because mining companies are allowed to cut trees even in virgin forests.
A total log ban on the country’s remaining virgin forest, Bautista said, should be put in place, whether they are within or near areas covered by Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs).
“We only have less than 5-percent virgin forest of our remaining forest cover. How hard could that be?” Bautista said. The policy mandating mining companies to plant 100 trees in place of every tree they cut is “not enough”, he added.
“It will only justify the cutting of trees and will be used by mining companies over and over to cut trees in virgin forests,” Bautista said.
Planting 100 trees in place of a century-old tree, he added, is not justifiable and should not be allowed.
“What Secretary Cimatu should do is make sure that our virgin forests are maintained. He should stop mining companies from further destroying our remaining forests,” Bautista said.
He also mentioned Cimatu’s alleged “knee-jerk” reaction to the “massacre” of trees by Ipilan in Brooke’s Point.
“He should have rescinded the contract of Ipilan Nickel because of its grave violation of environmental laws,” Bautista said, instead of merely canceling its the tree-cutting permit, “which is dubious in the first place”.
Meanwhile, according to the DENR, the felled trees within the 2,835-hectare mining area of Ipilan area now being retrieved. Hundreds of mix of old-growth and secondary trees were reportedly cut by the mining company.
According to a statement released by the DENR, DENR-Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino said a total of 34 forestry officers and workers, 18 from the DENR regional office and 16 from Palawan provincial government, have been deployed to Ipilan mining area in Brooke’s Point town to do an inventory and retrieve the felled trees, which are considered government property.
Bernardino said her office has been coordinating with concerned local government executives, particularly Palawan Gov. Jose D. Alvarez and Brooke’s Point Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano, in transferring the felled trees to a secured location, which both the DENR and the local government unit (LGU) have identified to prevent them from getting poached.
She said they plan to complete the retrieval operations within one-and-a-half months. “Transferring these trees to a secured place would become difficult once the rain season kicks in,” Bernardino pointed out.
Based on initial reports, the company cut down some 7,000 trees within 30 hectares of its entire MPSA, or mining area programmed for mining operations for years 1 and 2, and for development of road network covering an area of 52.15 hectares.
Majority of the felled trees are reportedly premium native species, such as malabayabas, apitongbaboy, nato and agoho.
According to Conrado Corpuz, DENR-Community Environment and Natural Resources officer (Cenro) for Brooke’s Point, the retrieval operation would need boom trucks and off-road 10-wheeler trucks that have four-wheel drive capacities that can negotiate through the area, which is inaccessible to ordinary vehicles.
“We are now coordinating with DENR central office and our LGU counterparts to have these needed assets in our operations,” Corpuz said. According to him, most of the felled trees are slumped over a meter-wide gulleys or pits, each measuring over 25 meters deep and about 25 meters apart and that the pits are from the firm’s exploration activities.
Although the Ipilan had earlier secured a one-year tree-cutting permit expiring on May 26, the same was deemed no longer effective since December 14, 2016 when the DENR, under then Secretary Gina Lopez, cancelled the company’s environmental compliance certificate (ECC) due to its failure to start its project within the required five-year period from issuance of the permit.
Aside from the scaling of the trees, Corpuz said they will also conduct a perimeter survey of the affected area to determine the actual extent of the cutting activity.
With the cancellation of its ECC, the DENR said that all related mining activities of the INC, including the tree cutting permit, “are likewise deemed cancelled.”
Likewise, it is stipulated in the tree-cutting permit granted to Ipilan that all timber and other derivable wood materials recovered from the trees cut belong to the DENR.