Secretary Roy A. Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has created a 12-man team to investigate the operations of agricultural companies awarded with logging concessions in the country.
There are a total of 104 companies with logging concessions in the form of Integrated Forest Management Agreements (Ifmas).
The order, issued by the DENR chief in a news statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, aims to prevent similar incidents in Zamboanga Peninsula that resulted in the death of more than two dozen people at the height of Typhoon Vinta last month.
Cimatu said he wants to make sure that Ifma holders are compliant with the terms and conditions of their contracts with the DENR, including the Dacon Group of Cos. whose subsidiaries—the South Davao Development Corp. Inc. (Sodaco) and the Sirawai Plywood & Lumber Corp. (SLPC) in Sibuco town, Zamboanga del Sur—were slapped with suspension orders.
The two companies are Ifma holders with a combined land area of 72,000 hectares.
While companies with logging concessions establish forest or tree plantations, the trees are later on harvested. The massive harvesting of trees in these plantations often leaves nearby communities unprotected from natural calamities.
To recall, no less than President Duterte ordered Cimatu to stop Sodaco and SLPC’s operations after viewing a five-minute video footage that showed the massive degradation of the forest in the areas where the two companies operate.
While several companies have stopped their operation, Cimatu said there were reports of illegal poaching in Ifma sites.
“We will make them [the Ifma holders] accountable if we find that there were violations in what is supposed to be their obligation to help manage the forest, and not to be the culprit behind such environmental degradation,” Cimatu added.
Of the 104 Ifmas across the country, the DENR said 40 are in Luzon, 13 are in the Visayas and 51 are in Mindanao. It was also gathered that 10 Ifmas were issued in Region 9, where the flash floods occurred. The DENR chief gave the 12-member DENR team that will conduct the audit until Friday, January 12, to complete its investigation of the Dacon areas.
According to initial reports from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) in Zamboanga del Norte, the video of the deforested portion showed the area where site preparation for transplanting of new tree seedlings of Sodaco is ongoing.
As early as 2016, the Philippine Wood Producers Association (PWPA) has been calling for a performance audit of companies that were granted logging concessions, such as Ifmas and Socialized Industrial Forest Management Agreements and the privilege of forest management under the Community-based Forest Management Program by the DENR.
In an exclusive report of the BusinessMirror in July 2016, PWPA Executive Director Maila R. Vasquez made an appeal to then newly appointed DENR Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez to review the production outputs of various DENR partners with Ifmas and other forest management or lease agreements.
The PWPA supports the DENR’s programs and policy direction that will boost the country’s wood industry, particularly to increase local wood production. It is also batting for forest certification to encourage sustainable wood production.
The group is also pushing for the enactment of two proposed laws that would help improve the local wood industry—the National Land Use Act and the Sustainable Forest Management Act.
According to the PWPA, it is high time both bills are revived to update Presidential Decree 705, which was enacted in 1975.