Military now at forefront of fight vs illegal loggers

Posted at 11/22/12 12:03 PM

'Major casualties among civilian fighters'

MANILA, Philippines - The government is putting teeth to its anti-illegal logging stance in Mindanao by converting it to an “active military operation.”

In a press conference, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said Resolution No. 2012-005 has been issued transforming the government’s civilian-led campaign to finally rid Mindanao of illegal loggers. The full transition is expected by December.

“This shows our firm resolve to stop all illegal logging activities in Mindanao,” Paje said. He noted that most of the remaining 31 out of 197 illegal logging “hotspots” in the country are concentrated in the Caraga and Davao regions.

Paje chairs the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force (AILTF), which was previously composed of civilian and retired military contingents. 

The members of AILTF are Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Philippine National Police Chief Nicanor Bartolome and Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Jessie Dellosa. 

Based on the resolution, the Department of National Defense (DND), through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), “shall lead all the anti-illegal logging operations in Mindanao, including but not limited to confiscation of illegally cut logs/lumber and apprehension of violators.”

The resolution noted that the civilian contingent for the operations has suffered major casualties, forcing stakeholders to rethink strategies.

“The operation conducted by the civilian contingent has already suffered major casualties totalling to at least 25 personnel and agents/partners of the DENR since the implementation of Executive Order 23,” the resolution stated. The executive fiat bans all logging operations in natural and residual forests.

The plan first came about last September 11, during a meeting among members of the AILTF and senior military officials. There, they made note of the presence of insurgents and armed groups in the south that have affected operations.

Thus, the resolution terminated the service contracts of all civilian and retired military contingents of the task force.

The resolution also dictates that the Philippine National Police, with the assistance from the Department of Justice, the DENR, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the National Bureau of Investigation, is tasked to arrest suspected illegal loggers leading to the prosecution of violators.

The DENR, on the other hand, is directed to assign technical personnel to assist the DND and the AFP in the anti-illegal logging operations in Mindanao.

The environment department is also to provide the AFP the operations manual detailing the guidelines on illegal logging operation, orientation and training.

Paje already ordered a “smooth transition” of the operations to the AFP. He also ordered technical conferences with brigade commanders.