Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has called for intensified monitoring of tree-cutting activities in the same area where authorities recently discovered an illegal small-scale mining operation in Magpet town, Cotabato province.

“We cannot allow people to further destroy our forests especially when we know that flooding is among its direct consequences,” Cimatu pointed out. “Many Filipinos have suffered enough from the devastation of massive flooding because of forest denudation.”

Cimatu said the local government of Magpet should always be on the lookout for any illegal tree-cutting activity in its area of jurisdiction and coordinate such activity with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12.

According to DENR-12 Regional Executive Director Felix Alicer, the tree-cutting activity was discovered during the Dec. 7 raid conducted in Barangay Don Panaca by operatives of the DENR, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the local government of Cotabato, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The joint operation team then discovered an illegal small-scale mining operation in the area located some 10 kilometers away from the Mt. Apo Natural Park.

The mining site has not been declared a minahang bayan or a common area where small-scale miners are allowed to operate, prompting Cimatu to order its immediate closure.

The operation also led authorities to a five-hectare area that has been cleared of trees, around 300 meters away from the mining site.

The felled trees were identified as Ulian and Agoho. Some 15.296 cubic meters of log were also seen on the site.

Alicer said the “cleared area” is suspected to be intended for land conversion, particularly as a banana plantation, considering that the vicinity of Barangay Don Panaca is within a banana-growing town.

“What we are seeing here is that the threat to denudation is not so much on timber poaching but land conversion,” Alicer said. “A banana plantation has higher economic benefits.”

Alicer noted that barangay officials in the area are not empowered to apprehend the suspects. “The barangay chiefs around the area, however, have helped us monitor the site which prevented the suspected planned land conversion,” he said.

At the same time, Alicer said they have not yet been able to remove the logs from the site because it can only be reached after a two-and-a-half hour-walk through rugged terrain. #