P600,000 worth of 'illegal' lumber seized in Ormoc City

ORMOC CITY, Philippines – A team of environment officials, military, and police authorities confiscated alleged illegal lumber valued at around P600,000 ($12,838) in this city over the weekend.

The cut lumber, estimated at 10,000 board feet, was seized at Purok 6 in Barangay Quezon Jr on Saturday, October 24, by a joint team of the regional Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) office, Philippine Navy, 802nd Infantry Brigade, and the Ormoc City Police Office.

Allen Cebuano, chief of the DENR regional enforcement division, said the lumber was considered undocumented, and therefore, illegal.

The alleged illegal lumber was already carefully stockpiled in an area where trucks could pick it up. More lumber was found nearby but was haphazardly thrown about, as if left in a hurry.

The Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), which has jurisdiction over the city, was not present at the operation. The same goes for the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), whose foresters are tasked with protecting the forests here as part of the geothermal reserve.

Cebuano said he could not speak for CENRO officer Eugene Mozo and his men, but added that the CENRO was aware of the raid. “It was our director who called him," he said.

A certain Samuel Manigao, who tried to talk to the raiding team when it arrived, told authorities that the lumber had proper documents and the permission of the CENRO.

Manigao showed them the photocopy of a land title, barangay certification that the lumber came from a cut Lawa-an tree in said lot dated October 22, and an “inspection report for the scaling of sliced lumber” signed by CENRO personnel Elviro M. Reyes dated October 19, 2015.

Cebuano, however, said Manigao's documents did not prove that the lumber is legal, as they did not include a permit to cut.

He added that Manigao also dropped the name of CENRO's Mozo several times, and that Manigao claimed that Mozo had approved the cutting.

The DENR raiding team is filing a complaint against Manigao as claimant, and Rene Carsonete, whose name appears on the barangay certification.

Cebuano said they want to flush out the alleged financier, a businessman said to have familial ties to the city administration.

The seized lumber had been divided and placed in the custody the Ormoc City Police Office, the 802nd Brigade, and 19th Infantry Batallion in Kananga, Leyte.

Retaliation?

Manigao claimed in an interview that there was more than meets the eye in the “raid” of the lumber.

He accused Cebuano of conducting the raid in retaliation for a complaint he and Reneboy Condes had filed against Cebuano and DENR employee Keneth Salon before the Office of the Ombudsman.

In their complaint before the Ombudsman filed on March 5, 2015, Manigao and  Condes complained that the two, together with the Army, confiscated some 8,000 board feet of lumber, also from Barangay Quezon Jr.

The lumber, they said, was loaded into a truck with “First Balfour” markings and unloaded near the company’s vicinity. A few days later, the same lumber was allegedly withdrawn by the two, but no record of the apprehension could be found.

They tried to get a paper trail of the confiscation from the CENRO, but the office could not provide them with the documents as it was done by the regional enforcement division headed by Cebuano.

'Livelihood' from Yolanda-felled trees

Manigao said the lumber seized on October 24 came from trees damaged by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that were still in the mountains, and would rot if left unused.

He added that there were a lot more trees in the mountains near Barangay Quezon Jr, and its cutting and hauling have provided a lifeline to village folk.

One of them is Porferio Pongos, who said he owned the Lawa-an tree from which  the lumber was sourced. It was felled by Yolanda, and he had pictures to prove it.

Pongos said he needed money for his mother’s cataract operation.
 He obtained a loan from Manigao’s financier to have one of his mother's eyes operated on, and he needs another P25,000 ($534) for her other eye. 

He said he personally went to CENRO's Mozo to ask what he could do to make money from the felled tree, and was told it was okay to have it cut. Pongos then requested for the scaling which was done, and would have gotten a permit to transport the lumber to the buyer on October 26.

It was learned that after Yolanda, known personalities involved in the buying and selling of lumber had been operating in the area. 

Pongos said the buyers get the lumber from the tree owners, at P4 ($0.08) per board foot.

All in all, including the manual labor to bring it down from the mountains, the cost on their part is around P12 per ($0.25) board foot. The resellers sell it at around P60 ($1.28) per board foot.

They know the financiers were making a lot, Pongos said, but the money they make was better than none at all.

He confided that when the raiding team came, people who were hauling the lumber scampered away and had yet to be paid. – Rappler.com

$1 = P46.73