Duterte asked to stop illegal logging in vital Ipo Watershed
MANILA, Philippines – Environmentalists and mountaineers asked President Rodrigo Duterte to look into the deforestation of Ipo Watershed, which is critical to Metro Manila's water supply.
The group filed a complaint with the Office of the President on Tuesday, February 13. It was received by Duterte's office at around 4:30 pm.
"In line with your strong defense of the environment and Philippine nation, we would like to bring your attention to lawlessness that is destroying vital watersheds in Rizal and Bulacan, the main source of clean water for the 12.8 million residents of Manila," wrote the group, led by Martin Francisco of the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society.
Illegal logging, charcoal-making, and slash-and-burn farming in Ipo Watershed, a 6,600-hectare mountain forest in Rizal and Bulacan, could lead to a "water crisis" for Metro Manila, reads the complaint.
The group called Duterte's attention to the funds supposedly allocated for the watershed's protection, coming from the environmental fee Metro Manila consumers pay water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water.
The two public utility companies were tapped by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to help provide funding for a 5-year watershed protection plan.
Despite the steady collection of environmental fees, no long-term protection for Ipo Watershed is being implemented, said the group.
The group claimed the MWSS has yet to agree to a memorandum of agreement required to implement the plan.
Attachments to the complaint sought to prove the impact of illegal logging on the watershed.
Google Earth images showed a drastic reduction in forest cover in Ipo Watershed in 2016 from its forest cover in 2009.
The complaint also included a public advisory from Maynilad in which it announced an increase in water turbidity or sediment content in water coming from the Ipo Dam.
The increase in water turbidity, from the normal 300 nephelometric units (NTU) to 1,600 NTU in August 2016, caused Maynilad to reduce its water output, affecting the supply of 850,000 users.
This is because Maynilad had to treat the water to remove the sediments.
Maynilad attributed the high turbidity to soil erosion in Ipo Watershed. The environmentalists complaining to Duterte said the soil erosion was due to rampant deforestation in the watershed.
Unpaid forest rangers
The group also called on Duterte to ensure that the 87 Bantay Gubat (forest rangers) at the frontlines of protecting Ipo Watershed are adequately paid.
Mountaineer Frederick Ochavo, another signatory to the complaint, called for the "immediate release of salaries and more support for Bantay Gubat."
The forest rangers' "below-minimum-wage" salaries have been delayed for 6 months, reads the complaint.
Yet it's these forest rangers who face illegal loggers and even "armed syndicates" inside the watershed.
Non-payment of their salaries has been a perennial problem for the forest rangers. Way back in February 2016, they had already stopped work to protest the non-payment of 15 months worth of work.
Then MWSS Administrator Gerardo Esquivel admitted to Rappler that the non-payment of salaries was an "oversight." Days after, 23 forest rangers were paid their salaries.
The current MWSS Administrator is Reynaldo Velasco.
The group is counting on Duterte's professed hardliner stance against those who destroy the environment.
Duterte, last year, formed a team to study a possible total log ban. – Rappler.com