P700,000 worth of illegal lumber apprehended at Manila port
MANILA, Philippines – Vans containing an estimated P700,000 ($15,700) worth of Lauan lumber were apprehended by authorities around 4 pm on Friday, March 14, at the port of Manila.
Lauan, also known as Philippine Mahogany, is an endemic dipterocarp species protected by Executive Order 23 from logging. Under the EO, all naturally-growing indigenous trees cannot be cut down.
The Lauan, already in lumber form after wood-processing, were found inside two container vans in the form of slabs called board feet. The container vans were estimated to hold 14,000 board feet (7,000 to 8,000 per van).
This is equivalent to around 12 trees, each at least 20 years old.
The container vans held a mix of red Lauan and white Lauan lumber. They were shipped from the port of Nasipit in Agusan del Norte, a known hot spot for illegal logging even after EO 23.
Documents from the port of origin showed that the two container vans were shipped by a certain Michael Chua and Emilie Lim, along with 5 other container vans. All 7 were declared as either scrap metal or bits of glass.
"But when we looked at the manifest here [in the port of Manila], the two container vans were declared shipped by SJS Marketing, a trucking company," said Arturo Calderon, leader of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) team behind the apprehension.
2GO, the private shipping line that transported the container vans, has been trying to contact SJS Marketing since Thursday after the DENR and Bureau of Customs (BOC) issued an order to have the vans opened, but SJS Marketing never called back.
The DENR issued the order after receiving a tip that container vans with specific seal numbers were carrying illegally-cut lumber.
The lumber has been turned over to the BOC. The agency is supposed to call an administrative proceeding summoning the shipper, consignee (intended recipient of the shipment), witnesses, and government officials present at the apprehension.
Only after can the lumber be confiscated in favor of the government.
The 5 other container vans declared as shipped by Michael Chua held scrap metal.
The issuance of EO 23, a moratorium on the cutting of naturally-growing trees declared in 2011, led to a 78% reduction in illegal logging hot spots according to June 2013 DENR data. There was also a 66% reduction of wood processing plants with illegal logging sidelines. (READ: Mining, logging contributed to Philippine disaster: experts)
But in the Caraga region, especially in Agusan del Norte, illegal logging is still very much alive.
"Nawala na 'yung mga big-time loggers, pero 'yung local community na ang nagpuputol (The big-time loggers are gone, but now it's the local community who cut the trees)," said an insider who was involved in a number of crackdowns against illegal loggers.
The Agusan River is a major asset for illegal loggers in the province, said Gadot. They hide logs of illegally-cut Lauan trees underneath logs of plantation trees – exotic species like gmelina, mahogany, and eucalyptus, which aren't covered by the logging ban. They then float these logs down the river to Butuan, where there is a flourishing market for lumber.
This popular modus operandi has led the DENR to issue an executive order banning the use of the Agusan River for transporting logs.
But other methods are still open to illegal loggers. In the summer, when the Agusan River does not flow strongly enough, the logs can be dragged through the forest. This is almost impossible during the rainy season because the soil gets muddy.
Once cut into slabs of lumber in wood-processing plants, the wood is tranferred by land to warehouses in jeeps or sometimes even in motorcycles on multiple trips. They are placed on the jeep floor beneath planks of legally-cut lumber, rice, or other products.
The illegal status of Lauan lumber has increased its black market value. From P3,000 to P5,000 ($67 to $112) per cubic meter before EO 23, it is now priced from P8,000 to P10,000 ($179 to $224) per cubic meter.
Lauan, a species unique to the Philippines, is especially sought after because of its texture and strength. It is often used to make furniture and construction materials.
EO 23 was issued by President Benigno Aquino III to curb the depletion of the country's original forest cover due to a lumber industry that has thrived since the 1970s. According to the DENR, more than 70% of the country's original forests have been lost to logging. (READ: River of logs: Impact of illegal logging)
The National Greening Program (NGP), the government's largest reforestation program, aims to restore these forests, but critics say it is planting the wrong trees. Instead of planting naturally-growing and now rare species like Lauan, narra, and molave, the NGP is planting mostly plantation or exotic species. – Rappler.com