Illegal tree cutting again is being blamed for the flash floods and mudslides in Zamboanga Peninsula after Typhoon “Vinta” lashed across Mindanao in December last year. Time and again, irresponsible logging companies cause destruction to the country’s forests and mountain areas with deadly consequences.
The man-made disaster prompted Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to order a review of all the 104 companies that received integrated forest management agreements, or IFMAs, to prevent a repeat of any “environmental degradation” in Zamboanga.
The official vowed to go after grant holders that violated their forest agreements with the government, after receiving reports of illegal poaching in IFMA sites. The illegal logging operations and the flash floods and mudslides that ensued killed dozens of people and damaged agricultural lands in four towns of Zamboanga del Norte on Dec. 22 at the height of Typhoon “Vinta.”
The flash floods also swept the homes of fisher folk in in Barangay Anubgan, Sibuco town. Logs from the mountains rampaged through the isolated coastal community.
Companies that obtained IFMAs, according to Cimatu, should be accountable if they committed violations in what are supposed to be their obligation to help manage the forest. The government granted 40 IFMAs in Luzon, 13 in the Visayas and 51 in Mindanao.
IFMA companies, by the very nature of the agreement, should manage the forest through industrial tree plantations from which they can harvest. They are required to reforest the harvested areas to make their operations sustainable and prevent degradation or denudation.
Picop Resources Inc., which operates in Bislig, Surigao del Sur province, was a model company that took care of the environment. It was once the largest integrated wood and paper milling company in Southeast Asia, until cheap imports shut down its operations in 2001.
Cimatu’s review should take into account the experience of Picop in managing the forests of Bislig, Surigao del Sur. As in other concession agreements, the government must be firm in enforcing the contract with private companies. It should not also hesitate to rescind the contract at the slightest misstep of the concessionaire. Environment protection is paramount and should not be compromised.