Puerto Princesa City environment authorities vowed on Tuesday to look into widespread illegal tree cutting activities after large pieces of cut timber slid down through landslides and floods due to Typhoon Odette’s onslaught.
Photos of the aftermath of the typhoon showed that in areas of barangays Concepcion, Tanabag, and Langogan, large trees that bore chainsaw marks, were debarked, or showed other signs of cutting were washed down by floods.
In an interview, City ENRO chief Atty. Carlo Gomez said that they will investigate who are behind these incidents and will hold them accountable for the damage they caused to public and private property.
“’Yong hanay ng City ENRO with coordination sa ating Bantay Gubat, hahanapin natin ang source nito, sino ang may kagagawan ng mga ito. We are praying na mahuli natin kung sino man ang responsible dito,” he said on Tuesday.
“Very irresponsible, kung sino man siya, mayaman man siya at kumita sa [illegal logging], foolishness will come back to you,” he added.
He added that his office was initially not aware that there was widespread illegal tree cutting and logging in areas where floodwaters brought down pieces of lumber.
“[As] far as we are concerned, napaka-isolated ng mga ganitong insidente. Of course, there is no guarantee na kahit mahigpit ang ating enforcement team, mayroon talagang lumulusot pa rin na mga unscrupulous people,” he said.
Gomez also stated that he is also hoping that indigenous groups who live deep in the mountains will help them track down illegal activities, saying that they have also been prone to abuse by the tree cutters.
“Minsan, ang mga katutubo ang naaabuso ng mga ganid na mga financer na ‘to, at sila ang nauutusan minsan maghakot [ng timber],” he said.
Gomez also stated that after the typhoon, rebuilding efforts and preventing future damage by calamities will heavily fall on barangay officials. He stated that key offices such as the city government and the DENR will shift more responsibilities to the barangay level.
“Especially sa mga situation na pinayagan na tumira sa tabi ng ilog, na ngayon ay nasalanta, nadisgrasya dahil sa bagyo, they have the bigger responsibility. Lahat kasi naman at nagsisimula sa barangay. This time, we reminded the barangay officials to be more responsible, we will not have second thoughts of reminding them, to the extent that we will utilize the process of the court to get redress of their irresponsibility,” he said.
To prevent more unauthorized cutting of trees all over the city, especially those that were felled by strong wind, the CENRO and City ENRO announced on Tuesday that all trees would be government property. This applies to all trees whether they were planted in private property or located on government property.
Barangay officials will be accountable to all fallen trees in their jurisdiction. Individuals who are in need of lumber to rebuild their houses or clear fallen trees in their properties must approach their barangay officials for permission. This is to ensure that all trees felled by the typhoon undergo proper inventory and to prevent hoarding of timber.