DENR optimistic to achieve 'zero-illegal logging hotspot' target by 2016

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is optimistic that the government's target for a "zero-illegal logging hotspot" will be achieved by 2016 through continued imposition of the total log ban.

DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje reported that an evaluation on the progress of Executive Order No. 23, which declares a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests nationwide, indicate a positive trend in its implementation.

Signed by President Benigno Aquino III in February 2011, EO 23 aims to uphold intergeneration responsibility to protect the environment and to prevent further destruction wrought by natural disasters. The presidential directive resulted in the creation of a new anti-illegal logging task force, headed by the DENR Secretary.

"As a result of the order, illegal logging hotspots are now down to 31 from a high of 197 in 2010. We have tightened the noose around the remaining hotspot areas with support from law enforcement agencies led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines," Paje said.

Prior to the issuance of EO 23, only a total of 6.4 million board feet were seized by the DENR. But Paje said that confiscations significantly increased by 59 percent at 10.28 million bd. ft. as the government's intensified anti-illegal logging operations went into full swing in 2012.

The figures dropped by 60 percent in 2013 at 4.1 million bd. ft. and by 70.5 percent as of September this year at 1.2 million bd. ft., indicating that illegal logging activities have slowed down two years after EO 23 was implemented, Paje said.

The environment chief said the government targets to eliminate all remaining illegal logging hotspots in the country before President Aquino steps down in June 2016.

"Among others, achieving a zero-illegal logging hotspot status could be one of the finest legacies of the Aquino administration in terms of Philippine environmentalism," Paje pointed out.

Based on the DENR data, a total of28.5 million bd. ft. of undocumented wood products have been confiscated from 2010 until last September. Many of these seized "hot logs" have been converted into essential school furniture like armchairs and desks through the PNoy Bayanihan Project (PBP) for use in public elementary and high schools.

Since 2011, more than 146,000 pieces of school furniture have been produced and 369 school buildings have been repaired using seized timber products.

At the same time, Paje said the enforcement of EO 23 resulted in the filing of 1,370 cases in court and the conviction of close to 200 individuals.

Paje said the EO 23 was the government's response to the country's declining forest cover, particularly in natural forests that are mainly covered with native tree species like narra, kamagong, red and white lauan, tindalo, yakal and molave, which are among the most sought after by illegal loggers.

According to the DENR's Forest Management Bureau, out of the country's 15.8 million hectares of classified forestland, only 7.168 million are covered with forests.

EO 23 has brought about the significant reduction of illegal logging hotspots to 31 from 197 prior to the issuance of the presidential fiat.

Thirteen of these hotspots, or municipalities where illegal logging remains rampant, are located in the Caraga region; six in Davao or Southern Mindanao region; three each in Western Visayas, Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley; two in Mimaropa; and one in I1ocos region. #