Controversial Logging Firm Told To Get Out Of Misamis Oriental, Philippines

They will only stay for a decade and leave, a local environmental activist foresees the decision of the controversial Southwood Timber Corporation (STC), alleged to have operated a logging concession in the hinterlands of Misamis Oriental without consent from indigenous peoples (IPs) in the area.

Carl Cesar Rebuta of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), said this stance by STC is “very disturbing” amid continuing allegations it was operating in violation of its Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) with the national government.

The environment and natural resources department has said STC’s 25-year lease contract provides that it adopts selective logging in harvesting of the mature and over-mature naturally growing trees within the IFMA area.

Rebuta revealed that STC’s intention to stay on was expressed by a company emissary in a meeting with Archbishop Antonio Ledesma sometime in March, this year.
misamis_oriental_map.pngMap of Misamis Oriental Region, Philippines
“That exchange acquired new meaning now given the continuing silence of environment authorities on alleged breaches of STC,” Rebuta said over phone.

An investigation against STC was called for after a complaint was lodged by the IPs living within the logging area pushing for the immediate cancellation of the IFMA permit issued to STC by the DENR.

Church based groups like EcoCare, Ecology Desk of the CDO Archdiocese and LRC supported the call for a probe on STC.

Until today, no initial report was forwarded about the outcome of the said investigation done by independent forestry experts commissioned by DENR to look into the allegations.

Because of this, residents in Gingoog City and Claveria town launched a new signature campaign to petition authorities to cancel the STC operation.

Fr. Roger Almonia of the Anakan Parish in Gingoog, his parishioners continue to report illegal logging activities as shown by the cutting and transporting of freshly cut logs coming from inside the IFMA area.

Amid widespread accusations of IFMA violations against STC, the Gingoog city council backtracked on its December 2009 consent to the project, although it has also reopened discussion and possible reversal of it recently.

STC holds an IFMA covering more than 11,000 hectares spanning across Eureka of Gingoog City and Minalwang in Claveria.

Rebuta said it becomes clear now that STC may just be interested on harvesting the existing forest trees still found within its IFMA area.

“If they are serious with their IFMA, 10 years is not yet enough to harvest the trees they are supposed to plant? So, if we allow them 10 years, that means deforestation of existing cover which defeats the IFMA,” he explained.

Primarily, local people accused STC of harvesting old-growth trees from identified protection forest inside the firm’s concession area, and of operating in Minalwang upon sanction of DENR even if it never acquired the consent of indigenous Higaonon tribe in the area.

Some 8,000 hectares of STC’s concession area is located in Minalwang while 3,000 hectares are in Eureka whose residents issued consent for its activities.

Based on existing forestry policy, trees in 1,000-meter above-sea-level elevations automatically form part of protection forests hence prohibited from being harvested together with those in watershed areas.

Earlier, the DENR said STC’s 25-year lease contract provides that it adopts selective logging in harvesting of the mature and over-mature naturally growing trees within the IFMA area.

“Minus consent, the logging permit issued to STC is invalid, and that their existing operation in Barangay Minalwang is illegal,” stressed Rebuta.

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