By Lina Sagaral Reyes
PDI Mindanao Bureau
(Second of Two Parts)
(The first installment focused on the anomalous fast-tracking of paperwork needed for the approval of the conversion of an expired timber license agreement (TLA) into an integrated forest management agreement (Ifma) in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte. The story traced how two government agencies, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) appear to have favored the Ventura Timber Corporation (VTC) during the twilight days of the Arroyo administration as these government agencies issued a tenurial agreement and other papers without the prerequisite processes and documents. It also mentioned how the government agencies ignored the Manobo-Mamanwa peoples resistance to the operations of the VTC’s Ifma, particularly its logging activities within their ancestral domain.)
TANDAG, SURIGAO DEL SUR – The past eight months since the Ventura Timber Corporation (VTC)’s Integrated Forest Management Agreement (Ifma) 02-2010 was signed in February this year have been exceptionally frustrating for the lumad (indigenous peoples) who stand firm in keeping the integrity of the forests within their ancestral domain claim.
The Ifma gave its holder, VTC, the rights “to establish industrial forest tree plantations and manage natural forests in a sustainable basis” in three parcels of forestal areas with a total size of 7,363.05 hectares in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte. The VTC will have operational and development rights over these areas for 25 years, or until 2035.
Under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1998 (Republic Act 8371), the Mamanwa-Manobo tribes who have ancestral domain claim over these areas have to give their Free and Prior Informed Consent to the Ifma.
According to the Kahugpungan sa Tribung Mamanwa-Manobo (Katrimma) leaders, the VTC’s Ifma was granted without the proper FPIC process.
For Primo Falcon, vice-chair of the Katrimma, the series of events leading to the VTC’s Ifma approval made him lost trust in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Moreover, lumad leaders like Falcon found it most frustrating that even beyond the Arroyo administration and into the first 100 days of the Aquino government, “still the logging firm maintained its lucky streak”.
“The DENR and NCIP played deaf and blind to the complaints of the Mamanwa and Manobo communities,” Falcon observed.
Mostly natural, second-growth forests
The Philippine Daily Inquirer Mindanao Bureau found out that the VTC’s InOP contained worrisome details that could not be found in the Ifma.
The VTC’s IOP revealed that around 75.64 per cent of the Ifma’s total area of 7,363.05 hectares — that is around 5,569.42 — is within secondary growth forests, particularly in the towns of Cortes and Lanuza.
Of these 5,569.42 hectares of productive secondary growth natural forests, 5,184.10 hectares or 93.08 per cent, are considered “production residual”, meaning,“naturally occurring stands of trees that have regrown after a major disturbance” in the past 40 to 60 years.
Only around 385.24 hectares of the Ifma’s forestal area, or a mere eight per cent, are degraded or recently logged in the past two to three decades. Of the 5,184.10 hectares of secondary productive forests, around 3,291.24 hectares, or 59.09 per cent, are in the Lanuza-Cortes area. Brushland and kaingin areas account for less than 25 percent of the IFMA.
It is noted further that the size of the above Parcel 2 mentioned in the InOP varies largely from that which is mentioned in the NCIP Certificate of Pre-condition and the Memorandum of Agreement, which placed the Lanuza-Cortes (Parcel 2) as having an area of 2,762 hectares only. The variance thus is around 1,089.78 hectares.
The VTC’s first round of “harvesting” (a euphemism for “logging”) , according to the InOP, will take six months, between August 2010 and January 2011, within Parcel 2, with at least 124 hectares of productive natural forests in the town of Cortes, largely in Barangay Matho. A third of the area, around 62 hectares, will be in the adjacent Barangay Mampi within Lanuza town.
The remaining unused allowable cut of 4,900 meters approved by the ECC will be cut from this area.
Fast as lizards after their prey
The paper trail reviewed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer Mindanao Bureau seem to support the lumad’s perception: despite the persistent opposition and protest of Mamanwa-Manobo communities and leaders representing the Katrimma, the VTC paperwork took the agile speed of monitor lizards after their prey, as the Manobo would say.
The VTC’s Ifma Comprehensive Development Management Plan (CDMP) was submitted on June 15 to the DENR-Caraga, and pending its approval and the approval of a corresponding environmental compliance certificate (ECC), VTC was allowed to submit an Interim Operations Plan (InOP) based on its old InOP when it was still a TLA.
This move however are considered standard operating procedures based on memorandum orders issued way back in 2007 by the Forest Management Bureau and the DENR Secretary regarding logging operations of unutilized allowable cut for TLAs converted into Ifmas.
The Interim Operations Plan (InOP), a six-month harvesting and development proposal, was submitted by VTC resident manager Manuel Luis Dufourt on June 22. It was approved by the DENR-Region Caraga on July 7.
According to the InOP, the harvesting (logging) area encompassed 186 hectares of residual natural forest while the planting of fast-growing tree species will be in 50 hectares of brushland and that of wildlings and other forest species will focus on 91.25 hectares of degraded forestland.
The approval of the InOP ignored the fact that Charlyn Binghoy, provincial NCIP officer, informed them that Katrimma had lodged a complaint about the Ifma before the NCIP.
Earlier, the DENR allowed VTC to transfer its unused allowable cut in the expired TLA of around 8,384.89 cubic meters to Parcel 2, the Lanuza-Cortes area in the Ifma. This used to be assigned to be harvested in the Cantilan and Carrascal areas but those areas have been declared part of the critical watershed forest reserve under Presidential Proclamation 1747.
However, in the InOP’s environmental compliance certificate issued on Sept. 3 this year by the Environmental Management Bureau in Caraga, only 4,900 cubic meters or 48.33 per cent of the TLA’s unutilized volume, were allowed to be cut from the area.
The ECC, approved by Ester Olavides, OIC EMB-regional director, also increased the size of the plantation development area from the proposed 141.25 to 150 hectares.
The ECC also allowed the building of 3.73 km of new roads and the rehabilitation of 19.23 km of roads in Lanuza.
Cortes townsfolk uninformed, Cortes town not included in expired TLA
But despite the large area within Cortes town that will be logged under the InOP, neither the town local government unit (LGU), its mayor or Sangguniang Bayan and the barangays Mabahin, Burgos and Matho have issued endorsements to the Ifma project.
A DENR official also told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Cortes was also never part of the previous TLA area that has been converted into an Ifma.
There is also no mention of any process in any papers submitted by VTC about informing and getting support and acceptability from the LGUs of Cortes and its affected barangays.
But VTC also never solicited support from Madrid town nor of Jabonga and Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte, even as these areas were mentioned in the NCIP resolution granting certificate of preconditon and compliance and in the Ifma.
Barangay Matho was never mentioned in the NCIP and DENR pre-Ifma documents as among the 10 barangays to be affected by or part of the Ifma.
The VTC thus acquired the Ifma, the IOP and its ECC, without getting social acceptability documents, which should have been prerequisites for their approval, from any other town and barangay, except those from Lanuza.
And even for Lanuza, VTC only presented a one-page endorsement note from Algerico Irizari, then Lanuza mayor, to the Sangguniang Bayan in April this year. A check with the Lanuza Sangguniang Bayan showed that the SB has not passed any resolution supporting the Ifma.
But three barangays within Lanuza, namely barangays Mampi, Sibahay and Gamuton, had passed resolutions in May and June this year, respectively, supporting the Ifma.
Town officials in Cortes are worried that all throughout, the VTC has not gotten or informed the Cortes mayor about the inclusion of the town’s forests in the Ifma.
Mayor Pedro Trinidad pointed out to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that his worries extend beyond the fate of the forests but also on the subsequent deforestation and its effects like siltation on the town’s marine sanctuaries, coral reefs and community-based eco-tourism ventures.
On August 20 this year, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje issued Memorandum Order No. 9, banning the issuance of Ifmas and other tenurial permits that would allow and include logging in second-growth forests.
A DENR press release on Cot. 1 announcing the order quoted Paje as having said that the step is part of the country’s climate change mitigating measures.
The Paje order might be seven months late to provide relief to the Mamanwa-Manobos as the VTC Ifma was signed way back in February and the InOP, which in substance is a logging permit,was approved way back on July 7.
But the DENR press release further quoted Paje as having committed the department to “a thorough review of previous logging permits on natural forests.” This statement might provide a glimmer of hope and reprieve for the forests and the lumad of Lanuza-Cortes.