Paje orders crackdown on illegal logging in Zambales; asks DPWH to blast logging road

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ENVIRONMENT Secretary Ramon Paje ordered last week the deployment of a combined team of forest protection officers and army operatives to stop illegal logging operations inside the 13,800-hectare forests of Zambales near the Sta. Cruz-Mangatarem border. 

Ricardo Calderon, executive director of the Central Luzon Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the joint DENR-Philippine Army team swooped down on identified logging sites and retrieved over 9,000 board feet of assorted lumber worth about half a million pesos.  

Illegal loggers left the forest contraband hidden through the jungle upon seeing the advancing team. 

More than 100 forest protection personnel and enlisted men from the 24th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army based in Palauig took part in the week-long anti-illegal logging operation, in coordination with local officials and the local police.

Environment authorities are now looking into the possibility of filing illegal logging charges against a contractor of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for deviating from the approved road plan and building a nine-kilometer road that cuts through the forests instead.

Ground surveillance team from DENR Central Luzon reported that seven additional spur roads and switches were even constructed to further gain access to the timber-rich regions of the Zambales-Pangasinan divide. 

The nine-kilometer road network is now being used by illegal loggers to move timber out of the forests to their drop off points in the towns of Aguilar and Mangatarem in Pangasinan, the only accessible entry and exit points for illegal loggers.

Aguilar is six kilometers away from the cutting site while Mangatarem is about 25 kilometers away.

The surveillance group also reported uncovering another road that runs parallel the original Sta. Cruz-Mangatarem road, believed constructed by well-financed illegal loggers to avoid passing through the army detachment in Muelang.

The new road connects to the village of Pogonsili, also in Mangatarem. 

The DENR has filed illegal logging cases against four individuals since construction of the 14-kilometer Sta. Cruz-Mangatarem National Secondary Road started in 2008.

Charged for violations of the Revised Forestry Code or P.D. 705 were Avelino Bakyat, Glenn Litaoen, Villamor Aten-an, and Armando Marinas all from Aguilar town in Pangasinan.

As this developed, the DENR called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army to help in going after illegal loggers, beginning with the strengthening of the army detachment in the village of Muelang in Mangatarem, and the establishment of a patrol base in Aguilar town. 

DENR authorities will designate the areas along the Sta. Cruz-Mangatarem road as a National Greening Program (NGP) site and as a rehabilitation site for mining companies there, even as they asked the DPWH to consider blasting a section of the road to render it impassable and stop illegal loggers right on their tracks.

The DENR is also set to call a top-level meeting with regional officials of the DPWH to verify the details surrounding the road construction project.