Intensified anti-illegal logging operation of environment authorities on Saturday resulted in the arrest of 17 illegal loggers and the seizure of 10,000 board feet of yakal lumber flitches worth P500,000 in the Sierra Madre forests boundary of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija.

Two of the suspects were minors and all are residents of Sitio Saudi in Pias village of Gen. Tinio town, Nueva Ecija, said Dennis Vergara, head of the Community Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based in Baliwag.

In his report, Vergara stated that the combined operatives of the DENR-CENRO; First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSSR) of the Philippine Army; the 3rd Mobile Platoon, 2nd Bulacan Provincial Mobile Force Company and Doña Remedios Trinidad (DRT) Philippine National Police (PNP) caught the suspects in the act of cutting trees in the forest cover of Sierra Madre mountain range along the boundaries of DRT, Bulacan and Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija.

"The raiding team also recovered a chainsaw, two-piece improvised caliber 22 riflle, a shot gun and ammunitions from the suspects," he added.

The suspects were brought and temporarily detained at DRT police custodial facility while the minors were turned over to Municipal Social Welfare Office of the same town for proper disposition.

Paquito Moreno, Jr., executive director of DENR regional office commended the efforts of the team, especially the First Scout Regiment of PA and the PNP for their support in the government's campaign to curb illegal forest activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need to intensify our forest protection efforts because some scrupulous groups are taking advantage of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in the region," he stressed.

Earlier in Nueva, Ecija, the joint operation conducted by DENR provincial and community offices and the regional PNP yielded the seizure and apprehension of a total of 6,000 board feet of forest contraband worth P322,000.

In Tarlac, the DENR-CENRO and Philippine Airforce (PAF) based in Capas, Tarlac apprehended some 200 boardfeet of illegally source molave lumber flitches worth P15,000.

Moreno urged the public to be vigilant in reporting to the DENR any suspected illegal forest activities in their locality to save the remaining forest in the region.

The DENR and PNP are now preparing to file criminal charges against the 17 suspects in violation of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, Chainsaw Act or Republic Act (RA) 9175, Comprehensie Firearms and Ammunitions Regulation Act or RA 10591, Revised Penal Code, Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act or RA 11332 and the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act or RA 11469.