DAVAO CITY— The Roman Catholic clergy in Surigao del Sur has expressed alarm over reports of unabated smuggling of the ironwood (locally called Magkono) being cut down in the forests inside the abandoned logging concession areas.
Raymond Ambray, representing Tandag Diocese, told top officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) during the 7th Multi-Sectoral Stakeholders Forum in Cagayan de Oro City last week that the illegal logging activities have been going on since November last year.
Ambray said the clerics learned about the illegal logging of Magkono after several concerned residents reported to them that local tree cutters guarded by armed men have felled the trees in the abandoned logging concession areas of the defunct Lianga Bay Logging Company and the logs were transported by a ship bound to Legazpi City.
The fraternity leader and Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer Cliff Abrahan in Lianga, Surigao del Sur were seen at a beach resort near the old seaport of the defunct logging company waiting for the shipment of the Magkono from a fully loaded three 10-wheeler winged van on December 8.
But Abrajan denied the allegations saying the forest products loaded onto the ship were chopped lauan and yakal lumbers used as a material in building boats.
He said he can no longer do anything anymore to confiscate the shipment of the forest products since it was already in the boat and it was already under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Coast Guard.
The CENRO disclosed there was indeed confiscation of illegally transported magkono in the past few months including those in Surigao City, Cantilan in Surigao del Sur, and near Bayugan City.
While he admitted magkono smuggling is still rampant in their area, their office cannot stop those being slipped out and escorted by heavily armed men during nighttime.
Concerned residents also disclosed that the illicit Magkono smuggling also took place on November 29 last year, January 22 and
February 3 this year.
“The Regional Executive Director of DENR Caraga and an undersecretary were already informed and we are now gathering substantial evidence to convince the RED of the reshuffling,” Ambray said.
One of the concerned resident sent a text message to DENR Caraga RED Nonito Tamayo asking for Abrahan’s relief but he was told that his office still needs a thorough investigation into the incidents.
“I need to have a strong basis. My action needs to be supported with strong evidence. Kawawa din naman siya kung wala akong dahilan para siya palitan,” Tamayo’s text message said.
The DENR Caraga chief further explained in his text message “that anyone can just send me info like this to malign the integrity of our people. Sana po maintindihan niyo po ako. But I will seriously look into your allegation very, very seriously.”
Tamayo’s text reply was dated February 1 but there was no update yet on the progress of their investigation.
Magkono (Xanthostemon verdugonianus) is categorized in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list 2018 as “vulnerable” due to its decreasing population.
The IUCN noted that at the border of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur, “which is known for their ultramafic soil, the species grows copiously along the road like the bushy Santan” but large trees of the species are now “becoming more scarce.”
According to the IUCN, it is estimated that over the last three generations, magkono “has experienced a population reduction of between 30 and 49% due to felling of the species for timber and also due to clearance of the species habitat caused by mining activities.”