Most illegal logging 'hot spots' located in 'Pablo'-hit provinces — DENR chief

About 80 percent of the remaining illegal logging “hot spots” in the country are located in the provinces hardest hit by Typhoon Pablo, which left a trail of devastation in the Visayas and Mindanao, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said Thursday.

Paje said the remaining hot spots are concentrated in Region 13 (Caraga Region) and Region 11 (Davao Region), which includes Compostela Valley, where the highest number of fatalities from Typhoon Pablo was recorded.

Related story: 'Open your eyes': typhoon-hit Philippines tells climate meet

“This is now proving that total log ban is right,” Paje said. “Several quarters are criticizing the declaration of a total log ban, but look at what happened?”

He was referring to Executive Order 23 that President Benigno Aquino III issued in February 2011.

The order stopped all authorized logging operations in natural forests nationwide, virtually halting timber extraction of about 300 million board feet a year.

Paje said the implementation of EO 23 has drastically reduced the illegal logging hot spots to 31 from a high of 197.

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Disaster management officials said over 300 died from “Pablo,” most of them from New Bataan town in Compostela Valley.

Hundreds more were still missing as of Thursday afternoon. Paje said the tragedy shows “that we really must stop timber harvesting especially in our natural forests.”

Task force Aside from the presence of communist insurgents in the illegal logging hot spots, Paje said they also have to deal with fully-armed groups employed by the illegal loggers.

“That’s why lately, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and myself, and the chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, signed a resolution converting the anti-illegal logging operations in Mindanao into a military operation,” he said.

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Resolution No. 2012-005 of the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force (AILTF) empowers the military to monitor illegal mining in Mindanao. The military-led anti-illegal logging drive will begin this month.

“We have requested the military to take the lead because the groups in these areas are armed and we have lost so many employees already in these areas. Good thing the AFP has agreed and starting this month, the anti-illegal logging campaign is now a military operation in Mindanao,” he said. — KBK, GMA News

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