Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb. 24, 2006

Trees keep falling in Aurora forests
By Tonette Orejas

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- ILLEGAL LOGGING activities have remained rampant and unchecked in at least two Aurora towns even on the heels of killer landslides in 2004, a Catholic priest told the Inquirer on Wednesday.

Fr. Antonio Evangelista, of the St. Patrick Parish in Dingalan town, said it was through the efforts of the parish pastoral council that policemen and foresters from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources seized 2,221 board feet or 34 pieces of logs loaded in a truck in Barangay Paltic on Monday.

Evangelista said the logs were hauled by boat from Barangay Dinakapinisan in San Luis town.

He said the cargo would have easily been slipped out of Dingalan had not the parishioners insisted that the DENR and the police move to seize these.

He said the police have taken custody of the truck owned by Johnny Daracan of Dingalan. Daracan bought the logs from Elmer Susa, who was arrested in the operations.

Information gathered by the council showed that the trees were being felled in forests near the coasts of Dingalan and San Luis.

"Illegal logging is rampant here and most of the trees are freshly cut," the priest told the Inquirer by phone and in text messages.

He said in Barangay Paltic, Dingalan, where more than 100 people died in the 2004 landslides, trees are cut on an almost daily basis.

Parishioners have observed that motorized boats dock at the bay almost every night and unload logs.

Benjamin Mina, DENR provincial officer, denied that illegal logging has resumed on a rampant scale.

He confirmed, however, that in 2005, foresters have seized some 15,000 board feet of lumber from various parts of Aurora.

"May nagpapalusot pa rin (There are those who try to steal wood)," Mina told the Inquirer.

He said only the Industries Development Corp. in Casiguran, in the northern part of Aurora, has been allowed by the DENR to resume operations.

The timber license permits of eight other companies over more than 200,000 hectares of forests in that part of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges remained suspended, Mina said.

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