President Aquino on Thursday ordered a logging moratorium on Philippine national and residual forests to protect and stop the destruction of watersheds and river systems.
Aquino also created a task force to lead the government’s campaign against illegal logging.
Aquino signed Executive Order (EO) 23 and made the announcement during the inauguration of the newly-constructed water treatment plant of Maynilad Water Services, Inc. in Putatan, Muntinlupa.
The President said he is aware that his order will meet opposition from the wood industry but asserted that he would implement it as part of the duty of the State to protect the environment.
“Obligasyon nating alagaan ang ating kalikasan. Obligasyon nating matiyak ang kaligtasan ng ating mamamayan mula sa La Niña o sa El Niño o sa anumang sakuna," he said in his speech.
“Obligasyon nating unahin ang interes ng taumbayan bago ang laman ng bulsa ng mga naglalakihang kumpanya na nasa likod nitong pag-ubos sa kagubatan. Obligasyon nating mamuhunan para sa kinabukasan ng atin pong bayan. Hindi pa huli ang lahat," Mr Aquino added.
A report gathered by the Office of the President showed that in the year 2010 alone, natural calamities caused by deforestation have taken 36 lives. Three remain missing, at least 32 people have been injured, a total of 118,728 families have been displaced, and P142.306 million properties have been damaged as a result of these disasters.
Under EO 23, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is instructed to stop logging firms from cutting trees while it is in the process of reviewing all existing logging agreements.
The agency is tasked to immediately cancel the concessions of logging companies that have violated forest laws. The DENR is also prohibited from issuing and renewing logging contracts and tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests.
"The DENR is henceforth hereby prohibited [from] issuing logging contracts/agreements in all natural and residual forests, such as Integrated Forest Management Agreements, Socialized Integrated Forest Management Agreements, Community-Based Forest Management Agreement and other agreements/contracts with logging components in natural and residual [forests]," the executive order said.
Making room for exemptions
"The DENR is likewise prohibited from issuing/renewing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests nationwide," added the order, making room for some exceptions.
Exempted from the tree-cutting ban were clearing for road right-of-way by the Department of Public Works and Highways, site preparation for tree plantations, silvicultural treatment, and similar activities provided that all logs shall be turned over to the DENR for proper disposal.
Tree cutting associated with cultural practices pursuant to the Indigenous Peoples Right Act (IPRA) may be allowed subject to strict compliance with the DENR guidelines.
The environment department shall strictly implement forest certification system in keeping with United Nations standards to ascertain the sustainability of legal sources and chain of custody of timber and wood products.
The DENR shall close and disallow sawmills and other wood processing plants that are unable to present proof of sustainable sources of legally cut logs for a period of at least five years.
It should also create partnerships with the following:
The DepEd shall be given priority in the use of all confiscated logs.
At least 1,959 entities hold the rights to these agreements that encompass 22 percent of the country’s remaining 6.43 million hectares of forest cover.