MANILA – Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Friday said he would recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte to halt alleged logging operations of the Consunji family in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Piñol made the announcement following an aerial inspection of towns hardest hit by Tropical Storm Vinta, saying logging operations are to blame for the massive flooding in the area.
“I, as Secretary of Agriculture, is blaming the logging operations for massive agricultural damage in the towns of Sirawai, Siocon, Sibuco… And in the place of the mayors, they are also blaming the logging operations for the death of almost a hundred people in those towns,” Piñol said.
The storm, which hit before Christmas, had left thousands of hectares of land covered in thick mud, more than 200 dead and scores missing in Mindanao.
Pinol said he saw how logging operations denuded the mountains of the Zamboanga Peninsula, causing massive floods and landslides in low-lying towns.
“We have documents showing that the cutting down of trees in the mountains of Zamboanga, upstream of Sirawai, Sibuco, [and] Siocon caused the massive flooding, and the deaths,” he said.
The agriculture chief said he would make the recommendation to Duterte at the Cabinet meeting on Monday.
He questioned D.M. Consunji Inc.’s (DMCI) alleged logging operations in the Zamboanga Peninsula, saying “they cut down trees [on] the pretext of planting oil palm and other trees.”
“I do not want to give malice [to] what they’re doing, but I think the cutting down of trees is more important to them, because I saw the cleared area and only a very small area was planted [with] oil palm (trees) and you don’t plant oil palm in the mountains unless you want that… as an excuse to cut down trees,” he said.
DMCI Chairman Sid Consunji, meanwhile, distanced the construction company from Piñol’s allegations, saying the latter was “extremely fast is making conclusions.”
“DMCI does not have logging operations in Zamboanga. Our family does. I think the secretary is extremely fast is making conclusions,” he told ABS-CBN News.
Consunji added that it is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that should be dealing with logging concerns and not the Department of Agriculture.
In an interview with the Philippine Star last September 2017, Victor Consunji, a son of the late Consunji patriarch, David, said his father did” logging business on 30,000 hectares of leased lands” in Vitali, Zamboanga in the late 1950s. However, he said his
had reforested those logged areas, planting “500,000 African palm oil trees, two million rubber trees and four million other trees like gmelina, acacia and mangium.”
Piñol also called for a review of the agricultural plans of each province following the devastation of back-to-back storms last December.
Sibuco Mayor Bong Edding expressed support for Piñol’s decision to halt DMCI’s supposed logging operations, saying they had been calling for a stop to the company’s logging activities for years.
”Ever since, since 2004 when I was a board member in the province, we’ve been fighting [for] the stoppage of their operations but, unfortunately, all our efforts failed in [those] years,” he said.
“I hope the secretary (Pinol) could make a proper representation to the President to investigate,” he added.