"Bohol's pristine environment is its primary tourism come-on. It must be protected at all cost, otherwise we will have no tourism industry to speak of."
Gov. Erico Aumentado expressed grave concern when, reports reaching him early this year indicated that naturally growing trees like molave, locally known as tugas, even in watershed – and therefore protected areas – have been cut by unscrupulous persons and even shipped out of the province.
The confidential reports revealed that illegal cutting of trees have been prevalent in Bohol especially in secluded forest areas even as transportation of timber or lumber from questionable sources was facilitated with fake, falsified or recycled documents.
This prompted Aumentado to reconstitute through an executive order (EO) Task Force Kabukiran. The governor sits as chair, the police provincial director as co-chair and executive officer, the mayors of four strategically located towns as vice chairmen; and the provincial and the two community environment and natural resources officers (Penro and Cenros), the chief of the Bohol Environment Management Office (Bemo), the agent-in-charge of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) office in Bohol and a representative of the Provincial Legal Office as members.
A corollary memorandum from Aumentado designated himself as chair; Sr. Supt. Edgardo Ingking as co-chair; Jagna Mayor Exuperio Lloren who is also the president of the local chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr., Talibon Mayor Juanario Item and Catigbian Mayor Roberto Salinas, vice chairmen.
Penro Nestor Canda and Cenros Eusalem Quiwag for Tagbilaran and Alejandro Estopa for Talibon, NBI-Bohol's Johnard Malvar, Engr. Renato Villaber of Bemo and lawyer Abeleon Damalerio of the PLO are the members.
On the governor's instructions, Ingking himself validated the reports. He said even the watershed areas which are nurtured to ensure sustainable water source for irrigation, cultivation, waterworks, hydroelectric, domestic and commercial uses, and the Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape (RSPL) and other protected areas under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) which are vital components of Bohol's eco-tourism industry were not spared from the illegal cutting of trees and exploitation of forest products.
Leading a team that inspected a watershed area in Barangay Los Angeles in Ubay town adjacent to Bayongan Dam, he discovered that trees have been illegally cut from an estimated 1.2 hectares of land
For added protective measure, the governor's (EO) also covers unlawful extraction and transportation of minerals and other quarry resources.
"We do not want to be another Ormoc (Leyte) where alleged rampant illegal cutting of trees resulted into a flash flood that claimed many lives a few years back," he told the task force that he summoned for a refresher on various environmental, forestry, mining and quarrying laws conducted by Regional Technical Director Isabelo Montejo of the Central Visayas office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
"The El Niño is a natural phenomenon. We do not want to hasten and prolong its occurrence by being remiss in watching over the trees we have planted," Aumentado stressed.
Given the reports, the task force immediately saw their work at hand – to upgrade and intensify the enforcement of laws, ordinances, rules and regulations.
Soon enough, the task force netted molave lumber in separate operations on June 3, 6 and 14 in Maribojoc, Bilar and Lila towns respectively. The slices of lumber however were abandoned. The team is now conducting investigations to determine the owners and file cases against them if evidence warrants.
Meanwhile, an "Alert Team" of the task force swooped down on the operations of a company that has been mining manganese in Sito Tuan, Barangay Montesuerte in Carmen town. The team based at the Bayongan Dam in San Miguel town seized 644 sacks of manganese equivalent to 25.76 tons.
In his report to Ingking, Canda identified the miner as L'Vien Mining Corp. owned by Lydia Banal of Mati, Davao represented here by Kennedy Botavara – and on the property owned by Jay Sanchez of Cebu City.
Both the miner and the property owner were not around when a team from the Carmen Police Office led by SPO4 Romeo Jamero arrived, which was on a Sunday. An Alert Mobile Team led by Niño Lofranco from Cenro-Talibon arrived shortly.
They instructed Montesuerte Barangay Captain Roman Jaum to advise the company that had been using a backhoe to stop its mining operations because it had no permit.
Jaum admitted that he knew only that the company was already processing its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) with the DENR regional office in Cebu.