CS seeks House probe of illegal logging here
posted 1-Apr-2018  ·  
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In the wake of a foiled lumber smuggling linked to the family of Governor Joseph Cua, the House of Representatifves has been asked by Congressman Cesar Sarmiento to direct the proper committee to conduct an inquiry on alleged illegal logging activities in Catanduanes and other provinces.

Last Mar. 22, 2018, the ‘graduating’ congressman filed House Resolution No. 1798 seeking the probe into the proliferation of such activities in violation of existing forest laws and regulations.

He cited the apprehension of two men illegally transporting six pieces of narra lumber and 190 pieces of red lauan lumber, with a total volume of 2,178 board feet, from Bagamanoc town on board a dump truck registered in the name of a private company.

Rep. Sarmiento lamented that investigators from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) and the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) are considering the case as “closed” following the guilty plea made by the suspects.

“(T)he investigators, unfortunately, do not see the need to dig deeper into the case or conduct follow-up operations from the pieces of evidence that were gathered showing the very high probability of involvement of other people, much to the prejudice of Catandunganons who want justice served on all personalities involved and all illegal logging operations in the province stopped once and for all,” he stressed.

The lack of in-depth investigation on illegal logging cases, of intensified enforcement of forestry laws, and of effective surveillance or monitoring result to the continued operation of the illegal logging apparatus, Sarmiento stated, involving the main personalities and even some government officers and employees.

“The recent incident in Catanduanes opens a can of worms in the way forestry laws are also enforced in other provinces nationwide and the extent of surveillance and investigation conducted in these areas,” he declared.

He asked the House to direct the concerned committee to inquire on the status of pending illegal logging cases in Catanduanes, including the latest incident, as well as the extent of investigations and follow-up operations done by DENR, CIDG and other law enforcement agencies on said cases.

The committee is also asked to determine why illegal logging operations proliferate in Catanduanes and why sometimes only abandoned trucks and logs are discovered with no perpetrators apprehended.

Aside from the possible involvement of private companies and government officials and employees, the committee will also be tasked to evaluate the current policy and accomplishments of DENR in Catanduanes as far as illegal logging is concerned.

Rep. Sarmiento called on his colleagues to come up with recommendations to strengthen the Revised Forestry Code, especially in terms of enforcement, surveillance, in-depth investigation of violations and penalties to erring officials.

The same measure urged DENR and other agencies to review logging operations nationwide, intensify surveillance and enforcement, and study and implement strategic reforestation and local log ban initiatives.

Truck in lumber smuggle owned by Cua company

The congressman’s move came just a week after SPO2 Virgilio Cornelio and SPO1 Leo Templonuevo of the Catanduanes CIDG unit received a tip in the evening of Mar. 13 that a truck with plate number ACO-1836 was seen being loaded with lumber in Sagrada, Bagamanoc for delivery to Virac.

The two officers waited at the San Miguel police station where at 1:30 A.M. of Mar. 14, the truck passed by the station, with the lawmen following the truck and catching up with it in Gogon, Virac. Truck driver Marvin Soria of Valencia, Virac, and rider Elmer Morauda III of Calatagan Tibang, Virac, failed to present documents authorizing them to transport the lumber.

Following their arrest, the two men were subjected to inquest at the Provincial Prosecution Office, with officer-in-charge Prosecutor II Emmanuel Pelea finding probable cause against the respondents that same day.

During their arraignment before the Regional Trial Court on Mar. 16, Soria and Morauda, represented by Atty. Leo Mendoza under the IBP Legal Aid Program, pleaded guilty to the crime.

In finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt, RTC Branch 42 Acting Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras considered the two mitigating circumstances of the guilty plea and voluntary surrender and sentenced them to suffer imprisonment for one year, eight months and 21 days as minimum to five years, five months and 11 days as maximum pursuant to the Revised Penal Code as amended.

The Court ordered the 196 pieces of lumber confiscated in favor of the government, with the accused directed to submit documents proving their allegation that the 10-wheeler truck was covered by a lease contract between the registered owner and a certain Engr. Gene Guerrero, who allegedly sent the accused to deliver sand to Bagamanoc.

Six days later, on Mar. 22, the same Court ruled on the petition for probation filed by the accused, who also sought the release of the truck, claiming that the owner had no knowledge that it would be used for illegal activities.

They submitted a lease contract executed Feb. 26, 2018 between Eastern Island Shipping Corp. represented by Jeric Cua and one Elmer Belen of Palnab del Sur, covering the lease of the truck fror 15 days from Mar. 1 to 15 for the hauling of sand to an infrastructure project in Sagrada, Bagamanoc.

Soria and Morauda claimed that on their way back to Virac after unloading sand, their truck was flagged down by an acquaintance they identified only as “Boy”, who asked them to load the lumber to be delivered in front of the Virac Ice Plant in Gogon. The man allegedly assured them it was covered by permits.

Judge Contreras, however, considered the objection of the police and the prosecutor, and denied the prayer for the release of the truck. She also referred the petition for probation to the Parole and Probation Office for post-sentence investigation.

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