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Philippine President Blames Storm Deaths on Illegal Loggers

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(ENS) MANILA-- Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is cracking down on illegal logging following deadly flash floods and landslides triggered by two typhoons that struck the country during the past week. There will be an immediate logging ban, and all illegal loggers will be prosecuted, the President said.

As part of government efforts to rehabilitate the forest, Arroyo said today that official development assistance coming from New Zealand would be used entirely for the national reforestation program.

Illegal or excessive logging has been cited as the main culprit in the floods and slides that hit the towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar in Quezon on November 29, leaving 669 dead and 697 missing and presumed dead on the main island of Luzon.

Elsewhere across the Philippine islands, 62 people were killed by flooding, landslides, fallen trees and power lines.

Denuded hillsides were also blamed for loss of life in Dingalan in Aurora province, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) east of Manila, which was swept by storms on December 1. Thousands of illegally logged trees came crashing down from the mountains to the town of Dingalan below.

The storms forced thousands to evacuate to higher ground, thousands who are now homeless. Landslides have blocked roads and flash floods washed away bridges.

Typhoon Nanmadol, which hit on December 2, caused another 38 deaths with 33 missing later in the same week, the civil defense office said. During the four storm battered days, at least 1,400 people have died or gone missing, officials estimated.

Four typhoons have swept over the Philippines since November 14 Across the country, one million people have been affected by the repeated disasters, the Philippine National Red Cross says.

In Nueva Ecija province, staff and 34 volunteers from the aid organization worked around the clock to rescue people and give first aid even as they fled the floods and landslides.

"We didn't look where we were going," one man told a Red Cross worker as he waited in a bus to pass a road reduced to one lane by the floodwaters of the Batoperry River. "People just fled, running, looking for any shelter. We didn?t have time to take anything with us. So now we?re going home looking for our belongings."

A few relief helicopters have gotten through, but naval rescue teams have had trouble reaching the victims, in part because of all the illegally cut logs floating in the sea.

On Thursday, President Arroyo told the country's mayors gathered for the 14th General Assembly of the League of Municipalities, that "the painful lessons have come to full light. We are enforcing a crackdown on illegal loggers and the reassessment of logging permits in potentially hazardous areas."

The crackdown is a matter of ecological balance as well as national security, the President said.

"There is also a big stake for national security in this effort, as many of you who know your own localities have noticed, that these accidents lately in this last typhoons and storms where the logs went down and killed the people. I've been informed that the New People's Army has been involved heavily in illegal logging activities in those areas," the President said, naming the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

In his press briefing today, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said, "The President's order is firm and we are expecting strict compliance, especially among logging companies in areas where there has been an obvious aggravation of public safety, and where lives and property continue to be under severe threat."

Bunye stressed that even the typhoon brought calamity to the provinces of Aurora and Quezon, President Arroyo had cited the need for massive reforestation after the rampant illegal logging in the country. "Even before this tragedy, the President had already this massive reforestation in mind," he said.

Bunye said the assistance from New Zealand is considered a done deal after President Arroyo talked with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark during the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos last week. No specific amount has been mentioned, he said.

"All allegations of logging violations will be properly investigated and we assure the public that the government will be relentless and unforgiving in pinning down those found liable for violations of law," Bunye told reporters.

The President has appointed retired General Victor Corpuz to oversee the nationwide reforestation program and to head a special operations task force against illegal logging throughout the country.

© 2004 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor December 8, 2004 (

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