Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 31              September 8 - 14,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Local Execs, RPA Accused of Masterminding Timber Massacres in Negros 

Local politicians along with police officials have been linked to “timber massacres” by an unlikely source – a leader of the National Democratic Front in Negros. But denunciations have also come from Church leaders, environmentalists and even the local media – prompting demands that the timber poaching be investigated by Malacañang.

By Karl G. Ombion and Edgar A. Cadagat
Bulatlat.com / Cobra-Ans

BACOLOD CITY - As the finger-pointing continues over the timber massacre in the mountain town of Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Island, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) leader Fr. Frank Fernandez accused former town Mayor Nehemias Dela Cruz and his wife, Mayor Cynthia Dela Cruz, of being directly involved in the continued timber poaching.

This came in the wake of speculations as to who are behind what has become known as the "worst forest massacre" to occur in the country in recent years. A protest caravan was also held on Saturday (September 7) and was joined by about 5,000 Church people, environmentalists, journalists, human rights activists, militant groups as well as a contingent of police personnel.

Fernandez said that the "multi-million peso illegal logging operations in the northeast side of Canlaon is the conjugal ownership" of the Dela Cruzes who are also the "brains, financier and employers of the illegal logging business to destroy whatever remains of the island's forests."

A copy of Fernandez's statement written in the vernacular was furnished Bulatlat.com and The Courier. The priest, according to military reports, is the secretary of the Communist Party’s Negros Island Regional Party Committee.

Fernandez also lauded Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, the mass media, environment advocates and progressive groups in defending the country's patrimony that "is being destroyed by big comprador landlords and foreign capitalists."

Logging trail

Fernandez traced the illegal logging trail, from the mountain town to San Carlos City and to Bacolod where the hot logs, he said, are sold to a "big lumberyard" in San Carlos or to a lumberyard in barangay Sum-ag in Bacolod.

But as the NDFP leader denounced the Dela Cruzes, he also exposed the "deceptive moves" of Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Marañon, Col. Alphonsus Crucero, then provincial director, Senior Supt. Geary Barias, and the paramilitary Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), a splinter of the New People's Army (NPA). He claimed that they "tried to absolve themselves from any criminal accountability in the illegal logging operations" that have been taking place in the DSB village of Bagong Silang.

In fact, Fernandez said, when the illicit activities were exposed, "ordinary logging workers, chainsaw operators and (Bagong Silang village chief Vicente) Oti Bacordo" became "sacrificial lambs" in order to cover up for their responsibilities.

Bacorodo, Fernandez said, became the overseer of the timber poaching while the RPA, authorized by Marañon, acted as a security force to prevent the intervention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The NDFP leader also accused former DSB Mayor Nehemias Dela Cruz of forging "arrangements" with Crucero and Barias and military and police detachment commanders so they would become "cooperative and tolerant" of the illegal logging operations.

Marañon accountable, too

The NDFP official said that Marañon should also be held accountable for "criminal negligence and tolerance" of the crimes of the Dela Cruzes.

"He could be held accountable to a certain degree as an accomplice of the illegal logging operations," Fernandez said because "despite his knowledge of the timber poaching he showed inutility that was a result of the lack of political will to go against a trusted man (of former Amb. Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.) despite his being a governor and chairman of the (anti-illegal logging) Task Force Ilahas."

Fernandez said Marañon hesitated in pinpointing Dela Cruz as one of the masterminds behind the timber massacre and in conducting a probe against Crucero, Barias and the leadership of the RPA despite evidence gathered by the Provincial Environment and Management Office (PEMO).

"He has continued to cover up and accommodate the maneuvers of criminals by making oblique statements over the media and arresting small fries and by continuing to use the RPA as forest guards while passing the responsibility of conducting a probe to the national government," he added.

Governor’s denial

Meanwhile, Marañon denied Fernandez’s charges and asked him prove his accusations against the "masterminds" of the timber massacre in the mountain town of Don Salvador Benedicto.

The Negros governor said he was not affected by the brickbats he was getting from the revolutionary leader, the second on the timber poaching issue so far, as he added that he is even willing to ask Malacañang to grant any potential witness or witnesses immunity if necessary.

He stressed that the provincial government is not sleeping on the job but has been hard put looking for witnesses to testify in the case against suspect timber poachers.

As this developed, TVDC research showed that almost all opinion makers, community leaders, the church and the media, have come out publicly in denouncing the timber poaching activities which had wiped out close to 70 hectares of forest in the town, part of what is known as the Northern Negros Forest Reserve (NNFR).

Church-led protest caravan vs timber massacres

In a related development, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra called for the swift prosecution of the culprits behind the Don Salvador timber massacre as he scored the DENR for neglect in preventing the widespread felling of trees.

More than 5,000 Church people, activists and environmentalists joined the protest caravan to the mountain town to denounce the seemingly unstoppable felling of trees that has, based on initial estimates, reached more than 600,000 board feet of timber and cleared at least 50 hectares of forest lands, ironically, within the NNFR in the town.

Navarra, in his homily before caravan participants and residents of the upland town 40 kilometers from Bacolod, also called on municipal officials and townfolk to "wake up" and oppose the forest destruction in their homefront.

Fr. Aniceto Buenafe, director of the Social Action Center (SAC), also slammed at insinuations that politicians are behind the holding of the caravan.

"This was planned and agreed upon by leaders of the Church, non-government organizations and those from civil society; there is no politics behind this," Buenafe said in response to statements that politics is playing a hand in the mass action.

The caravan, led by the SAC, media organizations and cause oriented groups, gathered close to 200 vehicles that took off from the Bacolod Public Plaza around 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

Along the way, they were greeted with cheers by people and students who lined the road in Murcia town and waved flaglets as a sign of support for the campaign to protect the environment.

Provincial police chief, Senior Supt. Vicente Ponteras also joined the caravan. A V150 Armored Personnel Carrier led the pack while the Army's 303rd Infantry Brigade also sent some of its personnel to beef up security for the caravan amid fears that "saboteurs" would cause trouble.

Activists from the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Negros and the women's alliance, Gabriela, also joined the protest caravan.

No show

What was apparent yesterday, however, was the absence of DSB Mayor Cynthia Dela Cruz who, a day before the caravan, said she would be welcoming it with "arms wide open."

Dela Cruz reportedly left for Manila on the day of the mass action while her son, Vice-Mayor Marxlen Dela Cruz, reportedly adjourned the session of the town council when the caravan was on its way to Don Salvador.

The protest action was also supported by the environmental group Kamagong, the Promotion of Church People’s Response, Cobra-Ans and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Negros. Bulatlat.com

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