MANILA, Philippines — Several mayors are allegedly involved in illegal logging and mining operations in their towns, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) disclosed yesterday as the agency ordered a crackdown on violators of environmental regulations.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said there were cases wherein mayors either directly or indirectly benefited from illegal mining and logging.
“There were instances like that, but not all (mayors). There are those who aren’t directly involved, but they know of their existence,” Año said in a radio interview, referring to the illegal activities that have been partly blamed for recent massive flooding.
“Maybe (operators of these illegal activities) funded their (mayors’) campaigns or supported their candidacies,” Año added.
Catastrophic flooding, landslides and other calamities spawned by the recent typhoons have again directed government attention to illegal logging, mining and other activities that violate environmental regulations as they have been blamed for major damage and casualties.
While Año did not say what the government would do about the alleged hand of local officials in the illegal activities, he implored the public to take the elections seriously.
“Our citizens need to learn and vote for those who are serious and have no connections to anything illegal. We need to pick, otherwise we would be experiencing these things over and over again,” he said.
Año said he had also ordered all local governments and police nationwide to start a crackdown on illegal logging and quarrying, and expedite tree-planting operations.
“The flooding brought by Typhoon Ulysses is a harsh reminder that we are failing at doing our level best to protect the environment, especially our remaining forest cover,” he said in a statement.
The DILG order requires local leaders and police to reactivate local anti-illegal logging task forces and reminds mayors to conduct upland monitoring against illegal logging and other forms of forest destruction.
Officials also ordered the setting up of police checkpoints to hamper the operations of illegal loggers.
Police were directed to arrest illegal loggers, who can be criminally charged for violating the Forestry Code of the Philippines (PD 705) and Republic Act No. 9175 or the Chainsaw Act of 2002, among others.
“It is imperative that we must stop the wanton destruction of our remaining forest resources not only for our sake but also for future generations who will suffer the consequences of our inaction,” he said.
Año also urged all local governments to deploy more forest guards and for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to deploy more foresters to monitor the country’s forests and engage local communities and civil society organizations in reforestation programs.
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials said the more than 70,000 beneficiaries in Bicol that were affected by the coronavirus pandemic and displaced by the three recents typhoons would receive cash assistance from the government as mandated by Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) that was approved last Sept. 20.
Johanna Vi Gasga, DOLE-Bicol spokesperson, said that their main office has released to Bicol P200 million for the Tulong Panghanapbuhay Para sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers or TUPAD, and P150.115 million for the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program or CAMP, projects funded under Bayanihan 2.
Gasga said that a TUPAD beneficiary will receive P5,000 for 16-day work that would include cleaning the debris left by the typhoons.
Of the 40,000 TUPAD beneficiaries, according to Gasga, 10,000 of them come from Albay with P50-million allocation; 9,600 from Catanduanes; 6,000 apiece from Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte, with P30-million budget each province; 4,400 from Sorsogon, with P22-million; and, 4,000 from Masbate, with P20-miilion allocation.
Gasga said that the TUPAD program recipients are informal or marginalized workers, including self-employed, underemployed and other workers who do not have a payslip as basis for their work payment, adding that “only one person is qualified in one household.”
“The P5,000 is computed from the minimum wage in Bicol of P310/day for 16 days and four hours work for every TUPAD beneficiary,” Gasga told The STAR.
She said that DOLE has tapped as accredited co-partners the local government units (LGUs), provincial governments, state universities and colleges (SUCs) and workers’ associations.
These accredited co-workers will be tasked to identify and profile the target TUPAD beneficiaries, Gasga added.
Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas, House appropriations committee vice chairman, yesterday urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to use the agency’s P83-billion unused funds to assist victims of the recent typhoons.
Vargas said the government should use the remaining DSWD funds to provide assistance to affected towns and cities instead of leaving the amount unused until yearend.
“The DSWD should go all out and spend up to the very last cent of its funds to ease the poor’s suffering, especially as this challenging year draws to a close. We should make our countrymen who are devastated by the latest calamities feel that the government is here and cares for them,” he stressed.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon recently disclosed that the DSWD has failed to utilize some P83 billion for various programs from the agency’s 2019 budget and this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic and several devastating typhoons and other calamities hitting the country.
The case of undisbursed funds – equivalent to nearly half of DSWD’s P175-billion proposed budget for 2021 – was raised by Drilon on Tuesday night during plenary deliberations in the agency’s appropriations.
Bulk of the unspent appropriations – around P75 billion – was in the agency’s 2020 budget.
Among the programs whose funding or implementation was not completed are the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program at P48.3 billion; Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations at P13.7 billion and Social Pension Program, P3.9 billion.
He said the DSWD’s failure to release the funds for various programs happened when around five million Filipino families went hungry in the past three months, while around 7.7 million Filipinos lost jobs and livelihood due to the pandemic.
Vargas said DSWD’s assistance will go a long way to help Filipinos who lost their homes and livelihood due to Typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses in the middle of the pandemic.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called for more than a 100-percent increase in an item in the proposed P4.506-trillion national budget for 2021 that will fund the electric cooperatives (EC)’s repair of damaged power lines and infrastructure.
In sponsoring the National Electrification Administration (NEA)’s proposed budget, Gatchalian proposed an additional P550 million in the P200-million allocation for the Electric Cooperatives Emergency and Resiliency Fund (ECERF) next year.
“I would like to state for the record as early as now that with the onslaught of the natural calamities this year, I will be proposing that this amount be increased since the total damage to electric cooperatives from the Taal eruption and Typhoons Ambo, Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses already amount to P829 million as of Nov. 16,” said Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate energy committee.
ECERF, under RA 11039, was institutionalized last year as a ready fund that can be tapped by ECs for faster restoration of electricity and power facilities damaged by natural calamities. Funds under ECERF are being administered and managed by the NEA.
Senators are also pressing for the immediate desilting and dredging of Laguna de Bay as well as other rivers and waterways to help prevent flooding in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
Sen. Richard Gordon proposed that desilting the Laguna de Bay would increase the lake’s holding capacity for rainwater and floodwater, which would spare surrounding communities from being submerged during the typhoon or rainy season.
He recalled that Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto earlier offered a $30-million assistance from his government to the Philippines for the rehabilitation and water treatment of Laguna Lake. He added a formal offer was made during his bilateral meeting with Locsin.
Hungary is known to have the expertise and capability in terms of water management and treatment, the senator said.
Laguna de Bay, with total surface area of 900 square kilometers, is the biggest lake and one of the most important inland bodies of water in the country. It is also the second biggest inland freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
Sen. Manny Pacquio suggested that all tributaries in flood-prone areas be dredged by at least 10 meters, especially those in low-lying and catch-basin areas in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga and Pangasinan.
Pacquiao, who chairs the Senate committee on public works, said aside from constructing flood control systems, the Department of Public Works and Highways and DILG as well other concerned government agencies should launch a massive dredging program of all rivers and other water tributaries to contain floodwaters during heavy rainfall caused by typhoons and the monsoon. — Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero, Cet Dematera