MANILA, December 7, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - President Arroyo announced yesterday that she has endorsed to Congress the immediate passage into law of the proposed total log ban.

At a press conference in Dakak, Zamboanga del Norte, Mrs. Arroyo disclosed she will certify the proposal as an urgent administration bill once it is tackled at the committee level either in the Senate or House of Representatives.

"I ask them (Congress) to pass the bill on the total log ban," the President said. Asked by reporters if she would certify the bill as urgent, she gave an emphatic "yes."

The President, meanwhile, clarified that the total logging ban she ordered last Saturday applied only to Quezon province, which was devastated by flashfloods and landslides brought by last week’s typhoons. In other areas, she has merely suspended commercial logging permits.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the nationwide ban on commercial logging after touring areas in Quezon where hundreds died from massive flashfloods that were blamed on deforestation.

Vowing "political will" to protect the environment, Mrs. Arroyo said a truckload of logs bound for Metro Manila was seized by government authorities after she issued the directive.

She thanked Filipinos and countries that sent aid to hundreds of thousands of people rendered homeless by the typhoons.

"I’m awed by the outpouring of unity and solidarity to ease the pain and desperation. And I would like to thank, too, the other countries and multilateral institutions that have generously poured out their support to our relief and rehabilitation efforts," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"The least we can do to repay all these solidarity and generosity is to exercise the political will (to protect the environment)," she said.

Earlier, Malacañang said the proposed total log ban pending in Congress would need legislative "teeth."

"We know this needs action by Congress in order to give more teeth to our anti-illegal logging laws through imposition of stiffer penalties, and our members of both houses of Congress are aware that this measure is very urgent," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said in a press conference.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has urged Malacañang to certify as "urgent" his bill proposing a 25-year ban on commercial logging.

Bunye earlier said Mrs. Arroyo’s ban on commercial logging will stay indefinitely and may even become permanent depending on the recommendation of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Aside from ordering the ban, Mrs. Arroyo vowed to prosecute illegal loggers as well as their coddlers, and called for stiffer penalties for offenders.

Illegal loggers and their coddlers would be prosecuted "the way we do terrorists, kidnappers, drug traffickers and other heinous criminals."

‘Stop all logging’

Pimentel proposed canceling all logging permits, saying Mrs. Arroyo’s suspension order is laudable but not enough.

"Nothing less than draconian steps are expected of the President if she is to prove her determination and sincerity to stop the rape of the forests in the wake of the tragedy that befell the people of several Luzon provinces that were severely hit by floods and landslides," he said.

He said he received information that licensed loggers are now felling young trees because all the mature ones have already been logged, while others are logging outside their authorized areas. Pimentel did not give details.

"What is more dangerous and intolerable is the patently unlawful practice of cutting trees in protected watershed areas where hardwood trees still abound," he said.

Former environment secretary Heherson Alvarez told the STAR that logs washed down in Dingalan, Aurora, came from the Umiray River watershed, one of Metro Manila’s sources of drinking water.

This was why logs easily cascaded down mountain slopes at the height of last week’s typhoons, he said.

Pimentel favors stiffer penalties for illegal logging but not the death penalty.

"There is no need for the death penalty. Just apply the law. Cancel their logging permits. Freeze their bank deposits and other assets," he said.

"To effectively stop illegal logging and to strike fear in the hearts of violators of environmental laws, all that the government should do is to aggressively prosecute the culprits until they are convicted and jailed," Pimentel added.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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