, January 7, 2005 (STAR) By Manny Galvez  – A 10,000-hectare environmentally friendly community in this town, once known as the hotbed of illegal logging in Nueva Ecija, is being developed into a showcase of the Arroyo administration’s reforestation program in the wake of the typhoon-induced landslides and flash floods that swept Quezon, Aurora and this province.

Called the "Centennial Sanctuary," the area sits at sitio Tarise, Barangay Rio Chico, which previously was the breeding ground of illegal loggers.

Mayor Isidro Pajarillaga told The STAR that an initial parcel of 377 hectares is being developed in the area with the massive planting of trees. He said that at least 1,000 people embarked on the tree-planting activity last Nov. 20.

The initial please is being undertaken by the municipal and provincial governments at a cost of P55.45 million. A nursery planted with forest trees and fruit trees will showcase the project which also involves establishment and development of tree plantation which now employs 20 people.

Pajarillaga said the project will involve some 2,000 illegal loggers who were once engaged in the cutting of trees. "We will mobilize the whole of Gen. Tinio in this project," he said, adding he woud give each of them one hectare each for livelihood.

Pajarillaga said some 10,000 students in this town would also be asked to plant trees in the Centennial Sanctuary. "We will just prepare the planting materials and they will be involved in planting," he said, adding that government employees and villagers are also being involved.

The municipal government has scheduled the tree-planting activity every Saturday.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has allocated 2.3 million for reforestation activities in this town, including the development of the sanctuary.

Construction of the 20-kilometer access road, deep well and multi-purpose hall is also underway in the project site.

President Arroyo, who visited this town last Dec. 24, vowed to extend National Government assistance to the Centennial Sanctuary and make it the showcase of her administration’s reforestation thrusts.

Pajarillaga said the project will not only benefit the community in terms of the quality and quantity of water for agriculture and domestic use and address the problem of unemployment but also improve the habitat of wildlife species.

Nestled at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountain range, this pear-shaped town, located 120 kilometers north of Manila, is the second largest town in the province, covering 68,229 hectares

For at least four decades, this town which used to be just a barrio of the nearby town of Peñaranda, has gained notoriety because of the unabated illegal logging activities in Rio Chico, Pias and Concepcion. Their illegal practice was believed abetted by collusion among army and DENR officials and the lack of political will of previous government officials.

Pajarillaga said he had to exercise political will in carrying out the project. First, he laid off at least 100 casual employees with the savings generated utilized for the initial development of the sanctuary.

He said the project will also be developed as a site for eco-tourism and environmental researches.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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