A ranking army official based in Sultan Kudarat Province tagged on Saturday several local officials and personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as allegedly behind the renewed illegal logging activities at the mountainous boundaries of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

Colonel Jerry Jalandoni, commander of the Army's 604th Infantry Brigade, said they are now working on the arrest of at least 18 persons, which reportedly includes two barangay chairmen and top DENR officials, over the "illegal cutting" last week of some 60,000 board feet of assorted trees in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

"This appears to be an organized group involving top personalities from South Cotabato and General Santos City," he said.

But a DENR official in Region 12 immediately denied Jalandoni's accusations insisting the apprehended lumber were "all legal and have the necessary permits and pertinent documents."

Mila Locsin, DENR regional information officer, said the supposed illegal lumber were from trees felled in a titled private lot in Sitio Seven Lakes in Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu.

The area where the trees were cut was part of the lands distributed several years ago by the Department of Land Reform to local residents through a certificate of land ownership agreement.

"Our office actually issued a private land timber permit for it earlier," Locsin said in a telephone interview this morning.

Jalandoni said they initially uncovered the illegal activity when troops from the Army's 7th Infantry Battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Valencia apprehended at least two truckloads of freshly-sawn lumber estimated at 25,000 board feet in Barangay Kalibuhan in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat last April 17.

He said the pieces of lumber, aboard two 10-wheeler trucks, were reportedly about to be delivered to a lumberyard based in this city when apprehended.

Jalandoni said Valencia's unit, which is under the command of the 604th Infantry Brigade, immediately conducted follow-up search operations in Barangay Kalibuhan and later found more sawn lumber estimated at 35,000 board feet under the care of a certain Antonio Flores.

He said Flores, who was taken into custody by the 7th Infantry Battalion, reportedly admitted the lumber were from Sitio Seven Lakes in barangay Ned, Lake Sebu and named Ned Barangay chair Jimmy Lanzarote and Kalibuhan Barangay Chair Abdila Yusop as alleged owners.

Jalandoni said several names of DENR officials came out as the alleged backers of the illegal activity but he refused to name them.


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