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Whose head will roll over floods?
By Katherine Adraneda and Jose Rodel Clapano
The Philippine Star 12/01/2004
Heads will definitely roll at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) if Secretary Michael Defensor has his way.

With more than 300 people dead and hundreds more missing in flashfloods and landslides in Quezon, Nueva Ecija and Aurora provinces Monday night, Defensor said charges will be filed against DENR officials who tolerated rampant illegal logging that is being blamed for the catastrophe.

But as to who gets the ax depends on who will be doing the probe as Sen. Richard Gordon has also sought an investigation of Defensor himself.

Gordon, who also chairs the Philippine National Red Cross, told reporters that Defensor should explain to the Senate why he has not done anything to identify areas in the country that are at high risk whenever there are typhoons or tropical storms.

Gordon said Defensor and other officials of the DENR could be held accountable to the people who lost their relatives because they were not forewarned.

The agency itself, he said, has failed to go after illegal loggers operating in many parts of the country. "There are enough laws against illegal logging but what we need is the enforcement of the law to fight illegal logging activities all over the country," Gordon said.

Defensor, for his part, has warned of massive reorganization in the DENR regional offices in Nueva Ecija, Quezon and Aurora, which oversee the towns that were submerged in water at the height of tropical storm "Winnie" over the weekend.

In an interview, Defensor said that "heads will definitely roll" by January 2005 and cases will be filed against those responsible for the tragedy, especially in Nueva Ecija.

"It is verified that there is rampant illegal logging in Nueva Ecija. It (illegal logging) was too much. So I am sending my stern warning that we will really pursue cases against them. Tatanggalin ko talaga sila (I will really fire them)," Defensor told The STAR.

He also confirmed reports of illegal logging in certain areas in Quezon but clarified that the towns hit by flashfloods in Aurora "seemingly have no illegal logging activity," although other parts of Aurora were found to have illegal logging problems.

Defensor, however, refused to elaborate in the meantime, as to who among DENR officials and employees will be fired.

In the wake of the tragedy, Defensor created a task force that will investigate the recent flashfloods and landslides in the three provinces.

The task force, which will consist of DENR Undersecretary for Forestry Ramon Paje and representatives from the Forest Management Bureau and the law enforcement unit, will be headed by a retired general who will be named by Defensor soon.

The DENR chief appealed for the cooperation of communities within or near forest areas to avoid involvement in illegal logging activities and instead report these directly to him. Defensor said concerned citizens may reach him through 0918-9192902.

"We will take action definitely as we will intensify our campaign against illegal logging," Defensor said.

Vice President Noli de Castro also called for political will to stop illegal logging during his visit to Nueva Ecija yesterday,

De Castro lamented that the nation has not learned from the tragedy in Ormoc, Southern Leyte in November 1991, where hundreds died when flashfloods and landslides hit the town.

Illegal logging was blamed as the culprit.

The Vice President met with Nueva Ecija Gov. Tomas Joson III and Quezon Province Rep. Rafael Nantes, who confirmed that illegal logging was to blame for the flashfloods.

Even before Defensor’s statement, several groups had already called for the prosecution of those involved in illegal logging.

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