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DENR Hit Again for Alleged "ghost" Reforestation Project

NAGA CITY-Eleven residents of the villages of Lupi and Cawaynan in Tinambac,Camarines Sur said they were ready to speak against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which they said lied when it reported in February this year that a 150-hectare reforestation project area in their village already had been fully planted with trees.

They said it was not true that the first phase of implementation of the reforestation project of DENR in their village already had been completed.

"In fact, there is no place for a 150-hectare reforestation project in Sitio (settlement) Libtong in Lupi because we already had an earlier reforestation project with CARE-Philippines and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)," they said in an sworn affidavit dated May 4, 2007 and released last week along with the findings and recommendations of a multi-sector project monitoring and evaluation team.

Seven of the residents who said they were ready to testify against DENR were members of Mount Isarog Guardians (MIGS), a group of volunteers who patrol the vicinity of Mount Isarog National Park to keep it away from intruders.

Edwin Sierra,29; Floridel Buenagua, 47; Pacita Azuela, 53;  Felix Robles, 46; Celso Patagan, 38; Alfredo Cea, 51; and Rolando Sabater, 58; all said they had been familiar with the forested area of Mount Isarog in their place so they knew about reforestation projects implemented there.

"From what we know, there are already 141 hectares in the area that had been reforested by CARE-Philippines and United nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 2001 to 2003, so it is impossible to have another 150-hectare reforestation project in the area, as what was reported by DENR."

They said they conducted their own investigation and found out that only five to six hectares of the area claimed by DENR as the site of their reforestation project were planted with trees.

They said after they had conducted an inspection of the area, up to 40 hectares were planted with trees. "But only on random or 'spot-spot' method. While some trees were planted right inside the area already allotted to the reforestation projects of CARE-Philippines and UNDP."

They also claimed that DENR, and Bicol Upland Resources and Development Foundation (BURDFI), contractor to the reforestation project, did not coordinate with them.

Jesus Natividad, barangay kagawad (village councilor) of Lupi, said the municipal government of Tinambac in February asked them (barangay officials) to conduct a geodetic survey of the site of the reforestation project implemented by DENR through BURDFI in their barangay. "In our survey, we found out that the reforestation project area totaled from 35 to 40 hectares."

He said from his inspection, six species of mixed hardwood and softwood trees were planted in the reforestation project area the area.

He added that contrary to DENR report, it was not true that 250, 000 seedlings were planted to 150 hectares of reforested area.

Priscilla G. Gamora, former treasurer of Lupi Biodiversity Conservation and Development Project Association Incorporated, said the supposed reforested area of DENR was the same site of the reforested area of Care-Philippines and UNDP.

"There is nothing left for DENR to reforest because the area was already reforested." But she said DENR indeed reforested 10 hectares in the area.

Natividad and Gamora, along with the seven others filed sworn affidavits to support the findings of a multi-sector project monitoring and evaluation team chaired by Fortunato Mendoza.

The team was organized to validate the status of the reforestation projects in Camarines Sur implemented by DENR, which is part of the watershed management and development under the Bicol River Basin Watershed Management Project.

The team said they had found out that in the implementation of the reforestation project in Lupi village in Tinambac, "there is an indication that the project area is the same area where reforestation projects were implemented from 2001 to 2005 by CARE-Philippines and UNDP."

They said that based from actual field estimates, only 40 hectares had been covered by the reforestation project and that it was not true that 250, 000 seedlings were planted, as what was reported by DENR.

They said because DENR did not provide them with the copy of the project contract, they only based their findings from the survey map and work program provided to them by DENR.

They said DENR regional director Joselin Marcus Fragada did not provide the necessary document although he had promised to provide it in an April 20 dialogue at Ateneo de Naga University.

They said they also learned that BURDFI was already paid P2 million, which represented payment for the first phase of the reforestation project. They said they learned that the basis for the release of the payment was the random survey conducted by DENR-Bicol upon the request of the contractor, adding that the survey was also the basis of DENR in reporting that the reforestation project area in Barangay Lupi already had been fully-planted with trees.

The reforestation project in Barangay Lupi is part of the Upland Reforestation project of the DENR. It has a budget of P5 million. The project was meant to reforest 150 hectares in three years. The contract was warded to BURDFI in August 2008.

In March, Mayor Leonilo Sarte of Ocampo town in Camarines Sur said only five hectares were planted in  the reforestation project of DENR in their town, contrary to the statement of Fragada saying that 150 hectares were reforested.

But in a radio interview in February to answer allegations of an alleged "ghost" reforestation project in Barangay Curry in Pili town in Camarines Sur, Fragada denied the existence of alleged ghost reforestation projects in at least four towns of Camarines Sur.

Fragada also said the winning contractors have passed the bidding process as provided for under the Procurement Act (Rep. Act 9184). "Besides undergoing the rigid bidding process, the contractor has to pass through the approval of the Commission on Audit (COA) before he gets his payment," the DENR chief pointed out.

He said he would write all the mayors who have reforestation projects in their municipalities so that they will be officially informed.

DENR-Bicol said in an accomplishment report submitted in February to Presidential Assistant for Bicol Tomasito B. Monzon that more that seven million seedlings of different tree species have been planted as of December 2008 in 4261 hectares under the Bicol River Basin Watershed Management Project (BRBWMP).

The report said that 100 percent of the target areas under the plantation establishment activities were already completed, while protection and maintenance of the planted seedlings are continuously being undertaken.

Currently, there are at least 12 villages in Camarines Sur where DENR is implementing reforestation projects.

Fragada said the watershed management component aims to restore, sustain and enhance the productive potentials of alienable and disposable and timber lands, and enhance

protection functions of the watershed of the Bicol River Basin towards the ultimate goal of reducing poverty.