MANILA (UPDATED) - A mining firm felled thousands of trees in Brooke's Point town in Palawan province just days after former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez was rejected by the Commission on Appointments, a local official confirmed Thursday.
"Hindi ko po mabilang. Libo-libong kahoy po iyun, malalaki, maliliit ang kanilang pinutol. Iyung iba po siguro, mga centuries-old trees na po," Brooke's Point Mayor Jean Feliciano said in a phone interview with radio DZMM.
(I don't have the exact figure but those were thousands of trees. They cut down big and small trees alike. Some of those were probably centuries old.)
The mining company in hot water was identified as Ipilan Nickel Corporation, affiliate of Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc.
Feliciano said the trees were located in a protected area of Mount Mantalingajan, which also serves as a watershed that supplies potable water to 5 villages.
Lopez herself recently visited the area and drank water from a river there, Feliciano said.
Authorities were able to arrest only 8 chainsaw-wielding miners who mowed down the area while their companions fled.
The mayor said the mining firm has since barred her, policemen and environment officials from entering the area.
"Nagsama po ako ng mga Marines. Kasi kahit po mga pulis, ayaw po nilang papasukin at iyung mga pulis, takot din nila akong samahan kasi tinatakot nilang kakasuhan," she said.
(I brought Marines with me because even policemen were barred from entering. The cops were also hesitant to join me because they were threatened with criminal charges.)
Feliciano said the local government has filed a case against the 8 arrested miners, as well as a petition to revoke the license of their company.
In a separate interview with ANC on Thursday afternoon, Feliciano said the company was granted a tree cutting permit in May 2016 but was cancelled in December.
Palawan Governor Jose Chavez Alvarez has also summoned the firm's management to explain their alleged logging activities.
Lopez, for her part, took to social media to vent out her disdain over the "massacre" of the town's trees.
Lawmakers earlier this month rejected the appointment of Lopez, who cracked down on alleged unsafe mining practices during her 10 months in office.
Her successor, Roy Cimatu, promised to investigate the logging activities in Brooke's Point.
"Ako rin mismo, on my way back to Manila, I will immediately convene my staff and look into this immediately," Cimatu said in a separate DZMM interview.
Global Ferronickel President Dante Bravo has issued a statement denying that its affiliate Ipilan Nickel, lacked the necessary special tree cutting permits and noted that the cancellation of the permit is still subject of a pending motion for reconsideration.
“INC (Ipilan Nickel Corporation) upholds faithful compliance with the law and adheres to sustainable development,” he said.
Bravo added that the company also has an outstanding SEP (Strategic Environment Plan) clearance issued by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development and a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement with the government.