Eye in the Sky vs. illegal logging

Jul. 18, 2013

By Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines–Can drones or the eye in the sky help save our dwindling forests?

Joselin Fragada, director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Southern Mindanao thinks so.   The environment department announced it will pilot the use  of drones to track down illegal logging in the region.

Lourdes Wagan, regional technical director of the Forest Management Services identified the illegal logging hotspots as Macambol and Baganga in Davao Oriental, Laak in Compostela Valley, and Kapalong and Talaingod in Davao del Norte.

She further said the region’s forest cover has  dwindled to 800,000 hectares after Typhoon Pablo destroyed 119,000 hectares.

The DENR will use drones for its aerial surveillance as several areas are still not accessible because of damaged roads.

Fragada said that with the drones, they will be able to sustain their anti-illegal logging campaign, claiming that they already managed to reduce illegal logging hotspots from 66 barangays to 16 as of June this year.  Most of these hotspots are found in Davao Oriental towns of Boston, Cateel, Lupon, Manay, Mati City and Tarragona.

Drones, as described by an online article by Chris Cole and Jim Wright, are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be controlled either by a ‘pilot’ on the ground or by a pre-programmed mission.

The use of drones falls into two categories : for reconnaissance and surveillance, and for armed missiles and bombs.  Military units especially the United States and United Kingdom have employed drones for such purposes and have drawn controversy for such use.

US Army drone strikes in Pakistan killed around 3,000 people mostly civilians between 2004 to 2013. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston has demanded the US to explain the use of drones.

Drone manufacturing companies are now expanding their markets for domestic surveillance, which “make possible the dramatic expansion of the surveillance state,” said Cole and Wright.

DENR’s Fragada said they will rent the drones from a local company Skyeye,  Inc., at Php 10,000 an hour.

A look at Skyeye’s website shows that they are a company ran by “intensely curious engineers, scientists and technicians who want to understand the world around them and more importantly use what we have learned and understand to create new solutions, technologies and techniques.”

The website showcased their collaboration with the Ateneo Innovation Center in developing an aquaculture community in Lake Palakpakin,  one of the seven lakes of San Pablo in Brgy. San Buenaventura, San Pablo City.

Skyeye supposedly assists in aerial mapping, environment monitoring, disaster mitigation and local government support service.

Meanwhile, the use of drones in the fight against illegal logging drew skepticism from the environment group Panalipdan (Defend) Southern Mindanao.

“The technology for surveillance against illegal loggers is not really the problem of DENR,” says Panalipdan spokesperson Juland Suazo.

He said it is the lack of political will to stop loggers “from plundering the remaining five percent old-growth and secondary forests.”

He further said”some local officials are allegedly involved in the plunder of natural resources.”

Suazo said loggers using the Integrated Forest Management Agreements (IFMA) in Davao Oriental are “being protected by some LGU officials” in order to cut old growth and secondary forest trees.

He said the DENR granted 16 logging permits covering more than 80,000 hectares to logging companies in Baganga, Cateel, Caraga and Manay in Davao Oriental.

Suazo also scored as “useless” President Aquino’s Executive Order 23 which was signed February 1, 2011. The order declared  a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests nationwide, and created  the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force.

Suazo also expressed doubts over DENR’s real motive in using the drones technology.

“Is it really the illegal loggers they are after?  Or is the DENR now part of the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan?” he said, referring to the Aquino administration’s counter-insurgency program which involved flushing out the communist New People’s Army in the countryside.

He added that Oplan Bayanihan aims to protect the mineral and timber interests of big foreign and local companies.(davaotoday.com)

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