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Why the recent Isabela busts are so important

In most of the case studies I've read on illegal logging here in the Philippines and in Indonesia when the law decides to crack down on the criminals, it's the logger in the forest working to put food on his/her family's table that bears the brunt of "legal" action and bad press. I place "legal" in quotation marks because the actions taken in raids are often arbitrary, do not follow due process, and are mainly for show or for the purpose of threatening laborers in the forest. For example, confiscated chainsaws are bought back from the police when the furor has died down and then it's business as usual. Or, police and military receive regular payments from illegal logging operations so that they turn a blind eye but when a high-ranking official comes around they go through the motions of a raid and then the high-ranking official leaves (probably with something in his/her pocket, too) and then it's business as usual. My host families along the Katingan River, in Central Kalimantan jokingly referred to the latter as "musim razzia", or the season of raids -- it rolls around every year.

Meanwhile, the capitalist who finances the operation continues to live in the comfort of his/her spacious house built on the profits of felled forests and the labors of poor families alienated from their usual sources of subsistence and livelihood. Sometimes, the financier may conveniently disappear for a while, only to return to his/her airconditioned office -- in many instances, a government office -- and then it's back to business as usual.

This is of course a simplified, generalised account of what takes place. Nevertheless it tells us why the recent search warrants and the arrest served by Isabela Governor Grace Padaca and her task force against two of the province's big-time loggers are phenomenal. First, the busts struck at the business-side of the logging operations, meaning they went after the financiers who initiate the illegal operations in the first place, and who make a killing from it. This shows the sincerity and determination of the task force to address the problem at its roots within their local jurisdiciton. (Illegal logging is also rooted in international trade. Along the Katingan river loggers will tell you, "We wouldn't cut the trees and sell them if people in Europe weren't buying them.") Second, the raids followed due process as can be gathered from Ipat Luna's account, complete with investigations, warrants, and confiscation of lumber. Again, this demonstrates the seriousness of the task force. All too often illegal logging cases get dismissed because due process was not followed.

The good news from Isabela has been lost in all the bad news (what's new) but we can still spread the word ourselves, demand the same of our officials in our own localities, or as Ipat Luna asks, write emails showing appreciation for what Gov. Padaca and the task force are doing:
"Thanks for posting!! Please also send your messages directly to the email of the campaign at save_nsierramadre at yahoo dot com as we compile them for her and she reads them out to the task force members when they have a meeting. Without much media coverage, they really do take solace in your messages."
If you're interested you can download free pdfs of case studies on logging in Indonesia, here on the Center for International Forestry Research website. (You can even download entire books. Hurray for shared resources!) This paper by Anne Casson was a real eye-opener for me.


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