Press Release
February 4, 2016


Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero has expressed alarm over a report that all 23 forest guards at Ipo Watershed left their posts in January due to unpaid salaries equivalent to 15 months, which he said may expose one of the main sources of Metro Manila's water supply to illegal logging activities.

In a report by social news network Rappler, the forest guards said they were fed up waiting for the government to pay their wages covering three months in 2013 (October-December), nine months in 2014 (February-October), and three months in 2015 (January-March).

These forest guards patrol the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed, an area of mountain forests in Bulacan that is part of the larger Angat Watershed system, which provides 97 percent of Metro Manila's water needs.

"The report is very alarming because it involves the preservation and sustainability of one of the critical sources of water supply for millions of Metro Manila residents," pointed out Escudero, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural resources.

Escudero called on concerned government agencies, particularly the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), to look into the plight of the forest guards whose presence at the critical watershed area help deter illegal loggers.

"By protecting the trees in the watershed, these forest guards help maintain or even improve our local water supply. That is why it is important that we make sure they are paid accordingly," said the leading vice-presidential candidate.

Escudero has been pressing the government to hire more forest guards to increase the country's forest protection force and boost its wildlife law and anti-illegal logging enforcement efforts.

He first broached the proposal during the hearing held by his committee last September in connection with the death of "Pamana," a three-year-old female Philippine eagle that was found dead inside the Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao City on August 16 last year.

The veteran lawmaker said that wildlife crimes and illegal logging could be prevented if there were enough forest guards manning the country's forest protected areas.

He said the problem of weak law enforcement was one of the most serious underlying causes why illegal logging and wildlife crimes are still on the rise.

"One of the solutions is for the government to hire more forest guards. Increased presence of these 'eco-guards' will help curb illegal logging and wildlife crimes," Escudero said.

During the hearing conducted by Escudero's panel in September last year, DENR officials said there were only a total of 2,500 forest guards nationwide, each receiving a salary of P8,500 a month.

They added that the average forest protection force ratio in the country was one guard per 7,000 hectares. The ideal ratio is one guard per 2,000 hectares.

Escudero said it was "highly impossible" for one forest guard to protect 7,000 hectares. "Hindi naman maaari 'yun. At maliwanag na hindi kakayaning bantayan ng isang tao ang 7,000 hectares," he said.

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