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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 December, 2004, 16:06 GMT
Logging suspended in Philippines
Residents of Infanta clear up the mud
The clear-up has already begun but many people need aid
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has suspended logging and vowed punishment for law-breakers as the country reels from four deadly storms in two weeks.

Legal and illegal logging is blamed for worsening the impact of the storms, which have left 1,000 dead or missing.

Permits to fell trees across the nation will no longer be issued, pending a review of the environmental effect.

And illegal loggers would be punished like "terrorists and kidnappers", Mrs Arroyo said, visiting badly hit areas.

She also revoked existing licences in the worst-hit areas.

'Heinous criminals'

The Red Cross says about 800,000 people need help in the wake of the past fortnight's storms and aid agencies have launched an appeal for more than $2m for aid relief.

President Arroyo on Saturday flew by helicopter to visit residents and relief workers in three devastated towns, General Nakar, Infanta and Real.

I hope this lesson will finally teach us that those involve in illegal logging must be punished
Erik, Philipppines

She praised the rescue efforts before turning her fury on loggers.

"I'm cancelling all [logging] permits here and suspending issuance of all others," Mrs Arroyo said, reinforcing the view that widespread deforestation has left the Philippines more vulnerable to mudslides.

"We are determined to make those responsible for widespread death and destruction pay the price for their misdeeds, and we shall prosecute them the way we do terrorists, kidnappers, drug traffickers and other heinous criminals," Mrs Arroyo said.

She called on Congress to introduce stiffer penalties for "illegal loggers and their cohorts, including erring government officials and law enforcers".

Complex problem

Eight officials have already been sacked for failing to check illegal logging in their areas, the Manila Times newspaper reported on its website.

But experts say the problem is more complex than just cracking down on loggers as poverty drives many people to fell trees with little regard for the law.

Legal loggers are also responsible for much damage, campaigners say.

"There's hardly a difference between so-called illegal loggers and legal loggers," said Orlando Mercado, a former senator who tried and failed to pass bills outlawing logging in the 1990s.

"The only difference... is that the legal loggers have political clout and that's the reason they can get the timber licence agreement," he told the Reuters news agency.

The Philippines does have laws to restrict logging but the country's forest cover has fallen below 20% from more than 60% in the 1920s.

The clean-up after the floods continues

In pictures: Philippines clear-up
03 Dec 04 |  In Pictures
Philippines typhoon: Your reaction
03 Dec 04 |  Have Your Say

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