Simple tree in island’s remaining forests
now a target of illegal agarwood traders

PIECES OF AGARWOOD, stained with the precious resin used in expensive perfumes, are laid out on a hotel room table after two persons tried to sell them to an undercover cop in Virac last June 27, 2021. DENR photo

An ordinary-looking tree that local foresters used to just pass by during their patrols in the island’s remaining forests that they had not bothered to count their number has turned out to be a most-sought after commodity.
Last June 27, 2021, in a buy-bust operation that did not involve illegal drugs, two persons were tried to sell almost six kilos of its resin-filled heartwood pieces to an undercover police officer at a room of the Kemji Resort and Restaurant in San Isidro Village, Virac.
Elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Provincial Field Unit (PFU) in Catanduanes together with the Catanduanes Police Provincial Office (PPO) Intelligence Unit, Police Regional Intelligence Unit-Catanduanes, Virac Municipal Police Station and the 97th Military Intelligence Company of the 9tn Military Intelligence Battalion, 9th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (PA), in coordination with the Enforcement Unit of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Catanduanes headed by PENR Officer Imelda D. Baltazar said that the agarwood confiscated from the suspects had an estimated volume of 2.983 board feet.
The suspects will be charged for violation of Section 68 of the Presidential Decree 705 as amended, otherwise known as the “Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines,” that penalizes and prohibits the cutting, gathering and/or collecting timber or other forest products without license. They will also be sued for violation of Section 27 (f) of RA 9147, otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.
In a press release on its website, DENR Bicol Regional Executive Director Francisco E. Milla, Jr. said that the Department commits to intensify forest protection initiatives and establish sustainable linkages and partnerships with other government entities to achieve an effective forest management.
“We will continue to apprehend these illegal traders and violators amidst this pandemic,” he added.
The statement claimed that agarwood is gathered from an infected Aquilaria tree (Aquilaria malaccensis) that produces stress-induced resin.
Used to produce therapeutic perfumes and traditional medicines, first-grade agarwood, referred to as “The Woods of the Gods,” can cost as much as $100,000 per kilo in the international market.
In the Philippines, agarwood can sell for as much as P160,000 per kilo, the DENR report stated.
Rogelio Demelletes Jr., a senior ecosystems management specialist and member of DENR’s Environmental Protection and Enforcement Task Force (EPETF), said recently that agarwood is extracted from host trees locally known as Lapnisan and Lanete, which are both included in the national list of threatened Philippine plants per DENR Administrative Order 2007-01.
According to Demelletes, trafficking in agarwood has spawned indiscriminate cutting of Lanete and Lapnisan trees, especially in Mindanao.
In an interview, Shiela Conche, information officer-designate of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) Catanduanes, confirmed to the Tribune that the Aquilaria tree, known locally as “lapnisan,” grows in the island’s forested areas.
“Igwa talaga kita ning lapnisan, pigasabay mi na siya sa patrol mi ngonian,” she disclosed. “Dati kaya piga-agihan mi lang siya, dai kaya kami aware na igwa na ning illegal trade uya sa isla. Dai mi na puedeng ipagbalewala kasi na-explore na siya ning tawo.”
She described the “lapnisan” as a simple tree but is now an endangered specie due to the very valuable resin that is found inside the wood.
“Dai pa kami makataram kung pila pang percent igwa ang Catanduanes ta dai kami ning account kung pilang kahoy ang igwa kita,” the DENR spokesperson said. “Kasi kaipuhan mi pa talaga ning extensive na pagbilang ning kahoy na lapnisan.”
With regards to the two persons arrested for trying to sell agarwood, she said that it would be the CIDG who will file the case but the PENRO recommended that they be charged with violation of RA 9147 or the Wildlife Act of the Philippines.
If the case to be filed would focus on the “lapnisan” tree only, the violation of Presidential Decree 705 would only involve a smaller fine or penalty, the PENRO said, but since the forest product is agarwood which is an endangered species, a bigger penalty can be imposed under RA 1947.
Agarwood refers to the infected wood of the Aquilaria (resinous heartwood) tree which native to Southeast Asia.
Growing to a height of 40 meters and a diameter of about 80 centimeters, wild trees become infected by mold or the parasitic fungi called Phialophora parasitica. The tree reacts to the infection by producing the dark oleoresin in its heartwood, which is then harvested by gatherers.
The agarwood’s essential oil is extracted through water distillation, with 70 kilograms of agarwood yielding approximately 20 milliliters of oil.
In the country, the known species of agarwood are Aquilaria citrinicarpa in Mindanao, Aquilaria decemcostata, Aquilaria parvifolia in Luzon, and Aquilaria undanetensis.
It is estimated that only 7 to 10 percent pf naturally-growing trees produce resin.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: