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Authorities present five Vietnamese arrested by the police and environment department for possession of pieces of an endangered tree, reputedly the most expensive wood in the world, in Butuan City. The foreigners are facing charges for transporting and trading Agarwood which authorities say are violations of the Revised Forestry Code, and the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. The rare dark resinous wood is used in incense, perfume, and small carvings. (photo by Erwin Mascariñas)

Cops nab 5 Vietnamese for trade of ‘wood of the gods’

By Erwin M. Mascarinas
Correspondent .

BUTUAN City — Authorities arrested five Vietnamese for allegedly transporting pieces of laplisan, an endangered tree species that produces the so-called “wood of the gods.”

Caraga police director Brig. Gen. Gilberto Cruz identified the arrested foreigners as NguyÊn Thi Chung, 40; DiÊl Thi BÍch HÒa, 45; and VU VÃn Trang, 34.

They were arrested at the Grand Palace Hotel in Purok 1, Barangay Imadejas, this city, at around 11:30 pm Thursday.

Cruz said the Vietnamese yielded some two kilograms of Agarwood, a fragrant dark resinous wood that forms in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees because of mold infections, and some P1.874 million in cash.

Agarwood, which is the result of the infection, is sought after because it is used in producing incense, perfume and medicinal products. 

Two more Vietnamese — Tu Quoc Vu, 35, and To Tien Phat, 22 — where arrested at around 5 am at the airport.

Police said the two yielded some 20 kilograms of Agarwood and some P4 million in cash.

Cruz said the Vietnamese would be charged with violation of the Revised Forestry Code, and the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act for the trade and transport of the  species.

Cruz said he suspected the illegal trade has been going on for some time and had involved locals in Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Sur, and other parts of Caraga.

Jewel Padullon of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Caraga said  the tree species is endangered and protected by the government.

“We have been receiving reports about the illegal trade,” Padullon said.

But Padullon said there are three species, including laplisan, that are known to produce Agarwood and so “we still need to really properly identify which one” the Vietnamese had with them. 

Padullon placed the value of the seized Argawood at some P1.082 million or some P50 thousand per kilogram.   

But Col. Arberto Magno, Butuan police director, said Agarwood could command a price of P350 thousand per kilogram. He said on some occasions, the price could even shoot up to US$100 thousand per kilogram.

Agarwood is formed in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees when they become infected with Phialophora parasitica, a type of mold. Prior to infection, the heartwood is odorless, relatively light and pale-colored but as the infection progresses, the tree produces a dark aromatic resin called aloes or aga which results in a very dense, dark, resin-embedded heartwood. 

According to the website plantation international, Agarwood, also known as the “wood of the gods,” has been traded and highly coveted for thousands of years. The resinous wood is used as incense, for medicinal purposes, and pure resin in distilled form is used as an essential oil as well as a perfume component. Outside Southeast Asia, it is most widely known in the Middle East, China, Taiwan, and Japan.

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