Philippine President Benigno Aquino III ordered Thursday a moratorium on the cutting down of trees in the country?s fast dwindling forests.

Under Executive Order 23, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was prohibited from issuing and renewing logging contracts throughout the country.

The agency was also tasked to review all existing logging permits and immediately cancel agreements that violated the terms and conditions of their contracts.

The agency was also ordered immediately to stop the operations of sawmills and other wood?processing plants that were unable to present proof of sustainable sources of legally cut logs.

Aquino said he ordered the moratorium to mitigate the destructive effects of climate change.

He said it was also aimed at preserving biodiversity and protecting the threatened habitats of endangered species.

An anti-illegal logging task force, to include the police and the military, would be formed shortly to enforce the logging moratorium.

Government data showed that the country?s forests went down to 2.56 million hectares in 2003 from more than 15 million hectares during the early 1900s.