No welcome mat

by Juan L. Mercado

“Unwelcome Guests” is not about ”midnight appointees”.  Gloria Macapgal Arroyo picked before scurrying from Malacanang — on to hospital jail, for election sabotage raps.

Count me out, snapped the former President’s manicurist. Anita Carpon had been dangled a “Pag-IBIG Fund midnight appointment.” She nixed a  two-year job  with a P100,000 monthly paycheck.

Deal me in, said  GMA’s former chief-of-staff. She named Renato Corona Supreme Court chief justice just before the clock struck midnight. Today, Corona battles impeachment.

“Unwelcome Guests” is, in fact, a scientific paper on forest invasive species. In Kuming China,  Filipino foresters  presented this study, to an Asia-Pacific conference, organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Man can cram many exotic crops in one place,” wrote N.T. Baguinon, M.O. Quimado and G.J. Francisco of UP Los Banos, Forest Management Bureau and Department of  Environment.   But plantations are not more diverse than natural forest ecosystems. They pose little-recognized threats.

God-endowed natural forests here are stunning in diversity. A  f911 enumeration recognized mangrove, molave, to mossy forest types.  The 1984 Palawan Botanical Expedition listed forests in karst limestone to lake-margins. Ecosystem diversity classifications identified nine types: from lowland evergreen to upper montane forests.

“There could be more types than those published”, caution Baguinon, Quimado and  Francisco.  “Stereotyping unique forest ecosystems into just a few lists may not render justice to complex Philippine bio-geological history.”

Malayo-Polynesian settlers, in prehistoric times,introduced exotic plants, ranging from. malunggai to mango.  “A few escaped into the wild like the bignai, duhat and santol. However, these have not established themselves as persistent gregarious stands”.

Sailing on galleons from Mexico , Spanish missionaries brought plants from Central American countries.  So did traders from nearby Asian countries. Among these were  guyabano, chico and avoicado.  Coffee from Africa came via Acapulco. Some of these crept into parks, for example ipil-ipil, datiles, and kamatchile.”

After the Spanish-American war, more “exotics” came thru exchanges and “purchase from foreign countries by private citizens”.  American administrators reforested school grounds.  Other exotics followed such as kakawate,and teak.  “African tulip has since spread deep into  natural stands.”

Even before World War II,  exotic trees propped up reforestation showcases. Among these were: Minglanilla in Cebu, Nasiping  Project in Cagayan, Paraiso in Ilocos Norte, Canlaon in Negros, and Impalutao in Bukidnon. Seedlings of bio-invasive species “found their way into national parks”.

This history cobbled a mindset, in both foresters and policy makers, “ that artificial forests are as ecological as the natural forest they replace. “The same ecological benefits that jungle regrowth provides can be provided by plantations”, some Filipino foresters insisted at the  First ASEAN Congress in 1983.

You can make a buck as fast in either?  That fit with “most foresters’ pragmatism”. If the natural forest had been squandered, why then “enrichment planting with fast-growing commercial exotic tree species is better than restoring natural forests”, Baguinon, Quimado and  Francisco pointed out.

No studies have been done on the rate of bio-invasion of nature reserves. But planting of exotics in Integrated Protected Area Systems is now  banned. “No definite policies are in place yet on what to do with mature exotic trees, should they become bio-invasive”. As in the lush  Makiling Forest reserve?

Many logged over areas were reforested with “exotics”:  mahogany, yemane or bagras Other ibio-invasive species are ihagonoy and coronitas.  Ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) can usurp steep bare slopes. Along beaches, “exotic mimosoid legumes form gregarious thickets of aroma”.

Eight out of ten seedlings raised in government nurseries are exotics: Giant ipil-ipil account for 41 percent.  Large leaf mahogany — 33 percent; , yemane — 17 percent’;  teak –4 percent. Others  — 5 percent.  At bottom, believe it or not,   are native species — 17 percent.
“So, what’s wrong with our molave?”, asked Dr. Franz Seidenschwarz in a January 1998 University of San Carlos conference. “Or  tindalo for that matter?”   He whipped out a printout of 1,487 of sturdy native species, honed by centuries of evolution.

Reforestation programs, ignore this rich genetic matrix of local species.  Instead, they opt for monocultures of nine exotics, including”, gemelina and teak from India , mahogany from Central Africa; candlenut tree or lubang from Malaysia . “Is imported sikat?”, he asked.

“Government continues to subsidize this denigration of Philippine trees”, Sun Star noted. “This opens windows of vulnerability to disease. Valuable species are thinning Third millennium reforestation  should favor a broader genetic  base, built on premium species of native trees.”

“”Planting  exotics violates  the international convention on biodiversity,” notes the Soil and  Water Conservation Foundation. “What is the consequence when,  students,  asked to plant trees  under the Greening Program, are only given exotic seedlings by DENR?  Is it  because the DENR can  not ,or will not , spend to gather native tree seedlings?”

Right. But public attention alas is fixated elsewhere:  on a chief justice who volunteers  his  wife to  run the impeachment gauntlet and save his skin. “Greater love than this no man  hath….”


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