Other Lethal Issues

by Juan L. Mercado

In  this province, forest  cover  has long  has slipped  below the 30% of land area safety benchmark. That is true, too, of most other provinces. Sure, the impeachment whirlwind is riveting. But keep an eye on other issues too. Deforestation  will affect our children long after we’ve passed on. 

Inquirer’s Feb. 4  column “Induced Stupor” sparked an Internet debate whether the UP School of Forestry, “produced our most prolific loggers,” as claimed by Aspirin 200, a blogger.”

Many logging officials and regulators are from UP. They hardly implemented sustainability programs. Today, the country has less than 10 percent remaining natural forests reserves. Our national scholars from UP, aided scions of our early irresponsible loggers to exalted position in the government.

“Why are ‘things that matter’ written up only afterwards?”  Nathan Orteza asked: “I hail from Agusan when there was only one province. Plus or minus, Agusan produced 35 multi-millionaires from ravaging forests.

“Our present politicians’ fathers and associates were deeply involved in rape of forests! What is sad though,  we just stood by while the rape was going  on!  No wonder our country remains  poor.”

“In the early 80s,  I was a non-operations senior manager for a group of companies,” emails  a forester who requested his  name be withheld. “Our  logging operations were one of the most extensive in Mindanao.

“The company logged in watershed areas, smuggled logs to Japan, salted dollars abroad. The required nursery was a joke.  And  the required replacement of logged trees and of  saplings destroyed was only on paper.

“Government foresters were bribed.  And those who refused to be bribed were threatened or subjected to mock ambushes.  Because of these practices, I left the company after two years.”

“The main skimmers of $7 to $15 per cubic meter of exported logs in the 70s and 80s belonged to the highest echelon,” Society of  Filipino Foresters’  Oscar Gendrano recalled.  ”Lower-ranked government functionaries had their take when they processed export papers.

“An  official in the then Bureau of Forest Development, drove a run-down jeep to office. But he had a Mercedes Benz car in his garage in an upscale subdivision.

In  1978, the Log Export quota system  was extended for 10 years.  PICOP  then held 25%  ( about 500,000cu.m.) of the country’s total exportable quantity. At an F.O.B price of $100 per cubic meter, this is a cool $50   million in gross revenue per year!  Need I say more, why PICOP fell into receivership after the quota system was over, and meager natural timber was  left.

“Blame the foresters who may have kept quiet during those days. They may have all come from UP.  But I assure you only a few had the luck of enjoying the bounty of our forest wealth.

“Nobody protects the forest better than the Indigenous Cultural Communities,” Neil 1 pointed out.  Forests are  their very own shopping mall.  Their way of life is directly linked to the forest. 

Other “stakeholders” claim their system must be followed. These include:  government, businessmen, scientists, church, NGOs.  In their efforts, they displaced  indigenous communities by driving them away from the forest.

Society  blames kaingeros and small time “illegal  loggers”.  Most  cut trees  and  drag them, with carabao,  to the barrio for local use or even sell them. These are the ones  we blame  for  causing  flash floods, ‘El  Nino,  La  Nina and even global warming.  Yarders in contrast clear everything within 500 meters in diameter. Now, Nature says “it’s payback time”!

“And  where was the New People’s Army when the forests were being  plundered?”, asks Katindig.   “They  were  the ones guarding the denuding of the forest. The loggers paid the  politicians, the police, the military, DENR  —  and the NPA.  So, business-as-usual went very smoothly, 

“And when typhoons came and rains washed the mountains killing thousands of innocent civilians,  then they start the blame game  to save  themselves.  Then the process goes on and on, till no trees are left.    Courts cannot solve these problems. We need a Hitler or a Lee Kwan Yu  to solve them.” 

From  Masbate, Rosario  Zamora calls attention to how the Indonesian city of Medan now requires couples, applying for a marriage license to plant two trees. “I  was reminded of this Sumatran city  initiative by the Inquirer’s report of 175 couples, married on Valentine’s Day, who  planted   mangrove saplings in  Puerto Princesa, Palawan.”

Couples in the western Indonesian city of Medan  must   plant two trees before they are granted a marriage permit.  The religious affairs office announced the  two-trees-per-wedding-license policy will take effect  March 1.

In Indonesia , Muslim couples intending to marry must register with the Office of Religious Affairs. Non-Muslims register with their places of worship and the Civil Registry Office.

Medan alone should  get  at least 2,000 new trees each month, if the plan succeeds.  Other  districts on Sulawesi island will  be implementing the policy. ” The policy has a noble purpose, and it is necessary to support the government’s tree-planting program. “BBC  says it is “unclear how the new initiative will be policed,”

Lack of follow up has been the weakness of similar well-meaning initiatives in the Philippines , Ms  Zamora adds.  “In Cebu , Ricardo Cardinal Vidal  urged that engaged couples plant a tree on applying for a license. That  floundered in implementation. Good intentions must be reinforced by follow-up.”

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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