From Sat Mar 10 13:49:54 2001
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 22:57:29 -0600 (CST)
From: Glen Barry <>
Subject: FORESTS: Deforestation in Philippines
Article: 116315
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Weak laws in Philippines exacerbates deforestation

By Michael A. Bengwayan, The Earth Times, 23 February 2001

AGUIO CITY, Philippines—The Philippine forests are rapidly disappearing. By 2025, there may be no virgin forests, many forestry experts predict. Non-believers scoff at this, saying it is an exaggeration. But the figures cannot be wrong. The effects of deforestation are not figments of imagination. The worsening poverty caused by inadequate and ruined natural resources are real.

The rate of deforestation in the country is among the highest in the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in 1934, 57 percent of the country or 42 million acres were forested, 26 million acres of which was primary or virgin forests. In a span of 50 years, almost two thirds of the forests was lost to deforestation as indicated in a study by Frances Korten of the Ford Foundation in 1990. It found out that the country's forest was down to only 16 million acres, 1 million of which was virgin forests.

But the worst deforestation happened during the period of 1990 to 1999 where 750,000 acres of virgin forest were lost. Last year, Senator Loren Legarda, past chairperson of the Senate committee on environment, bared in a senate committee report that only 1.75 million acres remain of the nation's virgin forests.

The loss is incredible, the rate of deforestation in that decade was almost 75,000 acres a year. It also came at a time when logging ban was imposed in some selected sites in the country.

As a result, flooding, soil erosion and degradation pegged at 100,000 tons of soil yearly, loss of species diversity and genetic material, loss of human lives and properties and aesthetic and recreational loss were at their worst.

Sen. Legarda puts much of the blame on governments that over the years have passed laws favorable to logging concessions and implemented forest protection poorly.

Unchecked illegal logging remains the main culprit, the lady senator said, adding that government negligence has prompted the devastation of forest. Today, much of the remaining forests are still being invaded by commercial loggers, she said.

The country was Asia's greatest exporter of rainforest timber since 1920s and remained so until 1960. However, overzealous extraction, disregard for future supply and poor logging practices, exacerbated by illegal logging, have effectively destroyed the industry and severely degraded much of the remaining forest.

Philippine forestry laws passed since 1930 have failed to provide adequate security provisions for virgin and secondary growth forests, thus the forests had virtually no protection at all. For instance, there is only one forest guard for every 7,500 acres, the former broadcaster said.

But even then, many official policies and strategies from the very start were faulty. Laws that required harvesting on a sustained yield basis were lacking, the logging industry lacked supervision, little attention has been paid to selective logging and timber extraction methods allowed logs to be taken even from extremely steep and fragile slopes.

Although it was obvious by the early seventies that forest resources was dwindling rapidly, practices that sustained yield were not heeded. Legislation to phase out raw log exports, in the belief that this lucrative trade was the main cause of overcutting, was first introduced in 1973. However, the ban was never implemented and a modified scheme served to concentrate ownership of timber licenses in the hands of a few Marcos supporters, with little commitment to reducing raw log exports.

Despite a subsequent ban on the export of raw logs since 1986 and the not-so successful community-based forest management there is still a continuing bias towards log production. Even after 1991 when logging was banned in sensitive areas such as virgin forests, in residual forests with a slope of 50 percent or greater and in watershed areas, compliance with the mandatory conditions and prevention of illegal logging is made difficult by insufficient resources.

From 1972 to 1988, Legarda revealed that the logging industry amassed $42.85 billion in revenues at the rate of $2.65 billion a year. But it also laid to waste some 8.57 million hectares of forests. Over the same period, loggers destroyed 9.6 million acres of virgin forests, raking in $19.4 billion in income.

Former Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Horacio Boy Morales warned that the country's forest cover is now only 17 percent, far below the 60 percent required for ideal ecological balance. He further predicted that if the trend continues, there will be no forests by 2020 and that the Philippine hardwoods which used to dominate the forests will be gone.

Decades of forest destruction by wanton and indiscriminate logging have made the country prone to landslides, Morales said.this has led to the degradation of watersheds which are basically the lifeline of food production and water supply. because of environmental degradation, the Philippines has become one of the most disaster- prone countries in the world where tremendous rise in threats to life, resources and property is always widespread.

Such a situation is difficult to put back into order, Legarda also warned.

Deforestation is the major reason behind flooding, acute water shortages, rapid soil erosion, siltation and mudslides which have proved costly not only to the environment and properties but also in human lives,she said.

Reversing the tremendous forest depletion is a gigantic, if not, an impossible task, considering that the rate of deforestation far outstrips the rate of reforestation, she added.

Social forestry, where forest productivity rests on local community participation, is showing signs of progress in the country. But the strategy is not enough. More so because land ownership and forest management are issues which cannot be separate from each other. The Legal Resources Center (LRC) says that for the government to have an effective forest management program, some of the existing government environmental policies need to be overhauled.

True enough. Many environmental government policies look at conservation without consideration of the rights of the people who live where conservation or environmental programs are. While the Philippine Strategy for Sustainable Development calls for local participation in forestry programs, the truth is, indigenous peoples' participation is marginal, solicited only for the purpose of lending projects cultural credibility, Marvic Leonen of LRC says.

Mount Pulag National Park in Benguet is an ideal example. Many times used as a reason to avail of international funding of environmental programs, majority of the people are never involved in a real sense. The Kalanguyas, tired of the exploitative approaches of so- called environmental program implementors, bluntly told the government it has no need of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the area.

Forestry projects in the Philippines has devoured millions of dollars in loans and grants. But there is little to see. In 1990, the government borrowed $325 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for a national reforestation plan. It went to the dogs. The Upland NGO Assistance Committee (UNAC), an umbrella organization of 125 upland NGOS working directly with upland communities concluded that the program was a failure. Politicians meddled in the program, government foresters became contractors, trees species planted were for commercial use, and the reforestation targets were not reached in many parts of the country.

Dr. Korten of Ford Foundation argued that the program was ill- conceived and managed and relied on insufficient data. She argued that the function of the multilateral banks is to make hard-currency loans for projects that can generate foreign exchange for repayment. Thus, they are ill-suited to solving environmental problems. ADB's provision of massive environmental loans to the Philippines accelerated the very damage it intended to reverse.

The continuing loss of forests in the Philippines is a result of combined administrative mismanagement, corruption and social inequity. The value of forests, both as a resource base and as an environmental control, remains undervalued in the face of over-riding economic need.