Desertification in the Making: Philippines Has Lost 80% of Its Forest Cover


Only 20 percent of the country’s original forest cover remains, making the Philippines the only country in Southeast Asia with the thinnest forest cover. An environmental group in Aurora foresees that all forest cover will be gone by the end of this decade (or 2010) if logging operations continue at their present pace.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

The Philippines has lost at least 80 percent of its original forest cover since the 16th century. This has also earned the notoriety in Southeast Asia as the only country with the thinnest forest cover.

The country’s remaining forest cover is found mostly in Palawan, Mindanao and the uplands of northern Luzon.

An environmental group in Aurora foresees that all forest cover will be gone by the end of this decade (or 2010) if logging operations continue at their present pace.

Citing data from the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Dr. Perry Ong, a professor of Biology at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, places the Philippines’ original forest cover at 27 million has. or 270,000 sq. kms. or 90 percent of the country’s total land area (30 million has. or 300,000 sq. kms.), at the beginning of the Spanish colonial period (1565-1898).

Ong’s paper, State of Philippine Biodiversity: Changing Mindscapes Amidst the Crisis, shows the Philippine forest cover to have receded to about 8,000 sq. kms or 8 million has. sometime after 1986.

The latest data from the DENR shows the Philippines has only 7.171 million has. of forest land, or 23.9 percent of the country’s total land area (30 million has. or 300,000 sq. kms) as of this year. This means that the remaining forest cover constitutes 25 percent of the country’s original forest land.

(The DENR’s figures are however disputed by other sources. Other estimates place the forest cover in 1987 at 5.4M has. to 6.6M has. The Global Agricultural Information Network of the U.S. Department of Agriculture places the Philippines’ forest at 5.2 million hectares in 2002 which is slightly below 18 percent of the country’s original forest land. This shows the country has lost 82 percent of its forest.)

In any case, Ong’s paper and the latest deforestation data are significant in the light of flash floods caused by the four storms and typhoons that recently hit the country – particularly the provinces of Quezon, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, and Rizal in a span of only two weeks – killing 937 people and damaging P4.6 billion ($82.14 million based on a $1:P56 exchange rate) worth of property, based on a report from the government’s National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC). From the same report, 837 people are still missing while 752 were injured.

The rapid loss of the country’s forest cover is seen as a major culprit in the flash floods that wrought the massive damage.

Deforestation

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), in its 2003 report The State of the World’s Forests, places the Philippines’ rate of deforestation at 1.4 percent annually from 1990 to 2000, or -89,000 has.

In a recent e-mail to Bulatlat, Joey Estriber, secretary of the Aurora-based Multi-Sectoral Action Group (MSAG) sent information showing that the Philippines is one of the countries with the highest rate of mountain deforestation, and is the Southeast Asian country with the thinnest forest cover.

While the country may turn to various reforestation programs by both government and private sectors, the signs are not very encouraging.

The DENR claims that from 1990 to 2000, the reforestation rate was only 68,379 has. a year. If true, this translates to a total of 683,790 has. reforested for the period.

If the government and private-sector reforestation programs were able to reforest a total of 683,790 has. from 1990 to 2000 and the extent of forest change for the same period was –89,000 has., then for the said period the country was losing 77,279 has. yearly as opposed to only 68,379 has. being reforested annually for the same period.

The MSAG fears that the Philippines may lose all of its forest cover by the end of the present decade if logging operations continue at their present pace.

Legal and illegal logging: national

The catastrophe that hit Aurora and other Central Luzon provinces during the recent typhoons forced the government to train its guns on illegal loggers, with DENR Secretary Michael Defensor ordering a ban on logging operations in Quezon, Aurora, and Nueva Ecija and forming an eight-man team to investigate illegal logging operations in the said provinces.

He also sacked the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officers (PENROs) in the said provinces, amid complaints that they are in cahoots with illegal loggers.

But environmental groups point to legal logging as also a culprit – if not the bigger culprit.

As of last Nov. 30, the DENR issued 14 TLAs in the CAR and Regions II, III, IVA (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon), IX, X, XIII, and the ARMM. The localities in which these TLAs are in force have a total land area of 566,589 has. Of these, the TLAs cover a total of 320,211 has. – or 56.51 percent.

Meanwhile, as of Dec. 31, 2001, the number of integrated forest management agreements (IFMAs) issued by the DENR was185, covering a total area of 612,728 has.

The existing TLAs as of last Nov. 30 and the issued IFMAs as of Dec. 31, 2001, combined, already cover 933,039 has. in all – or 13 percent of the country’s forest cover based on the DENR’s latest data.

Aurora

In Aurora alone, one of the provinces most heavily affected by logging, there are 10 companies that hold logging permits, covering a total of 247,722 has, as of August 2003. These are:

Inter-Pacific Forest Resources Corp. (Dilasag, 50,000 has.), Verdant Agroforest Development Corp. (Dipaculao, Aurora and Nagtipunan, Quirino – 45,600 has.), Pacific Timber Export Corp. (Dilasag, Aurora and Dinapigue, Isabela – 33,454 has.), Green Square Properties and Resources Corp. (Dingalan, 27,852 has.), Industries Development Corp. (Dilasag-Casiguran-Dingalan, 57,069 has.);

RCC Timber Co. (Dinalungan, 23,140 has.), Benson Realty Development Corp. (San Luis, 982 has.), San Roque Sawmill Corp. (San Luis, 995 has.), and Toplite Lumber Corp. (Dipac, 8,630 has.).

The Pacific Export Timber Corp. currently has an IFMA covering 996 has. in Dilasag under process.

Adding the 996 has. covered by the IFMA of the Pacific Timber Export Corp. that is under process, the logging permits in Aurora already encompass a total of 248,718 has. ��which amount to 82.91 percent of Aurora’s estimated 300,000-ha. land area.

Log ban

The MSAG is calling for the cancellation of the permits of the nine companies operating in Aurora.

In Congress, representatives of the progressive party-list groups Bayan Muna (People First), Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) have filed a joint resolution calling on the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to immediately ban all commercial logging and mining operations by immediately and “unconditionally” canceling the licenses of all logging and mining operations and concessions. ()

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