How do you tackle a problem as serious and complex as the various crises afflicting the Philippine environment? Environmental historian Prof. Rowena Boquiren proposes a simple and creative solution: for everyone who has come to learn the true state of the environment to go out and tell the same to at least three individuals who in turn will each tell three more people.
BY FELICISIMO MANALANSAN
How do you tackle a problem as serious and complex as the various crises afflicting the Philippine environment?
Environmental historian and University of the Philippines-Baguio professor Rowena Boquiren proposes a simple and creative solution: Everyone who knows the true state of the environment should go out and tell the same to at least three individuals who in turn will each tell three more people.
But what is the true state of the Philippine environment? And what does one do with this knowledge?
An environmental forum held at the St. Thomas Aquinas Research Center of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) in Manila Nov. 29 tried to answer these questions. Coinciding with the first year anniversary of the Quezon-Aurora landslides, the forum brought together participants from various religious denominations, college students, environmental activists and surviving victims from the landslides last year.
The forum was sponsored by the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines, National Council of Churches of the Philippines and UST’s Contextualized Theology and Ethics.
Rich and archipelagic
“The Philippines is a richly-endowed archipelagic country,” Boquiren, the forum main speaker, says, beaming with pride.
According to her, there are many implications to the country’s being rich and archipelagic. One of them, she says, is the challenge on resource utilization without harming the environment.
“The Philippine archipelago comes from a long history of geological formation whose product is a unique assemblage of bio-physical ecosystems teeming with biological and natural resources,” she says, adding that on these depend the lives of a current population of 85 million Filipinos.
The country’s rich natural resources have supplied the people’s food, shelter and health through nature’s provisions for clean air, water, sources of livelihood and even a sense of security for the population, Boquiren says.
“But the Philippines is now experiencing unprecedented crises,” she explains, adding that these resulted in environmental problems such as the inaccessibility of water to many Filipinos, air pollution, food insecurity, garbage and the threatened state of biodiversity among the country’s forest, agricultural and coastal and marine resources.
Boquiren says that underlining the environmental crises are issues of natural preservation and the people’s development. Neither the latter nor the former should be sacrificed for the other, she stresses. “Hindi pwedeng bumigay ang isa man dyan” (Neither one should suffer), she says.
Nature imbalances that result in disasters, she explains, should not be seen solely on their biological and physical aspects. Natural and biological resources that are managed often result in tipping the ecological balance with catastrophic consequences for the people, she says.
She cites as examples the landslides and flashfloods which killed more than 1,000 individuals last year in Quezon and Aurora provinces east of Manila. The volume of rain which poured on the two provinces during the disaster was unprecedented, Boquiren says, citing logging as bringing about the disaster.
More than half of the remaining forests in the two provinces are occupied by logging concessions.
Logging and mining
Boquiren says that only about 17 percent of the Philippine land area is left forested while less than 3 percent of the land is planted with old growth forest. The latter, she adds, are among the most severely threatened of the country’s ecosystems.
The threat comes from logging and mining companies, points out Boquiren.
The remaining patches of old growth forests in northeastern parts of Luzon’s Sierra Madre mountain ranges, as well as Samar, Surigao and Palawan are also where large logging companies are concentrating their operations. She further says that it is in these areas, as well as in secondary growth forest areas, where about 12 million Philippine indigenous people live and where more than 12,000 species of plants, 204 mammals and 576 birds exist.
Logging has naturally come along with mining in the country’s history of environmental destruction and degradation, Boquiren says. In the former mining areas in Baguio, American miners who established Benguet Corporation cleared all the timber forest to be used for underground mining tunnels. “As early as 1928, Baguio was already barren, forcing loggers which supplied Benguet Corp. and the export market to go to the Mountain Province to continue devastating the forest,” says Boquiren.
From then up to the present, Boquiren says, large-scale foreign mining has continued to be a highly- destructive economic activity in the Philippines.
She warns that with most of the country’s land and water formation now under different forms of mining applications because of the government’s mining revitalization program, “the devastation and crises of the Philippine environment can go a lot worse.”
Nowhere is the threat on the country’s remaining forest more apparent than in Samar, says the speaker. Samar, the third largest Philippine island, has some of the most significant concentration of Philippine biodiversity where lowland old-growth dipterocarp tree species still abound. Boquiren says corporate logging and bauxite mining in the island threatens to decimate the island’s remaining forest.
The Ramos administration created the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) that made island’s 333,000-hectare forest a protected area. The SINP, on the other hand, is part of the Samar Island Biodiversity Project (SIBP), a $12.8-million nature conservation project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Fund, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Philippine government and nongovernment organizations.
In August this year, however, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) lifted a logging moratorium in the province and reinstated the suspended logging permit of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s San Jose Timber Corp. covering over 90,000 hectares of Samar’s forest.
The richness of the country’s natural and biological resources, according to Boquiren, is the Philippines’ and Filipinos’ contribution to “global patrimony.” She says this patrimony landed the Philippines on top of 17 so-called megadiverse countries, notwithstanding that the country has also earned a distinction as “the hottest of hotspots” in terms of threats to the survival of Philippine biodiversity.
Saving the environment has a lot to do with asserting the Filipinos’ birthright to this patrimony, according to Boquiren.
“Our counterpart in the global patrimony, our national patrimony, is what we need to save our environment and that can only be done by our people uniting to defend our people, our land and our environment,” Boquiren says. (Bulatlat.com)