by TYRONE A. VELEZ
DAVAO CITY – One year after Typhoon Pablo wrecked forests and farms in Davao Region, environment advocates said government has been sugar-coating reports of recovery and reforestation, while logging and mining operations remain rampant in the area.
Panalipan (Defend) spokesperson Juland Suazo found reports from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 11 of near 100-percent success of reforestation “too good to be true.”
The DENR 11 released a report on November that its reforestation program, done through the National Greening Program (NGP) signed by President Aquino’s Executive Order 23, accomplished 99-percent of its target or 16,707 hectares or 8,407,067 seedlings were distributed in Davao Region.
It cited Davao Oriental, one of the hardest hit provinces during Pablo, especially in the town of Baganga where they planted 422,988 seedlings.
But Suazo asked “Is it really happening on the ground? Did it contribute to the increase of forest cover in Pablo-affected areas? Did they really measure the growth rates and survival of transplanted seedlings?
I am certain these questions need to be answered by the said report.”
DENR Regional Director Joselin Marcus Fragada admitted in a press conference that “reports tend to be rosy than the reality. But we monitor our activities through social mobilization through participation of LGUs (local government units) and schools.”
Fragada said the seedlings they distributed are falcatta, rubber and cacao, which he said the agency recommended to the provincial LGUs to help livelihood of farmers.
The director also said they had implemented EO 23 to complement EO 26 which pushes wood producing plants to import wood and contribute to reforesting areas. Fragada said they had signed an agreement with plants based in Davao del Norte to put up P 44-million fund to replant 3,000 hectares.
Suazo, however, pointed out studies by climate change experts showing government’s reforestation efforts have failed.
“Based on the study of Dr. Rodel Lasco and Dr. Florencia Pulhin, government’s reforestation only delivered 30-percent survival rate even though more than US$570 million has been spent on reforestation since 1970s until today,” Suazo said.
“It is more of a failure than a success that the government never learned (from),” he added.
Suazo pointed out that the main obstacle to reforestation is inconsistency in government’s policies on forestry and environment protection.
“Aquino issued EO 20 that bans logging but gives exemptions to commercial loggers and big mining companies to cut thousands of hectares of trees, including the old growth ones,” Suazo pointed out.
Suazo urged the government to “replace the failed forest policy and reforestation program with a genuine and comprehensive one ensures the well-being of the people and environmental sustainability.
“Genuine adaptation happens only when the toiling masses are not anymore vulnerable to extreme weather events due to changing climate, as social conditions of poverty and inequality has been resolved,” he added.
Another environment advocate, Sr. Stella Matutina OSB, who spent years immersed in Davao Oriental before Pablo struck, lamented that commercial logging continues in areas hit by Pablo such as in Baganga and Cateel.
Matutina said, “this is happening because 16 Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) contracts comprising 82,443 hectares haven’t been revoked but allowed to continue until 2036.”
Fragada said they are pushing for corporate social responsibility from mining corporations, citing that they are monitoring the compliance of the law that these companies replant thrice the trees they cut off.
But Matutina remembered one experience in Macambol, Mati where government officials allegedly covered up the community’s vote against a logging company.
“With our experience we know how they help manipulate people in Macambol for example. How they stopped the village consultation and went for the plebiscite when during the votation, the majority voted against logging permit in Macambol, Mati.”
Matutina said DENR must take more responsibility and address the effects of deforestation to prevent further environment damage.
“DENR must be accountable also for all these environment disasters; as there are no more trees or forests to buffer or break the storms,” she said.