Thursday, February 7, 2008

Illegal logging continues to hurt environment

Illegal logging activities in the Sierra Madre mountains are again taking place despite the government's ban on commercial cutting of trees on areas that were identified to have suffered from tremendous rate of forest destructions.

And the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), under the tutelage of several secretaries over the years, has introduced reform measures that would eventually put a stop these illegal activities. However, up to now the same problems have recurred despite repeated complaints from concerned citizens and cause-oriented groups who may have experienced the disastrous impacts of illegal logging to the environment.

And the culprits are those individuals who only think of making hefty sums of money that could be raised from the illegal cutting of trees without any regard to its effects on their surroundings. Or it could possibly be that some individuals are being exploited by businessmen or politicians to engage in this illegal activity for their personal interests.

Try to have an aerial view of how the Sierra Madre mountains look at this point in time, and surely you will be greatly disappointed to see that most parts of the area had been reduced to mere patches of brown surface, a proof that forests are non-existent anymore. And it would take many years before any forest growth can be seen again in that part of the Philippines.

Surprisingly, many local residents in the surrounding areas have often complained of massive flooding during the rainy season, a calamity that could be traced to human mistakes and greed for profits at the expense of the environment. When this type of disaster occurs, the extent of damage is unquantifiable. Worse is that those displaced population have become another burden to the local government in terms of resources.

Over the years, DENR officials tasked to protect the forests and oversee the programs related to forest conservation are themselves strained due to limited resources and personnel. To cover an area as wide as Sierra Madre mountains would need at least a large number of forest guards to patrol the said forests. Ill-equipped, the limited number of forest guards could only do as much, believing that the salaries and benefits they get from the government are not commensurate to their efforts. So, we can't blame if some of them are in cahoots with illegal loggers who give them more than what they earn for the whole month of dangerous work.

What is painful is that even insurgents are already taking advantage of the government's inability to patrol the copious forests by engaging themselves in illegal logging to raise funds for use in the purchase of arms and ammunitions to fight against the government forces.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Natural Resources and Environment Secretary Joselito Atienza told media that the government is aware of these problems now affecting the country's forests, particularly that in the Sierra Madre mountains in Luzon. He even admitted that some corrupt DENR personnel are in cahoots with illegal loggers, thus contributing to the massive destruction of forests in the country. In response to this dilemma, he has committed to put in place measures that would transform the DENR into a corrupt-free and a transparent government agency.

What the good secretary is saying needs to be tested, knowing that the DENR is now floating in the ocean that is infested by sharks. One can attest to this by just visiting the parking area of the DENR in Visayas Avenue. Surely, you will be surprised to see that many of the employees are sporting nice-looking vehicles whose prices may be beyond what they earn for a year of hard toils.

In the 1998 data from the Forest Management Bureau showed that the Philippines has a total land area of 30 million ha, of which about 50% are currently classified as forestlands. Before World War II, the country had a total of around 17 million ha of forest cover. However, indiscriminate logging, slash and burn cultivation, and a combination of socio-economic and political factors, contributed to the diminution of the country’s forest cover to the present 5.39 million hectares.

"Despite the limited remaining forest cover at present, the forestry sector remains the centerpiece of the country’s natural resource base and ecosystems, and the important pillar supporting its development efforts," a forestry paper reported recently.

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