The Philippine teak
The Vanishing Philippine teak
By: Errol A. Gatumbato
About an hour boat ride off the coast of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro province, Ilin Island, spanning a little more than 9,000 hectares, is located and one of the only two known locations in the world of the critically endangered Philippine teak. Unlike birds and other forms of fauna, trees are hardly bannered as conservation species because they seem to exist anywhere. Sad to say, trees are usually viewed on their economic importance such that the wanton destruction of our forests has left many tree species in the brink of extinction in the wild, like the Philippine teak, known to science as Tectona philipinensis while local folks called it “Malabayas”.
This dipterocarp species is only known to exist in Ilin and adjacent Ambolong Islands in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro and in Lobo and San Juan in Batangas and nowhere else in the country. With the group of volunteers from the One Million Trees campaign of the De La Salle University in Manila, we visited Ilin Island to see for ourselves this interesting species that has started to capture the attention of the global conservation community. The Philippine teak stands majestically and its firm and strong trunk support swaying branches with broad leaves that are incomparable with the leaves of other species surrounding it. For ordinary folks, this tree may just be an ordinary species in the forest and many would probably view it as an exotic species because its barks and texture look similar to a eucalyptus tree.
The remaining forest in Ilin Island harbors a limited number of Philippine teak. Since the Philippine teak is a hard wood species, it has been the subject of too much exploitation for timber purposes and in fact some used it for charcoal production. Several years back, according to local folks, vast numbers of the Philippine teak have been transported as far as Negros and Panay because this species was also utilized for railways of locomotives used in hauling sugarcane from the field to sugar mills.
Ilin Island has an interesting feature because it is purely comprise of limestone with very thin top soil. Vast of its area is covered with karst vegetation. Immediately adjacent to its coastline is a cliff of limestone wall with certain areas that are impassable. Local folks who are mostly migrants from various areas of the country have settled here due to absence of economic activities in places where they were formerly residing. However, economic activities in the island are quite limited too since residents have to settle in marginal lands for agricultural development. Only limited areas have available freshwater sources. The relatively poor economic situation in Ilin poses a threat to the survival of the remaining population of Philippine teak because some residents continuously used it for timber and charcoal production. A viable livelihood options for local communities need to the considered in Ilin if only to ensure the survival of the Philippine teak that may soon vanish in the area.
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