Moratorium on tree cutting for charcoal production in Negros Occ.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Negros Association of Chief Executives is now proposing for the declaration of a tree cutting moratorium on charcoal production in Negros Occidental. This development came after the January 11 flooding in Bacolod City and northern part of the province, particularly in Talisay, Silay, and Victorias cities, and EB Magalona municipality. The flooding, caused by almost a day of heavy rain, had brought intense damages to agriculture and property, and one was reportedly died. The widespread deforestation in Negros Occidental is being seriously considered as one of the main contributing factors to the said flooding, and there is no doubt about it. Scientific facts will tell us how important the forest in mitigating the impacts of natural disasters, like heavy flooding. The incident was not actually the first time in the province because similar devastating flooding already occurred in the past. The province has barely four percent forest cover left, out of its total land area.
The charcoal production is directly associated with deforestation because of the impression that much of the volume of charcoal used in the province are still sourced from the remaining forest. Somehow such notion is relatively accurate because there are still several cases of charcoal apprehension in Negros Occidental. Last year, I personally witnessed the charcoal production within the classified timberland, while stockpiles of charcoal made from natural growing trees, as claimed by some charcoal traders themselves, are lining along roadsides in southern part of the province. The demand for charcoal is very obvious in Negros Occidental, especially in Bacolod City, which is popularly associated with its delicious and mouth watering chicken barbecue or commonly known as “inasal”. The increasing prices of petroleum may also trigger the further demand for charcoal and fuel wood, particularly in rural areas. However, in remote and poor villages, charcoal and fuel wood are still widely used for cooking. These circumstances are important considerations in making a final decision on what to do with charcoal production in Negros Occidental.
Supposedly, there is no need to declare a tree cutting moratorium for charcoal production if only existing forestry regulations are properly enforced, and measures to protect the remaining forests are pursued vigorously. It should be noted that logging ban is still in effect in Negros Occidental and all forms of gathering, cutting, and collecting of natural growing trees in classified timber or forestlands, either primary or secondary forests, are illegal. This similarly includes gathering and cutting of natural growing trees for purposes of charcoal production. There may be some exemptions, but generally gathering and cutting of trees from natural forests for commercial purposes are prohibited. There are questions therefore why truckloads of charcoal are still ordinary sites in major thoroughfares of the province? Are these charcoal come from legal and legitimate sources? What makes the charcoal legal? Without considering the use of charcoal in relation to the Clean Air Act of the Philippines, the existing forestry guidelines provide two major conditions, which constitute the legality of a charcoal production. The first one is the source of charcoal comes from planted trees in private lands, and secondly, charcoal produced out of planted trees in timberlands covered with land tenure instruments, such as Certificate of Stewardship Contracts, Community Based Forest Management Agreements, and communal forests, to name some. In both instances, transport permits for the delivery of charcoal are required from the community offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The popular modus operandi usually employed by charcoal traders is to secure permits out of a limited private tree plantation, but they will not use such plantation for charcoal production, and instead buy the charcoal produced from the forest by marginalized and poor forestland dwellers. The traders will stock all the volumes of charcoal they bought from upland dwellers and later on deliver these stocks to urban centers. In some occasions, traders are lucky enough in the event that their transport permits are left unchecked by authorities, and they can recycle such permits for another round of charcoal delivery.
The proposal of the Negros Association of Chief Executives is very interesting and it further shows the growing awareness on the importance of our forest, more than the short-term economic benefits derived from it. However, various mechanisms are already in place if we really want to seriously regulate the charcoal production in Negros Occidental. It is important to strengthen the on-site forest protection activities because apprehending illegally-sourced charcoal, while may deter commission of other similar cases, is already a lost cause since natural growing trees were already cut from their very source, which is the forest. It is therefore necessary for all local government units to implement meaningful forest protection initiatives in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
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