Philippines’ forest, the world’s 4th most threatened forest
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Conservation International declared recently the forest of the Philippines as the world’s 4th most threatened forest. This pronouncement serves as another grim reminder on the sad ecological state of our country. Unlike the phenomenal suicide case of former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Angelo Reyes, that captured the whole country’s attention, the CI announcement did not bother many of us in spite its relevance, since it involves our very own ecological security as a nation. Reyes, who was also the former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, took his own life last week amidst allegations of his involvement in the anomalous transactions in the AFP.
While emotions and grief are pouring on the so called “honorable suicide” of Reyes, as described by some of his former colleagues at the AFP, our remaining forest awaits us not to weep and mourn, but to take drastic and immediate actions in arresting its additional degradation, just like the need to protect the furthering erosion of the integrity of the “People Power” we introduced globally 25 years ago. According to CI, the Philippines had lost almost 93% of its original forest, and I hope it is not the same percentage of Filipinos who started to be disillusioned on what is currently happening in our society.
Our remaining forest, in addition as a source of timber, food and, other forest resources, is also an important habitat to diverse and exceptionally rich flora and fauna many of which are found nowhere else in this Earth. Scientific facts claim that the Philippines has at least 169 species of birds, 115 land mammals, 214 reptiles and amphibians, and a good number of flora that are totally classified as endemic in this country. Some species are even restricted only to a particular island, like the Negros fruit dove in Negros, the Cebu Cinnamon tree and Cebu flowerpecker in Cebu and the Tamaraw in Mindoro, to name a few. The figures on endemic species are relatively astonishing given the relatively smaller size of the Philippines compared with other countries. Much of these species are forest dependents and their survival entirely depends on how we protect and rehabilitate the already threatened forest habitats. Many of our endemic species are already in the verge of extinction in the wild.
The forest is also an ecosystem that provides numerous ecological services and functions. The intact and extensive forests help
mitigate the impacts of natural disasters brought by heavy rains, like flooding, landslides, soil erosion, sedimentation, and siltation, among others. The forest further plays a crucial role in maintaining water cycles, including its vital importance in mitigating the impacts of the changing climatic conditions. The deterioration of the forest is viewed as one significant contributing factor in what is popularly known now as the climate change phenomenon. The forest is also important in the promotion of nature-based tourism. In response to the critical state of our forest, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III issued early this month a logging moratorium in the natural and residual forests all throughout the country, as provided in Executive Order No. 23. The EO prohibits the DENR in issuing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests and it created the anti-logging task force.
Although EO 23 is viewed as a concrete gesture and recognition on the need to protect the remaining forest, I have reservations on the exemptions it provides for tree cutting in natural and residual forests for purposes of road construction and site preparation in establishing tree plantation. These exemptions may be used by loggers to request a permit from DENR for industrial tree plantation. As we commemorate the International Year of the Forest this 2011, as declared by the United Nations, it is very necessary that we shall emphasize the relevance of our forest ecosystem as a life-support system, more than the short-term economic benefits derived from it. The forests are known as renewable resources, but the way the Philippines has exploited the forest resources, either through legal or illegal means, was much beyond the capacity of the forest ecosystem to naturally regenerate, while forest restorations are yet to be maximized. We need to look and implement meaningful ways and means to effectively protect and rehabilitate our forests, which are still under pressures from numerous anthropogenic disturbances, in the same way that we seek the truth behind the demise of Reyes.
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