BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
On March 3, 2015, the Philippines joined the commemoration of the World Wildlife Day, which was declared during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in December 2013. The secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) is taking the lead in implementing the World Wildlife Day every 3rd day of March. The Philippines is a signatory to this convention, which is intended for the protection of threatened species of the world. This inter-government treaty also aimed to ensuring that the international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species survival in the wild.
The celebration of the World Wildlife Day is very important to the Philippines, because many of our endemic flora and fauna are already included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN – World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment Natural Resources. These species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction. The determination of threatened species is based on its population estimate in the wild and the degrees of threats facing its existence, among others.
Negros Island is of major concern when it comes to threatened faunal species. It has numerous endemic species that are already at the brink of extinction in the wild. For instance, the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus), discovered in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park from a single specimen in 1953, is already considered a lost species. It has never been recorded elsewhere after it was known to exist. The Birdlife International recommends thorough field survey of the Negros fruit dove in MKNP and other sites of Negros and Panay to determine if the species is still extant.
Another crucial species known only to occur in Negros, Panay, and Guimaras is the Rufous-headed hornbill
(Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), also known as Writhed-billed hornbill and Walden’s hornbill, which is suspected to be functionally extinct in the wild in Negros, according to IUCN, since it has never been recorded in the island for more than 10 years. However, in the survey conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. last year, the species was rediscovered in Northern Negros Natural Park. The species remains as critically endangered in terms of its threat category.
The status of the Visayan warty pig (Suss cebifrons) did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high. The population of this species is now limited in Negros, Panay, and possibly in Ticao Island. It is already extinct in its former range in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate. The late William Oliver, a British biologist who devoted more than two decades of his life in conserving the Philippines’ endemic wildlife, described the Visayan warty pig as the most threatened species of pig in the whole world.
The Negros Naked-backed fruit bat or Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat (Dobsonia chapmani) was formerly declared extinct because it has never been recorded since 1964. This species was formerly known to occur only in Negros until it was discovered in Cebu in 2001 and was later on rediscovered in southern Negros Occidental in 2003. The species remains classified as critically endangered because its survival is still bleak, especially since the lowland forests in Negros, where this fruit bat is known to occur, are now very limited.
Several other endemic species found in Negros are already susceptible to extinction, because their population in the wild keeps on decreasing through the years, and they are not yet fully secured in the remaining habitats where they are currently surviving. The Negros bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba keayi), a lowland specialist bird, is another declared critically endangered species of Negros. It was earlier thought to be found only in Negros until its discovery in Panay in 1997. The survival of the Negros bleeding-heart requires the protection of the remaining lowland forests in Negros and Panay, and the rehabilitation of denuded areas to ensure that this colourful bird shall remain in the wild. Both Negros and Panay have already lost much of their lowland forests. Another contributing factor to the declining population of the Negros bleeding-heart is hunting, especially so that this particular bird is a ground-dwelling species. It is being hunted for food and as household pet.
The IUCN and the DENR have further declared numerous endemic species found in Negros as endangered species, which is the second highest level of threat assigned to a particular species that is not critically endangered but its survival in the wild is unlikely if the causal factors continue to exist. One of this species is the charismatic and beautiful Visayan spotter deer (Rusa alfredi), or Philippines spotted deer, that is only surviving in Negros and Panay, since it is already extinct in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate where the species was known to exist before. Massive hunting and habitat destruction are the two major causes why the Visayan spotted deer remains threatened to date.
Aside from critically endangered Negros naked-back fruit bat, another fruit bat found in Negros has also been declared as endangered species. The Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene rabori), that can be found in Cebu and Sibuyan Island, too, is suspected to have less than 2,500 mature individuals in the wild, and threats to its existence, particularly deforestation and hunting, are still prevalent.
It is also interesting to note that Negros and Panay shared another species that could not be found elsewhere and it is a species of frog called the Negros forest frog. Although the population of this species in Panay has never been assessed in recent times, the Negros forest frog has been classified as endangered species, because threat to its survival is also high. The species has been known to occur in MKNP and in the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental.
Another kind of hornbill has been included in the list of threatened species, because its population in the wild is similarly declining. The Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini) is a Philippine endemic species that is known to occur in Negros, Panay, Guimaras, Masbate, and Ticao. In the 19th century, the Visayan tarictic hornbill has been reported to be widespread and common in areas where they have been recorded.
The Negros striped-babbler (Stachyris nigrorum), a species known to exist only in Mounts Talinis and Kanlaon in Negros, is another threatened species classified as endangered, although there was another report of its sighting in Mantikil, Siaton town in Negros Oriental. Just like other species of birds, the Negros striped-babbler requires immediate protection on its remaining natural habitats.
These are only some of the important species that may soon be declared extinct, once threats to their existence, especially deforestation and hunting, shall not be totally curtailed. It is therefore very important that efforts on habitat protection and restoration shall be further strengthened in Negros and elsewhere where these species are known to survive. EAG.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
After months of higher temperature last summer, we are now bracing, not only for the wet season, but for stormy weather, too. Very recently, typhoons were coming one after the other, affecting several regions of the country. Following storm signals Glenda and Henry, came Inday, and another one is coming. Weather forecasts claim that we are expecting three to four typhoons this August. It seems the description of “Living Dangerously on Earth” is no longer a farfetched scenario. It is already a reality that we have to contend with at present times. It may sounds alarming, but the thousands of death and billions of pesos in damages to properties in recent years, brought on by very strong typhoons in the Philippines, are very serious and alarming. In fact, the devastation wrought by super typhoon Yolanda last year is still very much visible today, because rehabilitation measures are still on going, to date.
We have been warned that extreme weather conditions are new normal of our times. Natural hazards, like typhoons, tsunamis and storm surges, are getting stronger, due to the deteriorating capacity of our natural ecosystems to withstand the changes occurring in our environment. Some damages we inflicted on Earth are already irreversible and beyond repair, such as the destruction of the ozone layer. Our ecosystems, like the forest, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs, among others, are already in bad state such that their ability to assist in mitigating the impacts of natural hazards and risks had similarly deteriorated.
The present scenario is very disadvantages to the Philippines due to our geographic location. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters has consistently ranked the Philippines in the top five most disaster-hit countries of the world. Our country lies in one of the most hazardous portions of the Earth. It is situated in an area where tropical cyclones are most active, and this is in the western rim of the Pacific Ocean.
The feature of the country, composing of numerous island ecosystems, makes many of our areas open to coast and vulnerable to wind, rain, tsunami and storm surges. The landmass of the Philippines is basically mountainous in nature, with steep slopes that are highly towering in lowlands and coastal areas. This condition further aggravates the risk of flooding and landslides. Our nation also lies in the so-called Ring of Fire, which makes us even more susceptible to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
While disaster risk and reduction management becomes one of the priority agenda of the government, it is very important that it should be associated with strong measures and approaches on environmental protection and natural resources conservation. For instance, how can we improve our disaster preparedness when we also allow the alteration of our natural ecosystems with mining and other resource extractive industries?
There is also a question on how serious is the government in protecting the remaining natural forests, as reports of forest destruction continue to surface. On the other hand, the National Greening Program, which is being considered as a flagship environment project of the current administration, has received numerous criticisms, because some of its reforestation initiatives have been inappropriately established. The solid waste management in many urban areas is still very poor. It should be noted that solid waste has been identified as one of the major causes of flooding in urban centers, especially in Metro Manila.
The climatic changes we experience today are not just a local reality, but also a global phenomenon. However, in our little own ways, as an individual, as a community, and as a nation, we can do something to mitigate and even just minimize the negative impacts of this so called climate change that is threatening our very existence.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
A few days ago, I received a letter from Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VI. The letter was in reaction to my article about the death of Mat Sarcino, personnel of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, who was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons at the MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, on 29 October. The shooting incident happened after MKNP personnel apprehended volumes of illegally-sourced forest products. Cecil Cañada, MKNP Protected Area Superintendent, said the incident was intended to intimidate and harass them from pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Reports claim that illegal forest activities are getting rampant, including transporting of charcoal with no valid permit and authority. A truckload of charcoal seized by MKNP forest rangers is allegedly owned by a policeman.
In his letter, Siapno said the DENR is closely coordinating with concerned agencies to address the issue in MKNP. She added that the Philippine National Police and the provincial government of Negros Occidental are already taking actions to ensure that the killing of Sarcino shall be investigated and suspects are prosecuted. The incident in MKNP was not the first shooting involving forest rangers in Negros Occidental. Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Andre Untal, also informed me that, earlier this year, Oscar Magbunua, a forest ranger of Victoria City, was shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The case was also associated with forest protection being initiated in the Northern Negros Natural Park. Magbanua’s case remains unsolved, Untal claimed.
It is assuring that the DENR and other concerned agencies are taking actions on these reported killings, but I hope these should be done by fastest means, especially so that the lives of forest rangers are still at risk. If the suspected killers of Sarcino and Magbanua remain free, they may continue to harass those who will prevent their illegal forest operations. It would also mean the continuing destruction of the remaining forest since the forest rangers may no longer implement forest protection measures as they are further endangering their lives. It is quite unfortunate that persons working for the protection of threatened species and habitats are becoming endangered, too. It is, therefore, rightly to say now that Negros Occidental is home of threatened endemic species, habitats and forest rangers. While the two killings that occurred in the province might be isolated cases, these are no joke since lives were lost. These incidents showed that working for environmental protection is a dangerous kind of job.
Several cases of harassments, intimidations and killings involving persons who were opposed projects that may cause ecological damages have been documented in various parts of the Philippines, particularly related to illegal logging. Usually, the victims are government employees and members of nongovernment organizations involved in environmental protection and natural resources conservation. The incumbent Regional Executive Director of DENR Region VI is a very straight forward person, and I am confident that she will take every effort to solve the case of Sarcino. Given her background in human resources development at the DENR, I am also aware that she is passionate and committed to the safety and welfare of her personnel. I used to work before with RED Siapno when she was assigned as the Regional Technical Director, also in Region VI, and I also witnessed how she effectively delivered concrete results.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
In what could be a welcoming development in Negros Occidental is the report of the Provincial Environment and Management Office claiming that the forest cover of the province is already increasing. Although the report claims there is a need for actual ground validation, it states that Negros Occidental’s forest cover has increased from 4.7% (37,780 has) in 1987 to 9.4% (74,870.70 has) in 2011. For 24 years, the increased forest cover was estimated at 37,090.70 hectares. This is still relatively low compared with areas requiring immediate rehabilitation, but somehow a very good and positive indicator of forest renewal.
Negros Occidental is one the provinces in the Philippines that has been greatly affected with massive deforestation. Out of the 792,607 hectares total land area of the province, roughly 31.82% or 252,221.38 hectares is classified as timberland or forestland, while the remaining 68.18% or 540,385.63 hectares is considered as alienable and disposable (A&D) land. However, it is unfortunate that much of the Negros Occidental’s timberlands are already converted into other land uses, particularly agriculture, settlement and even industrial sites. The remaining forest cover in the province can only be found in Northern Negros and Mount Kanla-on Natural Parks and some remaining forests patches in southern Negros Occidental.
The deforestation history in the province is closely associated with commercial and large scale logging, which was considered as one of the lucrative business industries in the past, not only in Negros Occidental but in the entire country, too. Available records show that during 1890, basically the entire province was heavily forested until such time that logging companies started operating in different areas of Negros Occidental. One of the biggest logging companies in the world, the Insular Lumber Corporation, locally known as ILCO, started its operations in the northern part of the province in the early 1900s and later on transferred in the south. It was estimated that about 40,000 hectares of natural forest was cleared in 1949 and massive deforestation continued until in 70’s to 80’s. Logging did not even spare Mount Kanla-on and Northern Negros Forest although they were long declared as reserves.
The conversion of timberlands into other land uses was made easier because of the geophysical state of Negros Occidental. Much of the province’s land area is known as lowland with gentle and moderate slopes. As such, a large track of Negros Occidental’s timberland is now permanently use for agricultural development. Since forestland could not be alienated, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has crafted instruments allowing certain uses of timberlands through various stewardship contracts. However, some timberlands in the province are also open access and are still subject to other uses.
The statistics released by the PEMO did not specify the type of forest cover that has increased, but even so, this is an interesting development. I would like to assume that part of that is the regenerated logged over or the so called natural regeneration areas. This is particularly true in certain sites in NNNP and MKNP, which through time the forest has naturally regenerated because of protection measures that were implemented. Earlier, the PEMO also reported that the NNNP forest cover has increased. I would like to believe, too, that the reforestation efforts may have contributed in the increasing forest cover of Negros Occidental, because we have seen a lot of these initiatives from both government and non-government institutions in recent times. However, it is also possible that the reported additional forest in the province includes industrial tree plantations, which are for production purposes.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Last April 22, the whole world commemorated the Earth Day, now on its 42nd year following its declaration by the United Nations. Numerous activities in different parts of globe were initiated by environmental organizations to remind us of the present state of the Earth and what we can do, as an individual or group, to save it from further deterioration. Looking into the Earth’s prevailing condition, one may think that there is no compelling reason to celebrate, in as much that we are facing enormous environmental issues and concerns today. Some damages we inflicted to Mother Nature are already irreversible and beyond repair.
We need not to be experts to determine what environmental problems we face these days. Just try to imagine the extreme weather we are experiencing during this summer with the increasing temperature. Last Saturday, the government’s weather bureau reported the highest temperature recorded in Metro Manila at 35.9 degrees Celsius, while a much higher temperature was noted in some parts of northern Luzon. On the contrary, scattered rainshowers are occurring in several regions of the country, particularly in Visayas and Mindanao.
With the kind of weather condition we have, one can immediately relate to what is now a popular phenomenon known as global warming, a reality that we need to confront squarely because of its devastating consequences, that include tremendous changes in the normal climatic pattern of the world. It is by this account that we are now experiencing erratic weather conditions. According to experts, global warming is primarily attributed to the destruction of the ozone layer that shields the Earth from the direct heat of the Sun. Such destruction is the result of the voluminous accumulation of green house gases, such as carbon and methane, in the atmosphere. The Earth’s natural mechanisms are no longer capable of absorbing these emissions such that all these green house gases stay in the atmosphere and form a permanent layer.
The natural forest supposedly serves as a controlling agent since it absorbs carbon and emits oxygen. Unfortunately, the natural forest of the world is getting limited due to massive deforestation. In the Philippines, for instance, the remaining forest cover is barely seven million hectares out of the over 30 million hectares land area. We lost almost 80% of our natural forest and most of the remaining forests are either open or secondary growth and/or plantation forests. Only less than a million hectare of closed canopy natural forest remains in different parts of the Philippines. The Visayas region is heavily affected with deforestation. It seems the cooling power of the remaining forest could no longer cope with the increasing temperature these days.
The changing climatic condition brings us to two contrasting situations – either prolonged dry and warm period, or much longer rainy and wet season. It is also alarming to note that during the recent past, we observed the intensification of typhoons and the volume of rainwater is increasing. As such, we witnessed numerous disasters and calamities, such as heavy flooding and landslides.
The other impact of this global warming is the reduction of our freshwater supplies. With no rains coming, the freshwater stocks in various reservoirs are likewise declining, while some freshwater bodies, particularly river systems, may tend to dry up, because of the insufficiency of water supplies from our watersheds that has been likewise affected with deforestation. With this situation, even our food production will be affected since farming system that relies on rainwater may no longer be productive and the irrigated farming areas will have no sufficient water supplies.
The list of environmental challenges in our midst may never ends, but with our collective efforts and resolve to protect what has been left in our natural environment and restore what has been lost, we can make a difference. And so, let every day be a celebration of the Earth.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The environmental condition of Negros Occidental is already in critical state with the deterioration of its numerous ecosystems. The natural forest of the province is hardly four percent of its total land area, and its capacity to provide ecological services is already threatened. The remaining forests of Negros Occidental are primarily confined in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, Northern Negros Natural Park, and some forest patches in the southern part of the province. These minimal forests are not yet fully secured because they are still threatened with destruction, especially in southern Negros Occidental where there are several mining applications and operations. Mining is a key environmental concern not only in Negros Occidental but the entire country, because most mining sites are similarly situated in the remaining forested areas. Mining operations entail forest clearing, landscape alteration, and pollution. Washouts from mining operations also find their way into river systems and ultimately into coastal and marine ecosystems. Mining activities also affect wildlife and their habitats. Based on scientific studies, the forests in southern part of the province serve as critical habitats of important wildlife species, many of which are already threatened with extinction in the wild. The presence of threatened species clearly indicates the bad and worsening state of the environment.
Adding pressures to the already deteriorating ecological situation of Negros Occidental are the proposed coal-fired power plant and the offshore magnetite sand mining. Coal is known as a dirty source of energy and it contributes carbon emission in the atmosphere, not to mention that it is likewise hazardous to human health. Coal-fired power plant is being entertained because of the reported power shortage in Negros Occidental but ultimately it will likely result to a more serious environmental problem. The proposed offshore magnetite sand mining in the different parts of the province is really a disturbing development because it will create environmental havoc. Very recently, a scoping was held for the environmental impact assessment of the proposed magnetite sand mining covering more than 20,000 hectares offshore areas in Silay City and EB Magalona. The reported proponent of this offshore mining is the Massart Mineral Resources, Inc. based in Ermita in Manila City.
This proposed mining operation will surely affect the coastal and marine ecosystems, because it involves dredging and barging and construction of port facilities, among others. Just like the forest, the coastal and marine ecosystems in Negros Occidental are already in terrible state with limited mangrove forest left and the coral reefs are fragmented and in poor condition. The proposed offshore mining may possible cover mangrove sites, particularly in Barangay Balaring in Silay where mangroves are still available. The fact that this mining operation will entail dredging of minerals will loosen and destabilize the sand. Moreover, this mining claim will dislocate the economy of fishing communities because the proposed area of operation is basically within the municipal waters, which are intended as fishing grounds of municipal fisher folks.
While it is true that these proposed environmentally critical projects may offer economic opportunities, it is very important that we shall also consider their social and environmental costs. Unfortunately, the environmental impact assessment in the Philippines does not provide detailed cost and benefit analysis and valuation, to determine if these proposed projects are indeed beneficial in the long-term. The economic benefits derived from these projects may not be enough to compensate environmental damages and far below the ecological services provided by natural ecosystems. If all these projects will finally be approved, Negros Occidental will become highly industrialized but how long the critical ecosystems of the province can withstand with these?
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources intends to plant 1.5 billion trees covering at least 1.5 million hectares all throughout the country in the next six years beginning this 2011, a target which is quite ambitious given the limited financial resources poured by the national government on forest rehabilitation related measures. Moreover, the DENR has yet to show more concrete and success stories in as much that several foreign assisted reforestation initiatives, like the Asian Development Bank funded contract reforestation project, did not prosper very well. But just the same, let us give benefit of the doubt to this pronouncement contained in recently issued Memorandum Circular 2011-01 by Acting DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. DENR MC 2011-01 is the implementing guideline of the national greening program, which was launched by virtue of Executive Order 26 approved by President Benigno S. Aquino III. The DENR is tasked to lead the program implementation that also seeks to involve other government institutions and non-government organizations in massive greening activities, particularly in highly deforested areas in the different regions of the Philippines. “The guidelines were crafted in such manner as to ensure that all greening activities, whether by the government, local government units or by the private sector, will contribute to the objectives of the program, like poverty reduction, food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation”, Paje disclosed in a press release.
The target of the DENR will cover about 100,000 hectares this year and it will be increased to 250,000 by 2012 until the targeted reforestation of 1.5 million hectares of the national greening program shall be achieved during the term of President Aquino. According to Paje, the reforestation target for this year will include 60,000 hectares within the community-managed forestlands, 20,000 hectares in protected areas, and another 20,000 in ancestral domains. Other areas specified in EO 26, such as civil and military reservations, urban areas identified by local governments, river and stream banks, and abandoned mining sites, shall similarly be placed under the national greening program. In implementing the greening program, not only tree species but also fruit-bearing trees shall be planted in consonance with the government’s thrust for food security. Dipterocarp and other premium and indigenous species shall be used as planting materials. However, exotic species, such as mahogany, gmelina, bagras, acacia and rubber, may also be planted. Although MC 2011-01 did not specifically provides the objective of exotic tree species plantation, is it probably intended for production purposes. Bamboos and mangrove species shall also be tapped as reforestation crops, particularly in river banks and coastal areas, to control soil erosion and as buffer against wave action.
While this recent development seems very encouraging, it is quite puzzling how this shall actually be implemented because the DENR has inadequate financial and human resources to carry out this massive greening program. If the DENR shall allocate a conservative of Php 10,000 for every hectare, it needs some Php 15 billion in the next six years to implement the 1.5 million hectares greening program or roughly Php 2.5 billion a year. This is a very conservative estimate because in the past the DENR has even allocated about Php 15,000 to Php 20,000 for every hectare of a reforestation project. To note that the 2011 budget of DENR is only about Php 9 billion, the greening program target seems a challenging task to implement unless additional funding support shall be provided. As a strategy, the DENR may involve private and non-government sectors to participate in the national greening program and seek funding assistance from international development institutions. However, a meaningful reforestation plan should be crafted carefully with implementation strategies that are appropriate and effective in areas identified for reforestation purposes. Sustainability mechanisms are necessary because many reforestation projects failed, especially so if local communities are not directly involved.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
After more than two years of processing, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has finally approved the reintroduction of the Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi), also known as the Philippine spotted deer, in one of the Visayan Islands. DENR Acting Secretary Ramon Paje recently issued a memorandum order to his Regional Executive Director in Region VI for the implementation of the spotted deer reintroduction, which will be the first of its kind. So far, no formal and scientifically backed reintroduction of the spotted deer has ever been made in the Philippines. The spotted deer is one of the most important global species and is already declared as critically endangered by both the DENR and the IUCN-World Conservation Union. This species is endemic only in West Visayas Faunal Region in the central Philippines, where it formerly occurred in Negros, Cebu, Guimaras, Panay, Masbate, and Ticao.
With the unprecedented habitat destruction and massive hunting in the West Visayas region, the spotted deer is now surviving in the last few remaining native forest fragments in Panay and Negros islands. It is believed that a limited number of spotted deer still exists in the wild, the main reason why it is listed in the highest category of threatened species. According to wildlife biologist William Oliver, founding member of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc, the perilous conservation status of the spotted deer was illuminated with the findings of field surveys in the mid 1980’s that the species has already been extirpated over at least 95% of its former range, and was unlikely to survive unless urgent actions are implemented to address the threats to this species.
The survey result triggered the development and eventual implementation of the Philippines Spotted Deer Conservation Programme, under the auspices of a formal memorandum of agreement between the government of the Philippines, through the DENR, and the Mulhouse Zoo in France. By the aegis of the said MOA, the first ever conservation breeding of spotted deer was launched in Negros and Panay in April 1990, along with other diverse and varied measures, such as conservation awareness and education and field researches. The Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation in Bacolod City, the Silliman University in Dumaguete City and the West Visayas State University in Iloilo became the hosts of this conservation initiative in the Philippines.
Through the years, the spotted deer breeding successfully produced a good number of this species and they are now awaiting reintroduction in the so-called vacant habitats. It should be noted that reintroduction is being done in areas where the species formerly occurred but already extinct at present times. The main purpose of this strategy is to repopulate the vacant habitats of species that are once available in the area. Restocking is the technical term used in releasing captive-bred species in sites where the species are still occurring. However, restocking is not necessary if only current habitats are protected from destructive activities because existing species in those areas will populate by themselves without human intervention.
One of the issues in species reintroduction is the availability of suited and appropriate sites. Many vacant habitats are already converted into other land uses, particularly agriculture and settlement. Some areas are not also safe for the species because of the continuing habitat destruction and wildlife hunting. It is therefore necessary that suitability assessment shall be conducted to determine the appropriateness of the site for reintroduction, including social and cultural preparations.
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.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
True to his words, President Benigno S. Aquino III issued last week Executive Order No. 23, relative to logging issues in the Philippines. I believe EO 23 is one of the rightful recognitions on the profound impacts of the changing climatic conditions and the importance of ecological services and functions offered by the forest ecosystems, more than the short-term economic benefits from the massive exploitation of forest resources. The critical condition of the Philippines’ forests, which unfortunately have been recently described by Conservation International as the world’s 4th most threatened forests, requires concrete and bold steps, although I hope it is not yet too late for the country.
I am particularly emphasizing that EO 23 refers to logging-related concerns because I found inconsistencies and pitfalls on how it was actually crafted in relation to its main intent of imposing a logging ban throughout the nation. The Executive Order offers some promising provisions, but there are disturbing circumstances and questionable sections associated with this supposedly a milestone policy declaration of the Aquino administration.
Last February 3, I browsed the website of the Official Gazette and immediately noticed the posted title of EO 23 was “Declaring a Moratorium on the Cutting and Harvesting of Trees in National and Residual Forests and Creating Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force”. When I further scrutinized the EO, I discovered several sentences stating that cutting and harvesting of trees in “national and residual forests” are indeed prohibited. I wondered then why the term “national” was used when referring to a forest. With the advent of social media, I posted my observation as a status in my Facebook account with a link to the Official Gazette’s website. The following day, Rina Bernabe of Conservation International called my attention, pointing out that the website of the Official Gazette has already corrected all the “national forest” to “natural forest” in EO 23. Such development makes me speculate on what really the exact words provided in the signed EO.
For some of us the term may not be that important at all, but for an executive order, I think, every term used is very relevant because it will be subjected with numerous interpretations, particularly when it comes to technical matters. For more than two decades of my involvement in environment and natural resources management, both in government and non-government institutions, I am not aware that there is a classified “national forest” in the Philippines, although in some other countries it is used to describe a forest under the management of a national government. Obviously, with the corrections made in the Official Gazette’s website, the intention of EO 23 is to impose a logging moratorium in “natural and residual forests”, which refer to forests that have evolved naturally. I could only wish the EO 23 signed by the President was accurately worded, otherwise, there is no point of issuing a regulation for a non-existing matter, like “national forest”. Much more, I would like to be optimistic that it was just an encoding error on the part of responsible personnel in the Official Gazette because legal questions may come out against the said EO.
The second important issue in EO 23 I found ironical is in Section 2.2 that states, “The DENR is likewise prohibited from issuing/renewing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests nationwide, except for clearing of road right of way by the DPWH, site preparation for tree plantations, silvicultural treatment and similar activities, provided that all logs derived from the said cutting permits shall be turned over to the DENR for proper disposal”. The exemption on tree cutting and harvesting in natural and residual forests for road clearing and construction is very alarming because there are in fact existing issues of forest destruction due to road projects of government and some private corporations. It is just like saying the government is allowing itself to wipe out natural forests for purposes of road development while imposing a total log ban.
I don’t find it logical, too, that permits for tree cutting maybe issued for site preparation of the so called “tree plantation”. Do we need to cut natural-growing trees to plant more trees? I am not sure what the intention of this provision is, but I am apprehensive that it will be used particularly for industrial tree plantation purposes. Most of the Timber License Agreements before are now converted into Industrial Forest Management Agreements. The IFMA is a production sharing agreement between the DENR and qualified applicants, usually wood producers, granting the latter with exclusive right to develop, manage, protect, and utilize a specified forestland primarily intended for industrial tree plantation.
I am afraid the exemption on cutting naturally-growing trees provided by EO 23 shall be invoked by IFMA holders for their industrial tree plantation, which in a way, would become another logging in a different form. In the same manner, other forestland tenure instruments, such as Socialized Forest Management Agreements and even Community Based Forest Management Agreements, may take the opportunity of the EO’s exemption in requesting permits with the DENR in cutting naturally-growing trees for purposes of tree plantation. These exemptions defeat the very objective and essence of Executive Order 23 to impose a total log ban in the Philippines.
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