Updated 11:52pm (Manila time) Dec 27,2004 Inquirer News Service
Editor’s Note: Published on page A10 of the December28, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
TWO recent tragedies — the series of fourtyphoons that killed 1,062 people and the death in a fire of Speaker Jose deVenecia’s youngest daughter — have once again focused attention on tworecurring problems. These are deforestation and the inadequacy of firefightingequipment and personnel.
Some people say that deforestation was not theonly factor that caused the landslides and floods that killed hundreds of peoplein Quezon, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Mindoro and Leyte. But certainly deforestationwas one of the major factors, if not the major factor. Deforestation destroyedwatersheds on the mountains and deprived them of the capability to holdrainwater. The result was that the huge volumes of rain brought by the foursuccessive typhoons came thundering down the mountains, killing hundreds anddestroying hundreds of millions of pesos in property and crops.
Logging — both legal and illegal — has steadily cut down the once lushforest cover of the country. The forest cover has decreased by 56 percent in thepostwar period. In the past 50 years, the country has lost one hectare of forestevery minute, leaving only a 21-percent forest cover. To be sure, loggers arenot alone to blame. There are also those who practice kaingin (forestburning and clearing to provide land for farms) and those who cut down trees forfirewood and charcoal-making. But these make up a minimal percentage of thosewho destroy the forest.
The government is virtually helpless in stoppingillegal logging. Only about 4,500 forest rangers watch over 15 million hectaresof forestlands. That is about 300 forest rangers per region. Rep. Juan MiguelZubiri recently said, “Imagine an area the size of Mindanao with only 1,800rangers, and you get the alarming picture.”
In the coming year, the executive and legislative departments will haveto get together and agree on either a total logging ban or a selective one. Atthe same time, a nationwide reforestation program has to be adopted, funded andcontinuously carried out. Perhaps the help of non-government and civicorganizations could be enlisted in the massive effort. The strictest safeguardshave to be adopted to insure that the funds are used only for reforestation andnot frittered away in “administrative costs” and graft and corruption