Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On the State’s Environmental Priorities

With the current infighting between DENR Secretary Mike Defensor and Senator Jamby Madrigal on the latter’s family involvement in large-scale mining operations in the Visayas and Mindanao, there is great doubt that the government will again be ill-prepared in averting another disaster in the magnitude of that of the landslides in Quezon, Aurora and many other provinces that claimed close to a thousand lives and billions more worth of properties and agricultural products. Worse, calamities like such put a heavy toll on the internally displaced people, without homes and livelihood, stricken by the landslides, if at all, I would dare say – the logging overexploitation. It is cliché to say that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure but one the matter of disaster preparedness by the government, budgetary cuts on forest rangers do not at all lessen the threats confronting our rural folk in the countryside nor do a policy of a total log ban on the entire archipelago. The former would only open the already devastated forest resources to further inexorable logging activities by large-scale commercial logging concessions. The latter would only displace the small community-based loggers in which small-scale logging are the main sources of livelihood of some of our rural and indigenous communities such as the Dumagats. The government is off-tangent then in its resolve to crack down merely on illegal loggers, as a great margin of these unlicensed ones belong to rural communities that rely on logging for subsistence and not for profit alone. The DENR would perhaps be more effective in reviewing the contracts of the commercial logging concessions as they usually are the ones that overstep the bounds of their logging areas and more often than not, they generate the greatest wastage of forest resources vis-à-vis the small-time illegal loggers. There is reason to believe that they are primarily responsible for the disaster in large parts of the mountainous regions in Luzon and its surrounding lowlands. But they are legally guaranteed by the government that earns royalties from these concessions, badly needed at a time budget deficits and fiscal crisis. As large-scale commercial logging ensues, we push the forest threshold further against the wall, threatening the country’s biodiversity, rural communities and rural economy. Expecting another Ormoc or Real, Quezon tragedy is not that far-fetched as it seems, especially when logging’s twin partner – mining, is legitimized for foreign commercial ownership by the country’s High Court. It is good that we prepare for disasters through the NDCC, but it is another matter that the government is complicit in staining the land with another round of logs and bloated bodies.

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