Cordillera forests in peril

CPA urges voters to make env’t a criteria in supporting candidates in May 2016

“Gapu iti makunkuna a panagdur-as, mapukpukaw ti danum, kaykayiw ken mulmula iti aglawlaw mi. Kasta met, saan kami a makaturog iti usto gapu iti mabalin nga epekto ti panagpatadda iti kaykayiw ken bantay tapno maaramid ti maysa a housing project kas uma iti erosion ken slides. (Because of so-called development, we are losing water, trees and other plants in our surrounding. Likewise, we cannot also sleep well because of the possible effects of flattening the mountains such as erosion and slides due to a housing project.)” – Statement ni Manang Flor from Kesbeng, La Trinidad, Benguet

Today, March 21, 2016, we celebrate International Day of Forests and Trees but with the backdrop of seriously alarming state of forests in the Cordillera region. In 2015, government data reveals that the forest cover of the region is 47% and it decreasing by at least 300-500 hectares every year. As a watershed cradle in Northern Luzon, the remaining forest must be protected and sustainable measures must be put in place to increase forest cover in the region.

But what seriously alarms the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) is apparently the lack of urgency and programs from local government units and national government agencies especially the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to protect and increase our forest covers. The case of Mt. Data is an example. In May 2012, Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission stated that at least 71% of Mount Data National Park had been converted to agricultural, residential and commercial use.

Commissioner Alvarez further stated that more than half of the forests in the provinces of Apayao, Kalinga and Mountain Province had been logged over. His statement was further validated by Antonio Manila, technical director for forestry of the DENR-National Capital Region stated that the deforestation rate in Cordillera region had risen to alarming levels resulting in massive erosion and groundwater depletion. Manila further attributed that the disappearing forest cover largely due to conversion to commercial vegetable and other farms, timber poaching, and fires from slash-and-burn farming.

In June 2012, former DENR-CAR’s regional executive director Clarence Baguilat likewise admitted that the Cordillera’s watersheds were in a critical state, severely threatening the region’s food and energy self-sufficiency. He shared that recent studies showed that only 37% of the total land area (or 673,323 hectares) of the region remains forested. As a result, all the major rivers in this ecosystem – the Agno, Chico, Abra, and Magat Rivers – are observed to be drying up. In June 2015, DENR-CAR’s regional technical director for forest management services Augusto Lagon admitted that the threats to the region’s watersheds and forests remain and will continue to be real.

The vanishing forest cover in the Cordillera should also be seen historically. This did not happen overnight. In Benguet alone, corporate mining has denuded forests in Itogon; Baguio, Tuba and Tublay. When they ran out of timber, the mining companies expanded their logging to Bobok in Bokod. In Abra, the Cellophil Resources Company, then owned by Marcos crony Herminio Disini, was granted a Timber and Pulpwood License Agreement, covering 99,565 hectares of pine forests in Abra and Kalinga-Apayao in 1973.

These experiences added with the above mentioned statements are serious and without political will and intervention, the result will be catastrophic. The 12 major and principal Cordillera river systems total drainage area is 5.5 million hectares and groundwater storage of about 150 million cubic meters for irrigation and hydroelectric energy of Northern Luzon while household sector consumes an annual average consumption of 24.77 million cubic meters.

The CPA as a champion for the environment joins the walk for our forests and trees. Since its establishment, CPA continue to join and spearhead campaigns against illegal logging, open-pit mining operations and other destructive projects to the environment. In the grassroots, the CPA in partnership with its local chapters and development institutions in conducting capacity building activities to strengthen and develop sustainable agriculture and environmental practices among our communities.

The protection of our Cordillera forests is all our concern. But the biggest share of obligation lies with local government units and DENR to protect the remaining Cordillera forests. The issue of vegetable farmers expanding gardens into the last remaining forested areas should be seen as a matter of survival. But more than this is the lack of land to till and the drive of liberalized agriculture and commercial temperate vegetables in the country. The government should come up with comprehensive plan and program on sustainable agriculture and to cater to the needs of our farmers.

It is also high time to make the issue of environment as a major criteria in choosing and supporting candidates in this coming election. Let us support candidates with clear environmental programs. On the other hand, we should reject candidates who are pro-mining, illegal logging, and other destructive projects.

Let us walk the talk./Abigail Anongos, Secretary General, CPA


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