SAMAR: IT'S ABOUT TIME

Tacloban, Leyte, June 2, 2003 -- While waiting for my flight (to Manila) at 
the Daniel Romualdez Airport in Tacloban, someone from the DENR handed me a 
brochure on the Samar Island Biodiversity Project. I went through it 
courteously and tucked it safely in one of the pages of Marquez’s 100 Years 
of Solitude that was on my third re-reading. Like Woodward and Maya 
Angelou, Gabriel Garcia. Marquez is a constant travel companion anywhere I 
go. His stories, like the poetry of Maya Angelou and the brilliant 
practical political insights of Woodward, allow me to experience excitement 
and joy at their most sublime.

I was born a Waray and a Noranian (a rabid Nora Aunor fan). I am fiercely 
proud of my small town of Borongan, the capital of the Eastern part of the 
island  where the nastiest storms enter the archipelago. When you come from 
my place, no storm is big enough to wash away your dreams. This is the 
reason why we have a better appreciation of bright mornings and starry 
nights after having lived through abusive tropical depressions. I am proud 
to be Waray and proud to be poor. Because of who I am and who I am not, I 
borrowed from the universe a lot of grace and tenacity to dream on. There 
was no other way even if it was the harder path.

To this day, Borongan or the Eastern part of Samar has no airport. Although 
there is an unfinished one in Borongan, stories have it that it is 
substandard. After testing the runway, experts found it unsafe and horribly 
constructed. Authorities should look into this. Borongan is a town waiting 
to progress. An airport would certainly create business opportunities for 
the province. What happened to this airport? Who is responsible for this 
malfeasance? Who is accountable? These are but few unanswered questions 
about this airport. To this day, we go to Tacloban to take our flight to 
Cebu or Manila.

Thank God, today the roads are better! I said thank God because this is 
long overdue, and politicians have nothing to do with this. This is God’s 
kindness. The island has been deprived of good roads for generations while 
it has been blessed with some of the most corrupt politicians.

The Warays have endured courageously both the wrath of killer storms and 
the greed of imbecile politicians. (You can count in one hand outstanding 
politicians in this island). We’re hoping that one day the Waray’s 
much-vaunted tapang will be put to good use in choosing its leaders. Lord, 
bless us!

Anyway, back to the brochure. Here’s a summary of the things that makes 
Samar a national treasure:

1. Diverse habitats, mostly forests, forests over limestone, forests over 
ultra basic rocks, lowlands evergreen rainforests, mangrove forests, caves 
and rivers.

2. One of the 18 Centers of Plant Biodiversity in the country. A total of 
2,400 species of flowering plants including 406 endemic species, 40 species 
of which are found only in the island.

3. One of nine Endemic Birds Areas in the Philippines (according to 
Birdlife International). 197 bird species have been recorded, including 50 
endemics.

4. Thirty-nine species of mammals, 25 reptiles and 12 amphibians recorded 
in the island.

5. One of the 200 eco-regions in the world considered vital in preserving 
the Earth’s biodiversity (according to the World Wildlife Fund).

The island of Samar is the third largest island in the Philippines with an 
area of 1.34 million hectares. It has the largest unfragmented area of 
lowland rainforests, 360,000 hectares. This includes 120,000 hectares of 
primary forests.

In 1989, Samareños campaigned to stop commercial logging in the island. The 
DENR officially declared a ban on all commercial logging operations in the 
same year.

In 1996, President Fidel V. Ramos declared the remaining forests as the 
Samar Island Forest Reserve (SIFR) in response to the clamor of Samareños 
to preserve the remaining forests.

Still, according to the Samar Island Biodiversity Project brochure, Samar 
Island belongs to one of the poorest regions in the Philippines. Of the 72 
municipalities in the island, 44 are classified as fifth class and 10 
belong to sixth class municipalities. Poverty incidence ranges from more 
than 30 percent in Northern Samar to more than 40 percent in Eastern and 
Samar Provinces.

As of May 2000, 187,044 people reside in about 400 upland barangays. About 
90 percent are dependent on forest and other natural resources for 
livelihood. Many of these upland barangays are inaccessible to four-wheel 
vehicles and have very few social services.

Because of rapid and reckless commercial logging in the 1960’s to ’80s, 
only 26 percent of Samar’s forest cover remains. The threats to habitat 
degradation and biodiversity loss continue due to encroachment, 
unsustainable farming practices, rampant small-scale logging, unregulated 
harvesting of non-timber forest products, hunting and collection of wild 
life, unregulated quarrying, poorly planned infrastructure projects and 
mining.

Mabuhay ang Samar! Samar is more than just the Balangiga Massacre, the only 
battle Filipino revolutionaries won in the war against the Americans.

It is also about the deprivation and abuse this island has endured for long 
decades now. It deserves more attention from the National Government, which 
makes us feel at times that we are not part of this country.

Samar is also about beauty and progress but it must be given its fair share 
at a chance to shine. It’s about time, really... before another massacre 
erupts. (BOY ABUNDA, Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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