PHILIPPINE DEFORESTATION: A NATIONAL SPOLIARIUM - PART 2 OF 3

MANILA, DECEMBER 15, 2009
(STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Raul Kamantigue Suarez - (Second of three parts)

“Others get rich on nature while we get nature’s revenge.” — Bukidnon peasant (quoted by R. Broad and J. Cavanagh in “Plundering Paradise, University of California Press, 1993).

One could suppose that deforestation was inevitable as the country traveled merrily along the road toward progress and prosperity. After all, other Asian countries have also wreaked devastation upon nature (see, for example, Sodhi et al., Trends in Ecology and Evolution 19: 654-660, 2004). So let us consider what was gained and what was lost as a consequence of postwar Philippine deforestation. While concessionaires logged primary forests to generate wealth for themselves, the poor who followed them and destroyed the secondary forests did it simply to survive. The highest rates of deforestation are said to have occurred during the years of the Marcos dictatorship. It was during this period that, in Walden Bello’s words, “institutionalized looting” on a grand scale occurred and the entire economy was manipulated to benefit a few families. Deforestation is seen by researchers to have been part of this process. It enriched a few and, by almost completely depleting a valuable resource, impoverished an entire nation. To put this in perspective, consider the Haribon Foundation estimate, quoted by Broad and Cavanagh, of the income of just one logger with concessions in just one province. This person’s income in one year of $24 million was, at the time, 24 times greater than the entire provincial government’s annual budget. Here is a statement from a Haribon representative, quoted by Broad and Cavanagh:

“In the past 15 years we have had only 470 logging concessionaires (in the Philippines) who (have been given the right to exploit) all the resources of the forests... The average profit on logging is P100,000 per hectare after you’ve paid all expenses. When you total this, it would amount to about $42 billion, more than our foreign debt, that came from the forest and this money went to 470 people. The process created poverty for 17 million people around the forest areas.”

In the long run, I believe that 17 million is likely to be an underestimate because people do not need to be near forests to be impoverished by their destruction. According to an FAO report published in 2000, the Philippines became a net importer of wood in 1994 and, within a few years, Filipinos were paying P778 million a year for imported wood and wood products. Although the amount of flooding and landslides attributable to deforestation is difficult to determine, tropical storm Ondoy alone is estimated by Assad Baunto and Yasmin Arquiza as having caused P23 billion in damage and lost revenue. In an FAO report published in 1998, Hermina Francisco and Marian de los Angeles value losses due to erosion of agricultural land at several billion pesos per year. About five to 10 percent of rice harvests are typically lost to rats. It is estimated that what rats consume is enough to completely eliminate hunger in some Asian countries. One wonders whether the loss of predators, perhaps because of loss of forest habitat or some other related ecological process, might contribute to the rat problem in Philippine rice agriculture. But the problems caused by deforestation are not just about money. Habitat loss is a major cause of species extinctions. When plant and animal species become extinct, they are lost forever. Future generations are denied their existence and whatever benefits can be derived from them as food, medicine and, most importantly, the roles they play in the complex web of interactions that maintain the health of Philippine ecosystems. Because forests play a major role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, deforestation is the Philippines’ main contributor to global warming. Deforestation is a crime of plunder committed against nature and against man. It may ultimately contribute to the crime of global genocide.

(To be concluded)

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Raul Kamantigue Suarez is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, California and an editor of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Cambridge, UK. E-mail him at suarez@lifesci.ucsb.edu.


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