BAGUIO CITY, Philippines ? The Department of Environment and Natural Resources believes the Cordillera is already producing enough vegetables which should discourage farmers from further encroaching on forests and national parks.
?There is overproduction that?s why when farmers sell their produce to traders, the prices are often very low,? said Primitivo Galinato Jr., DENR regional director.
Galinato said the DENR?s bid to recover portions of the region?s national parks that have been converted into vegetable farms was stalled following a recent ruling of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that said the DENR must go slow on forest intruders who claimed their farms were their ancestral lands.
The OSG, in a March 25 ruling, said the country?s forest laws, which prohibit squatting or encroachment on national parks, would not apply to members of cultural communities who have possessed lands since their ancestors? time.
Even if the claimants are not members of cultural communities but have lived in the lands for at least 30 years, their possession must also be respected, the OSG said.
Galinato said while the ruling only covered Mt. Data National Park in Benguet and Mt. Province, it has far-reaching effects on other protected forests, like Mt. Pulag, the country?s second highest peak, that faced similar problems.
He said the department is now in a bind over its task of containing expanding vegetable areas since the OSG ruling had diminished the DENR?s immediate powers to confront the problem.
?The decision of the OSG, however, is still an opinion which needed to be sustained by the courts should there be a case,? Galinato said.
The best the DENR could do, he said, is to push an alternative cropping system to be adopted by farmers as a compromise between efforts to protect the forests and respect the ancestral rights of communities in light of the OSG ruling.
He said the program would encourage farmers to plant coffee, bamboo and other agroforestry products that would still enhance forest protection instead of planting vegetables.
?It?s high time the farmers try other crops that do not demand too much use of chemical farm inputs,? he said.
The cropping system would help mitigate the destruction of the Cordillera?s watersheds while ensuring food security, he said.
Manuel Pogeyed, Mt. Province provincial environment officer, said the threat of forest destruction is sometimes underestimated.