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Oversight or omertà?

/ 06:33 AM February 11, 2012

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s bank boodle stunned many. Yet the “Capo’s” stash is petty cash when contrasted with what the timber mafia here skimmed.”

Forest ravagers pocketed “US$7 to US$15 per cubic meter of exported logs” in the ‘70s and ‘80s, e-mails Society of Filipino Foresters’ Oscar Gendrano. The country shipped two million cubic meters of round logs abroad yearly then.” Go, figure.

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“Loggers, timber license agreement holders—many of them influential politicians— were happy to pay the petty ( ? ) slosh fund, as long as they were allowed to cut and send logs to lucrative export markets.” They salted much abroad.

University of the Philippines-trained foresters staffed logging companies and regulators, Viewpoint column “Peak—What?” ( PDI / Feb 4 ) noted. Their silence abetted forest plunder, a blog asserted. That bankrolled “scions of early irresponsible loggers to exalted positions in government … ”

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When World War II ended, 15 million hectares of natural forests still towered. Today, only 7 million hectares of mostly logged-over forests are left. Remaining stands are being chain-sawed in Samar and, as floods showed, in Lanao and Aurora.

“There’s no one culprit,” Gendrano says. Politicians, corporate and contract loggers interlocked with impoverished slash-and-burn farmers who mopped up stumps left.

Laws and decrees detailed how the forests be sustainably managed. “They were wantonly disregarded. Top management ( owners) ordered systematic felling to meet yearly export quotas. …” Few foresters survived when they confronted the combo of grasping politicians, loggers and land-hungry farmers.

Did an omertà of sealed lips prevail? For an answer, look at the time context, suggests former UN forester Napoleon Vergara.

The 1950s land classification program set aside forested lands more suited to agriculture. They were to feed a rapid population growth and tamp down agrarian unrest. President Ramon Magsaysay eased landlessness of former Huk rebels thru resettlement. “This type of large- scale deforestation formed part of national policy to “allocate land resources to use most productive and sustainable,” Vergara said “It’s not the fault of UP graduates.”

“Nasipit, Bislig / PICOP, Puyat, Aras-asan selectively logged, protected concessions against encroachers and reforested at great expense. These ensured continuing supply for their processing mills. Almost all dropped out in frustration.”

“Government policies for long-term projects, like growing and managing trees, are notoriously unstable and restrictive. A license can be cancelled at the drop of a hat … Bleeding heart judges trash forest officers for arresting kaingineros “whose only crime is to eke out a living in forests.”

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“This is the socio-cultural-economic-political milieu within which legitimate loggers operate. Legitimate and illegal loggers are lumped together and condemned by a society that does not know the real score. Sad.”

“I’ve no idea how many foresters kept quiet as a form of omission or commission,” e-mails former kaingnero Terry Sarigumba. After graduating from UPLB, he got his PhD from University of Florida and worked in a southern US private industrial forestry. “Keeping quiet here was an inevitable option,” he notes. “Many foresters who stood their ground were felled with the trees they protected.”

Would foresters of today have kept quiet?

Times and situations are different, Sarigumba adds. Climate is altering ecology rapidly. Yet foresters now have a window of opportunity, made possible by Executive Orders 23 and 26. One clamps a moratorium on logging in remaining natural forests. And the second launches a National Green Program. After the Corona impeachment, the Senate may get around to approving the Sustainable Forestry Management Act.” The Lower House earlier approved it with a 229-0 vote. “These could spur reforms,” he says.

“Blaming the loss of forests solely to logging is unscientific,” argues Juan Pulhin, dean of UP’s school of forestry. UP “continues to produce quality graduates” who made their mark in Asean.

Deforestation has many underlying causes, the school’s executive committee notes in their “Science Behind Deforestation” paper. Inadequate and poorly implemented policies are a factor. Over 3.7 million hectares of second growth forest, in logged-over areas. were overrun by kaingins. “Lack of protection, in expired and cancelled timber licenses, led to eventual takeover of forest areas by landless people. High upland population growth stoked demand for farmland.

Yes, yes. But why does the paper not refer at all to continuing greed of the later generation timber mafia? Oversight perhaps? Does omertà start where science ends? “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” Martin Luther King stressed.

“The battle to manage forests judiciously is wedged in people’s minds. When it is lost there, no law can save the forests. Elaborate decrees handed down from the top only breed cynicism … Without ( integrity ) political will deteriorates into fetters that privileged minorities use for their own purposes.”

That paragrah sums up the state of forests 2012. This caution, in fact, was delivered in late 1980s to foresters from 24 Asian and African countries meeting in Thailand by National scientist and then FAO regional representative Dioscoro Umali. The dean served UPLB’s college of agriculture and retired in Los Baños until his death in July 1992.

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