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No welcome mat

/ 08:30 AM March 13, 2012

Unwelcome Guests” is not about  the midnight appointees Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo picked before scurrying from Malacañang—onto hospital jail for election sabotage raps.

Count me out, snapped the former  president’s manicurist. Anita Carpon had been dangled a Pag-IBIG Fund midnight appointment. She nixed a two-year job with a P100,000  monthly paycheck.

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Deal me in, said GMA’s former chief-of-staff. She named Renato Corona Supreme Court Chief  Justice just before the clock struck midnight. Today, Corona battles impeachment.

“Unwelcome Guests” is in fact a scientific paper on forest invasive species. In Kuming, China, Filipino foresters presented this study to an Asia-Pacific conference, organized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

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“Man can cram many exotic crops  in one place,” wrote  N.T. Baguinon, M.O. Quimado and G.J. Francisco of UP Los Baños, Forest Management Bureau and Department of Environment. But plantations are not more  diverse than natural forest ecosystems. They pose little-recognized threats.

God-endowed  natural forests  here are  stunning in diversity. An enumeration  recognized mangrove, molave, to mossy forest types. The 1984 Palawan Botanical Expedition listed forests in karst limestone to lake margins. Ecosystem diversity classifications identified  nine types: from lowland evergreen to upper montane  forests.

“There could be more types … than those published,”cautioned Baguinon, Quimado and Francisco.  “Stereotyping unique forest ecosystems into just a few lists may not render justice to complex Philippine bio-geological history.”

Malayo-Polynesian settlers in prehistoric times introduced exotic plants ranging from malunggay to mango. “A few escaped into the wild like the bignai, duhat and santol. However, these have not … established themselves as persistent gregarious stands.”

Sailing on galleons from Mexico, Spanish missionaries brought plants from Central American countries. So did traders from nearby Asian countries. Among these were  guyabano, chico and avocado.  Coffee from Africa came via Acapulco. Some of these crept into parks, for example ipil-ipil, datiles and kamatchile.”

After the Spanish-American War, more “exotics” came through exchanges and “purchase from foreign countries by private citizens.” American administrators reforested  school grounds. Other exotics followed such as kakawate and teak. “African tulip has since spread deep into natural stands.”

Even before World War II,  exotic trees propped up reforestation showcases. Among these were Minglanilla in Cebu, Nasiping Project in Cagayan, Paraiso in Ilocos Norte, Canlaon in Negros and Impalutao  in Bukidnon. Seedlings of bio-invasive species “found their way into national parks.”

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This history cobbled  a mind-set in both foresters and policy makers that artificial forests are as ecological as the natural forests they replace. “The same ecological benefits that jungle regrowth provides can be provided by plantations,” some Filipino foresters insisted at the  First Association of Southeast Asian Nations Congress in 1983.

You can make a buck as fast in either? That fit with “most foresters’ pragmatism.” If the natural forest had been squandered, why then  “enrichment planting with fast-growing commercial exotic tree species is better than restoring natural forests,” Baguinon, Quimado and  Francisco pointed out.

No studies have been done on the rate of bio-invasion of nature reserves. But planting of exotics in  Integrated Protected Area Systems is  now  banned. “No definite policies are in place yet on what to do with mature exotic trees, should they become bio-invasive.” As in the lush  Makiling Forest reserve?

Many logged-over areas were reforested with “exotics”:  mahogany, yemane or bagras. Other bio-invasive species are hagonoy and coronitas. Ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) can usurp steep, bare slopes. Along beaches, “exotic mimosoid legumes form gregarious thickets of aroma.”

Eight out of 10 seedlings raised in government nurseries are exotics: Giant ipil-ipil  account for 41 percent.  Large leaf mahogany (33 percent); yemane (17 percent); teak (4 percent) and others (5 percent).  At bottom, believe it or not, are native species (17 percent).

“So what’s wrong with our molave?” asked Dr.  Franz Seidenschwarz in a January 1998 University of  San Carlos conference. “Or tindalo for that matter?” He whipped out a printout of 1,487 sturdy native species honed by centuries of evolution.

Reforestation programs ignore this rich genetic matrix of  local species. Instead, they  opt for monocultures of nine exotics, including germelina and teak from India, mahogany from Central Africa; candlenut tree or lubang from Malaysia . “Is imported sikat?” he asked.

“Government continues to  subsidize  this  denigration of Philippine trees,” a Cebu daily noted. “This opens windows of vulnerability to disease. Valuable species are thinning. Third millennium reforestation should favor a broader genetic base, built on premium species of native trees.”

“Planting  exotics violates  the international convention on biodiversity,” notes the Soil and  Water Conservation Foundation. “What is the consequence when students asked to plant trees  under the Greening Program, are only given exotic seedlings by DENR? Is it because the DENR cannot or will not spend to gather native tree seedlings?”

Right. But public attention alas is fixated elsewhere: on a Chief Justice who volunteers  his  wife to run the impeachment gauntlet  and  save his skin. “Greater love than this no man hath …”

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