Groups urge Marcos to do more than plant trees
MANILA, Philippines — Planting trees on denuded mountains is a good move that can help prevent deadly landslides and flash floods, but President Ferdinand Marcos Hr. should do more to stop large-scale mining, illegal logging, quarrying and “destructive” projects that kill forests and gouge the land, progressive groups said on Wednesday.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth (NNARA-Youth), and Pamalakaya were reacting to the president’s statement on Tuesday after he saw the “bald” mountains where landslides had rumbled down onto Barangay Kusiong in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao del Norte days earlier.
At least 22 people died in the Kusiong landslide and dozens more were feared still buried in the tons of mud, rocks, and boulders that swamped the village.
Marcos said long-term flood control projects should include planting trees on those denuded mountains where Severe Tropical Storm Paeng (international name: Nalgae) dumped heavy rains last week.
According to KMP chair emeritus Rafael Mariano, the president should not simply state the pressing need to address climate change and initiate flood control projects “while freely allowing foreign and local big businesses to plunder our land and natural resources.”
“Climate change has been here for a long time. It even evolved into a climate crisis. Now, we are calling for climate justice. We should hold those behind this environmental destruction responsible,” the peasant leader pointed out.
He said the disappearance of the country’s forest cover “accelerated” during the 20-year rule of the President’s father, who granted logging licenses to his cronies.
Stop land conversion
Mariano urged the president to show his willingness to address the climate crisis by ordering an immediate “effective moratorium” on land-use conversion.
Marcos should also rescind former President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 130, which lifted the ban on new mining agreements, Mariano said.
He said that 35 mining exploration permits were recently approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which also approved the environmental compliance certificates of four other mining projects in the Caraga Region and the Zamboanga peninsula.
In a statement on Wednesday, NNARA-Youth said the President’s family was allegedly responsible for “wiping out half of the Philippine forests” during his father’s administration.
“It is hypocritical of the president to suggest tree planting as a flood control measure when it is his father who allowed the destructive logging operations of his cronies,” said Narra-Youth chair Zoe Caballero in a statement.
As big as Mindanao
Citing an article from the Martial Law Museum, Caballero said these logging operations “wiped out” 8 million hectares of the country’s forests, an area about as big as Mindanao Island. Of this number, 2 million hectares were “severely damaged,” according to the article.
The group said the late dictator Marcos granted over 200 timber licensing agreements (TLAs) covering hundreds of thousands of hectares to his cronies and allies, including retired generals, allegedly to secure their “continued loyalty” from the 1970s to the 1980s.
One TLA given to Marcos crony Alfonso Lim covered 500,000 ha, and another 200,000 ha was allegedly granted to a family member.
NNARA-Youth quoted a GMA News report in 2012 on deforestation that cited a study by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.
Caballero said that 50 years after the Marcos dictatorship, “our forests are still recovering from the massive deforestation.”
According to a 2013 Dutch-funded study by Filipino forestry experts, the country’s forest cover decreased from 17.8 million ha, or about 60 percent of the land area in 1934, to about 7.17 million ha, or 24 percent in 2011.
The study also found that deforestation “further worsened during the Marcos regime.”
“From 1965 to 1986, the Philippines lost 7 million ha of forests. This came as a result of so many people given access to previously inaccessible areas due to logging roads and lure of employment in the logging companies,” the study said.
Caballero said the “destructive logging companies owned by Marcos cronies displaced millions of farmers and indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.”
“Those who opposed and stood up for their rights were vilified and murdered,” she said.
Even the fishers’ group Pamalakaya was skeptical that the president would pursue tree planting.
It said that the fishpond lease agreement provision of his father’s Presidential Decree No. 704 led to the massive destruction of mangrove forests.
“In the 1920s, mangrove forests used to cover almost 450,000 hectares. But just two years after the PD 704 was enacted, mangrove forests drastically shrunk to 220,243 hectares due to rapid conversion of coastal areas into fishponds owned by big-fishing and exporting firms,” Ronnel Arambulo, national spokesperson of Pamalakaya, said in a statement.
Arambulo was citing findings on the country’s mangroves from the 2013 book “Mangrove Ecosystems of Asia.”
The group urged the administration to pursue mangrove reforestation as a means to prevent intense flooding caused by sea-level rise and extreme weather events related to climate change.
“Unless Marcos Jr. recognizes that it was during his late dictator father’s term when vast tracts of mangroves and forest covers were wiped out, his statement for tree planting is nothing but pure lip service,” said Arambulo.
According to Froilyn Mendoza, a member of parliament of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), in addition to the 22 Teduray indigenous people who died in the Kusiong landslide, there were an estimated 100 who remained missing.
She said they were among those who had evacuated to a church that was buried in the landslide near the foot of a mountain.
Mendoza, who represents the Teduray-Lambangian indigenous communities in the BTA, said the number of confirmed fatalities might be higher than 22 as they were the only ones traced at funeral homes.
Some were immediately buried by their families after their bodies were recovered from the rubble, she said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM GERMELINA LACORTE
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