BUGUIAS, Benguet – Tribal elders, local officials and concerned stakeholders underscored that the several remaining critical watersheds in the Cordillera are now on the brink of extinction because of the rampant deforestation activities of illegal loggers and commercial vegetable farm operators right in front of the noses of environment officials and purported forest guards assigned in the said places.
Elders and barangay officials from remote villages within the jurisdiction of the Mount Pulag National Park, the second highest mountain peak in the country, and the Mount Data National Park that strands from Benguet up to Mountain Province pointed out that despite the presence of personnel of the environment department in the said areas, rampant conversion of forested areas to commercial vegetable farms remain blatant which is obviously beyond their control because some of the workers of the owners of vegetable farms expanding their areas of operation to the virgin forests are all3egedly armed and dangerous.
“There are several hundreds of trees that are being wilfully cut in the different critical forests in Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao and at the rate of the deforestation, the fully grown trees that our ancestors have nurtured for decades just for us to enjoy the fruits of a good state of environment might be gone anytime considering the rampant deforestation activities all over the said forests,” a tribal elder quipped.
Concerned local officials from the three provinces have similar sentiments against the environment department for their alleged inability to put a stop on the massive conversion of virgin forests and critical watersheds to commercial farms that affect the stability of soil in the mountain slopes that will result to massive landslides and the depletion of potable water supply coming from the forested areas in the region.
According to him, the environment department immediately publicizes its actions on a single tree that is cut in Baguio city but remains silent on the hundreds of trees that are being compromised to pave the way for vegetable farms which has a far more serious negative effect to the environment compared to a single tree that was cut inside a private property in the city.
Some concerned residents also lamented the DENR personnel and law enforcers for their inability to closely monitor the operation of units of heavy equipment in the critical watersheds wilfully barring down century-old trees just for commercial vegetable farm operators to be able to increase their income at the expense of compromising the state of the region’s environment which has been even identified as the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon.
Some of the affected residents claimed that the commercial vegetable farms are now slowly expanding to the borders of Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao but the concerned environment department offices in the said provinces seem not to be alarmed over the rate of forest destruction within their areas of jurisdiction as if they prefer to have the operation of the vegetable farms instead of having a thickly forested mountain slope that is home to endemic species of plants and animals for the benefit of the present and future generations of Cordillerans.
The elders and local officials challenged Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to come out of his comfort zone and see for himself what is happening to the critical watersheds that are supposed to be preserved and protected by the agency that he heads for him to institute a massive reorganization in the agency.
Photo by JOSEPH B. MANZANO