Tip of the iceburg

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The Cordillera has been identified as the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon because it is the headwaters of all river systems providing abundant water supply for various uses, especially for those people living in the lowland communities. The region has a total land area of more than 1.85 million hectares with 85 percent classified as forest reservations and grasslands while 15 percent of the land area is classified as alienable and disposable. Upland farming is one of the major sources of livelihood of the people while others venture in other sources of livelihood such as small-scale mining among other small and medium enterprises whichever may be applicable in their respective places.

Because of the need for descent sources of livelihood, a number of people in the hinterlands were forced to embrace the slash and burn farming to have food on their tables. However, with the multiplication of the people living in the different communities triggered by inter-marriages and migration, they were forced to expand their farms into the forest reservations just or them to sustain the living condition of their families and for them to have added income for the brighter future of their children. Enterprising individuals were even able to have portions of watersheds and forest reservations declared in their names while others were able to secure dubious titles which now complicates things in favor of their personal interests. Under existing rules and regulations, portions of declared forest reservations cannot be subjected to tax declarations or titles or even alienable and disposable because the same belongs to the State.

Recent studies show that the total land area of the region which still has forest cover is at least 43 percent and the primary reason for massive deforestation is the search for adequate sources of livelihood for the rapidly growing population within communities situated in declared reservations.

The present administration embarked on a 5-year massive reforestation project dubbed the National Greening Program (NGP) in order to plant at least 1.5 billion assorted tree species in more than 1.5 hectares of denuded forest reservations purposely to bring back the greenery of our ravaged mountain slopes. The Cordillera has been the top performer in the implementation of the NGP besting the 17 other regions of the country because of the active involvement of numerous stakeholders in efforts to allow the future generations of Filipinos to enjoy the benefits of trees planted in reservations.. Despite the combined efforts of stakeholders to help bring back the greenery of our forests, there are a number of unscrupulous individuals who continue to wreck havoc in ruining the good state of our environment.

Just last week, combined environment and police personnel were able to arrest five individuals and confiscated more than 13,000 board feet of illegally-sawn lumber in an over 6-hectare portion of the Mount Data watershed aside from the seizure of chainsaws, guide bars and other materials used in the unabated cutting of trees in the area. Thanks to the aerial inspection conducted in the area.

We firmly believe the arrest of the five alleged illegal loggers and the confiscation of more than P500,000 worth of illegally-sawn lumber is just a tip of the iceburg. We received several reports that there are massive deforestations in larger scales within the Mount Pulag National Park between the tri-boundaries of Kabayan, Benguet, Tinoc, Ifugao and parts of Nueva Vizcaya which had been going on for several years now but remain untouched by authorities. The site in Baang, Balintaugan, Bauko, Mountain Province where the huge volume of lumber was confiscated has been the source of pine wood supply of numerous environment, police and even ranking local officials that is why it remained as such until its recent discovery.

While aerial inspection would be too expensive, we highly recommend the regular conduct of such surveillance operations in identified hot spots in the region in order to be able to prevent the massive destruction of the forest reservations which is giving life to our numerous river systems. Now that we are feeling the serious negative impacts of climate change, let us join hands in curbing the massive destruction of our forests because the trees serve as a buffer to massive soil erosion, landless, floodings among other effects of the unpredictable weather condition nowadays.

People living in protected areas should be the ones to fight for the preservation and protection of the state of the environment in their respective places because they will be the first one to be significantly affected once there will be the onslaught of natural and man-made calamities and the first ones to benefit from the existence of trees in their places.

The government must be aggressive in going after those inflicting serious damage to our environment but the people must also cooperate by reporting to concerned authorities the existence of illegal logging activities among other destructive incidents that might compromise the state of our forests and eventually negate the region’s identity as the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon. Let us not await our springs to dry up because we will suffer the severe consequences of our failure to police our own ranks in terms of protecting and preserving our environment.

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