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Forests, floods and governance

Deforestation causes floods, which in turn causes damage to people and property. Though climate change is partly to blame, the main reason for this problem is poor governance.

As documented in the December 2019 Commission in Audit report on the government’s National Greening Program (NGP), here is what has happened:

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• In 2010, the Philippines had already lost 60 percent of its forest cover. From 17 million hectares, we now have only 7 million ha left.

• From 2011 to 2015, forest cover increased by only 12 percent of the 1.5-million ha NGP target identified in Executive Order No. 26.

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• In 2015, Executive Order No. 193 was issued to reforest 8.3 million ha for the period 2016-2028. This means an average annual reforestation target of 638,000 ha until 2028.

Instead of the planned 638,000 ha a year, reforestation went down to only 20 percent of this, or 233,431. Instead of increasing reforestation, it declined rapidly inspite of the increasing threat of floods and other occurrences. The cost per hectare almost doubled from P23,000 to P39,000. We could not even tell how many of the hectares planted survived. Poor governance resulted in no attention given to nurturing the trees after they were planted, nor measuring what the result of the planting yielded.

In the meantime, our remaining little forest cover is being exploited by illegal logging that has the connivance of unscrupulous businessmen with government officials.

Let us look at an example that is being investigated. It is happening today at the Masungi Georeserve in Baras town, Rizal province. Illegal logging there has been a cause of the devastating floods we have recently seen.

The Management Association of the Philippines-Agribusiness and Countryside Development Foundation (MAP-ABCD), chaired by Ramon Ilusorio, announces its weekly forums by email to 12,000 interested executives on critical issues of the day. On Sept. 18, Masungi Georeserve Foundation managing trustee Billie Dumaliang talked about the double challenge of ecotourism and reforestation in the Masungi Geopark, which is part of the Marikina Watershed, a protected area. This project with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) started in 2017. It also has an objective of preventing illegal logging. Since MAP-ABCD has a development mandate, it offers support to those who ask for it.

The next month, MAP- ABCD got a request from the Masungi project to help. On Oct. 23, men with long arms had put up fences with “private property” and “no trespassing” signs. The government does not allow this in protected areas.

On Oct. 27, a DENR undersecretary stated in a television show that the trespassers would get a “show cause” order. If they did not have a satisfactory explanation within three days, they would be charged and immediately ejected from Masungi.

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On Nov. 15, or 15 days after the deadline, the guards carrying long arms had not left. In fact, their number doubled. The firm did not produce the legal papers that would justify their presence there. Since it is a protected area, they most probably couldn’t. The firm’s lawyer claimed he represented Tribo Dumagat Remondatos, but 24 of their top leaders signed a statement saying this wasn’t true.

In a Nov. 15 video, a guard of this firm threatened National Geographic explorer Ann Dumaliang by saying: “Akala mo ba hindi kita kakaladkarin? (Do you think that I will not drag you)?” In the same video, he intimidated the law enforcement personnel present by saying he would call the owner (a general) to call their superiors so they would withdraw from the case.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu is now correcting the reforestation misgovernance with decisive action such as a comprehensive bamboo planting program and other creative initiatives. But the deforestation problem has big money and powerful forces behind it, so Cimatu must be supported fully.

As in the above example where serious problems prevail, varied reports indicate that a certain sector acts with impunity because they are protected.

Concrete action must now be taken to answer claims that these new initiatives are just a farce and hypocritical. Good governance must now characterize competent reforestation and oppose the deforestation. If that happens, floods will stop causing the tremendous damage that is happening and growing today.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: deforestation, floods, poor governance
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