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Give other jobs to illegal loggers

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As I See It

Give other jobs to illegal loggers

/ 12:42 AM December 28, 2011

As the Inquirer editorial pointed out yesterday, the floods and landslides were the result of massive deforestation. It was the Filipino loggers, not the Spanish and American colonizers, who did this. Filipino logging families, mostly with political connections, clear-cut our forests as fast as they could and grew filthy rich overnight. These are the families who raped our forests and killed all those thousands of victims of floods and landslides.

Pleas to ban logging went on for decades but the government answered with “selective logging” and the giving of logging concessions continued. Now President Aquino has imposed a total log ban but the cutting of forest trees continues. There are no more “legal loggers” but the cutting is being done by “illegal loggers,” sometimes called “carabao loggers.” These are the small operators who go into what remains of our forests and cut trees largely unseen by witnesses, least of all by our forest guards.

It is very easy to do this. The loggers are hidden by trees and shrubbery. They saw the logs into lumber and haul them to the lowlands through the use of carabaos, hence the term “carabao loggers.”

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But apparently, not even the carabaos are enough to haul all the cut logs to the lowlands. So the loggers roll the logs down the mountainsides to a river below and float them to where they can be hauled to dry land and sold.

Some loggers just leave the logs where they were cut and wait for heavy rains to wash them down the mountainsides to the rivers. These were the logs that crashed into the houses in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and destroyed them during the massive flood before Christmas and killed thousands of people. The evidence can be seen at the scene of the crime: cut logs scattered all over the wasteland created by the floods.

Illegal loggers are very difficult to stop. You can cancel the concessions of the big loggers but the illegal loggers don’t need any logging concession. A total log ban is totally meaningless to them. They justify their illegal activities by saying they have to feed their families.

Yes, many of the illegal loggers are poor farmers without any farms to till. After cutting the trees, they hope to plant food crops in the cleared areas.

And as I pointed out in a previous column, after the illegal loggers come the illegal charcoal makers.  These are also poor farmers and jobless workers who turn the branches of the cut logs into charcoal. Worse, they cut even small trees and turn them into charcoal, which they then sell to merchants to feed the big demand of the thousands of “ihaw-Ihaw” restaurants and sidewalk barbecue stands in the towns and cities.

They cut even the saplings planted in reforestation areas.  One example is the reforestation project in the mountain of Tanay, Rizal. The Manila Seedling Bank Foundation reforested this bald area with Benguet pines and now the area has more pine trees than Baguio. But go inside and you will find the stubs of cut tree saplings and the blackened pits that were used to turn the saplings into charcoal.

Also go to the foothills of these mountains and you will find merchants buying sackfuls of charcoal. Drive by some of the villages and you will see big bags of charcoal piled on the side of the road for sale. At the picnic area beside Wawa Dam in Montalban, charcoal makers float sacks of charcoal in bamboo rafts down the Wawa River to be sold in the lowlands. Like the illegal loggers, the justification of the charcoal-makers is that they have to feed their families and that is the only means of livelihood available to them.

The point then is to give these people jobs so that they don’t have to cut what little is left of our forests.  If there is to be a massive reforestation project as the Inquirer editorial said, give them jobs planting the seedlings. That way they will have a stake in the reforested areas.

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The Aquino administration seems to have forgotten job generation. We have become dependent on foreign jobs for Filipinos who have to come home in droves when turmoil engulfs the countries where they are working, as recently happened in the Middle East.

Another suggestion: In most reforestation projects, the seedlings planted are the hardwood variety, narra and mahogany mostly, because these are highly valued commercial trees. But they are slow-growing and take decades to mature.

My suggestion is to plant giant ipil-ipil, kakawati, and acacia. They are softwood, but they are fast-growing and self-propagating. They can be harvested within five years.  Better still, they bear pods that, when ripe, split open and scatter their seeds, which then readily grow into seedlings. What’s more, if you cut a branch and stick it into the ground, it sprouts buds and grows.

Corregidor, which was turned into a wasteland during the war, was reforested with ipil-ipil. The seeds were scattered by airplane. Now Corregidor has thick and thriving forests.

After the giant ipil-ipil, kakawati and acacia trees are established, the commercial hardwood varieties can be planted in between them. Or even the shade-loving cacao and coffee plants.

Another reason illegal loggers thrive is the demand for lumber after the big logging companies were phased out. Where do the builders source their lumber but from illegal loggers?

The answer to that is to wean the builders away from the massive use of lumber in construction. They must learn to use steel and concrete more.

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TAGS: disasters, featured columns, Floods, logging, opinion
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