A VERY popular folk song in the 60’s sang by Peter, Paul and Mary titled, “Where have all the flowers gone?” and the song goes, “young girls have picked them everyone.” Then the song continues, “When will we ever learn?”
In the same breath do we ask now, where have all the forest gone? The answer – gone to loggers everyone. Why was there massive plunder on our forest ecosystems?
Six decades or so ago, three-fourths of the Philippines were wooded with some 17 million hectares of dipterocarp forest which was then considered by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization as the richest in the world per unit area in terms of mega-diversity. The number of flora and fauna found in 6,000-ha. Mt. Kitanglad alone is far greater than what are found in the one billion-ha. continent of North America.
But as the forest goes, so goes our mega-diversity which have been existing there for billions of years. In just a century, all of these God’s creations were erased from the face of the Earth. So painful to think that many of these flora and fauna were gone before they were even discovered.
The few powerful loggers, whose rakings per shipment of logs reached as much as 360 million pesos used their money to buy votes and were elected as mayors, governors, congressmen and even senators. They have created a strong cabal of vested interest including those who were tasked to enforce the laws. These loggers did not even do replanting as required in the Timber License Agreements. It is about time to make them accountable because in this country no one is above the law; all must bow down to the majesty of the law because we follow the rule of law and not of men. But no such thing in logging or mining.
All of these logging activities then were illegal as they cut in altitude more than 1,000 meters above sea level or in slopes with more than 50 percent gradient. Worse, when floods came, all of these powerful loggers were safe in their mansions while the poor bear the brunt of ecological disasters as what happened on December 17, 2011 when Typhoon Sendong hit Cagayan de Oro City.
The massive plunder of our natural resources can be traced to what in the political phenomenon is called Imperialism. As Western Europe and the United States became industrially and militarily dominant in the 18th century, they also seized political control over more and more of the world, notably in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Colonized people including Filipinos were not able to undertake the key steps crucial for economic development. The imperial powers were not interested in the over-all economic and social development of their colonial possessions but were focused in extracting as many resources in those colonized countries as they could for the benefit of their home countries.
In the book entitled, “Power from the Forest,” by Marites Vitug, she mentioned that sometime in 1900, there was this big debate in the US Senate on whether to continue or not colonizing the Philippines which is situated in the other side of the globe. A senator named Alfred Beveridge stood up and said, “We should continue colonizing the Philippines because the forest in the Philippines can supply the timber needs of the world for century to come.”
Then the plunder of our natural forest continued without let-up and our Filipino loggers continued the exploitation. Many of these finest timber in the world, i.e, Red Lawaan, Narra, Mahogany, etc. went to be processed in advanced countries “supplying their timber needs,” some converted into plywood then sold back to us. Mura tag iro. Giputlan ug ikog. Giprito dayun gipakaon sa ato.
The ecological wealth of the Philippines does not end at the shorelines. The Philippines archipelago has been described by UN-FAO as the “center of the center of marine life on earth.” But how come our fisher folk now are the poorest? Because we allowed Japanese computerized fishing vessels to rake our seas because during the Martial Law period, the Philippines entered into an agreement with Japan, the RP-Japan Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation. The rich marine resources were exploited by the Japanese turned these into canned goods and sold back to us.
What was worse was when the Canadians used our seas as their waste-pits, dumping radiation waste to our waters.
Today, we have lost everything. We even allowed our choicest of lands in Mindanao to be converted into massive plantations using 14 kinds of toxic chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides), eight of which are already banned abroad.
What’s happening to our country? We have been called “a nation of cowards” for allowing the utmost devastation of our natural resources and when nothing is left, we just go abroad to work.
Going back to the song “where have all the flowers gone? We now ask, when will we ever learn? When will we ever stand for our rights, to protect God’s vanishing creation?