By Norm Dixon
A senior Filipino church leader, Bishop Gaudencio Rosales of Malaybalay diocese in Bukidnon, Mindanao, has called for a complete ban on logging in the Philippines.
Describing the situation in the country as "critical", he has warned members of the House of Representatives in a petition that "to procrastinate means to invite disasters as a consequence of misdirected and uncontrolled abuse of our natural resources".
Indiscriminate logging has severely reduced forest cover in the country. In 1968, 54% of the total area of the Philippines, 16 million hectares, was covered with forest. In 1988, only 22%, or 6 million hectares, was left. Of this only 1.1 million hectares are considered virgin forest. In Bishop Rosales region, Bukidnon, forest cover is just 11%.
To avoid serious floods and erosion, scientists estimate that the Philippines needs forest cover of 54%.
Since 1975, the country has been losing a hectare of forest every minute during daylight. If the current rate continues, there will be no forest left by the year 2000.
Lack of forest cover prevents the land from absorbing rain water; as a result, 1 billion cubic metres of rich agricultural top soil is lost to erosion every year — the equivalent of 100,000 hectares of agricultural land. This leads to silting of rivers and lakes, floods, landslides and the clogging of irrigation and reduced quality of water for industrial and domestic use.
The poorest of the poor, who depend on the forest for subsistence, are worst off. The loss of the forests also means cultural extinction for tribal peoples whose way of life is closely connected to the forest environment.
Logging is associated with powerful vested interests in the Philippines. In the 16 years prior to 1988, logging concession holders made US$52 billion in profits. A number of prominent politicians are linked to logging interests.
Corruption is rife, and forests are not protected from illegal and indiscriminate logging. It is estimated that twice as many logs are smuggled to Japan as are legally exported.
Environmental activists attempting to prevent this wholesale destruction have been threatened and violently attacked by hired thugs. Late last year Father Nery Lito Satur, a member of Bishop Rosales' parish, was murdered by people suspected to be in the pay of the timber companies. The biggest importers of Philippines timber are Japan (33%), Britain (25%) and the USA (9%). The wood is used to produce chopsticks, plywood panels and low quality furniture.
Bishop Rosales has appealed for a ban on logging for at least 20 years during which time the forests can heal, reforestation programs can be implemented and plantations can be created.