Floods and forests, plunder and profit

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The denudation of forests is undeniably one of the major reasons behind massive floods and landslides in times of calamity. Government data in 2015 indicate that the country has only a remaining 7 million-hectare total forest cover, or merely 23% of its total land area. Only 3% of primary or virgin forests remain in the country. A research also revealed that the Philippines is among the top 10 countries in the world that recorded the highest deforestation rates in the past two decades.

Currently, trees in 47,000 hectares of forests and mangrove areas which help prevent erosion, floods and storm surges are destroyed annually.

Around 27 million hectares of land in the Philippines used to be forested before Spain colonized it. This is equivalent to 90% of the total land area of the country. This decreased to 21 million hetares by 1900 due to massive deforestation mainly attributed to the establishment of export crop plantations and haciendas by the Spaniards. Deforestation escalated during the 1940s after successive puppet regimes promoted lumber exportation as the country’s main source of foreign income.

By the early 1970s, over 170,000 hectares of forest lands were being destroyed annually. Less than 5% of this was reforested.

The logging industry also served as one of the most lucrative sources of ill-gotten wealth by those in power, especially during the Marcos dictatorial regime. In 1975, logging companies protected by Marcos extracted a record high of 15.5 million cubic meters of lumber. From 1972 to 1988, around 8.57 million hectares of forested area and 3.8 million hectares of virgin forests were destroyed. By 1990, only 8% of the forest cover in the country remained.

Among the most destructive was Marcos crony Alfonso Lim Sr. who was responsible for denuding forests in Ifugao and Cagayan Valley, which now serve as Magat Dam’s main source of water. He owned and operated at least seven logging companies which covered hundreds of hectares of forests in the said areas.

To monopolize the timber industry, Marcos appointed Juan Ponce Enrile as his “general” for logging who was tasked to issue permits to logging companies. At the same time, Marcos also awarded Enrile’s San Jose Timber Corp. which covered 95,770 hectares of forests in Northern Samar. This is in addition to the concessions of seven of his other logging companies which denuded forests in Palawan, Samar, Bukidnon, Butuan and Cebu.

Isidro, son of Marcos crony David Consunji, is currently the biggest logging capitalist in the country. He inherited the DMCI Holdings, Inc. which operates in more than 102,954 hectares of forests in 10 municipalities across South Central Mindanao. Large-scale mining companies also operate in these areas.

Duterte continues to promote logging the export of timber by allowing plunderous logging operations across the country despite the massive destruction these cause to the environment. The Philippines has exported 878,664 tons of lumber from 2016 to 2019. Almost 90% of exports went to China (81%) and Japan (18%). From 2011 to 2015, the country also exported almost 1.6 million tons of lumber. The aforementioned figures excludes the hundreds of millions of exported processed wood products such as plywood and furniture among others, and lumber extracted through ram­pant illegal logging operations.

Floods and forests, plunder and profit