Thursday, August 16, 2012

Best Efforts

Renato Miranda, Executive Director for the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force (AILTF), said it exactly right when he was asked to comment in a recent news interview on the difficulties inherent in the government's campaign against illegal loggers specifically in Region XIII or the Caraga region.  The task force's "best efforts", he said, must be directed not only on confiscating illegally cut timber and other forest products but on coming up with a strategic concept or strategy that insures that these forest resources "remain standing right there on the mountain."  "Every time we confiscated logs and timbers," he points out, "it merely shows that we failed in stopping these illegal loggers from cutting down trees."

His comments were made in the wake of an extensive aerial survey Miranda and members of his task force recently conducted on the so called "timber corridor" of the country which essentially comprises a large bulk of the Caraga and Davao provinces.  The survey has resulted in clear cut eyewitness and photographic evidence of the continued rampant illegal logging activities in many remote areas of these provinces in defiance of the total log ban imposed by President Noynoy Aquino more than a year ago.

While evidence of illegal timber cutting can be found all over these two regions, one area of major concern appears to be what remains of the once extensive forest concession area of the now moribund Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) based in Bislig City which used to be Asia's largest paper mill. This area stretches the boundaries of  the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Sur and the Davao provinces.

What strikes me about what Miranda's statements is that they hit, in my view, at the heart of what is actually the reason why illegal logging is a problem so difficult to control and stop be it here in our part of the country or anywhere else.  For, as he also rightly pointed out in the same interview, illegal logging is not merely a law enforcement concern but a malady that has its real roots in the socio-economic inequalities that are rife in our society.

Thus, an effective and also comprehensive anti-illegal logging program must also seek to address these inequalities and even more so, directly involve the cooperation and participation of ordinary citizens especially those whose communities exist within or are immediately adjacent to these remaining virgin forest reserves who have the most to lose if the President's total log ban continues to be so brazenly ignored.  The detection and confiscation of illegally cut timber and even the arrest and conviction of those behind these logging syndicates are indeed merely "half-way measures" and cannot undo the often irreparable damage to the natural environment that have been done.

So instead of our government and its law enforcement agencies merely highlighting the often meager accomplishments of its campaign to arrest illegal loggers and recover their plundered goods, let all of them put in more effort and creativity into the preventive or (to risk the overused cliche) "proactive" aspect of a truly comprehensive program to protect and preserve our remaining forests.  Let then educate, motivate and mobilize ordinary citizens to be ardent environmentalists and zealous guardians of the national patrimony.

Otherwise, the pillaging of our precious timber lands will continue and any future shipments of illegally cut timber and forest products the government will manage to capture and recover will only serve to emphasize and highlight the prevailing impression (undeserved or otherwise) that, despite what it is saying publicly, it is actually not doing enough to to help save our forests but simply trying to project a strong and vigorous pro-environment agenda yet merely just coasting along (as usual) and going through motions akin to cosmetically trying to close the proverbial barn doors when all of the prized horses have all already galloped away.

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