The government should act on saving the forest for future generations to come. Thus, the Forest Resources Bill Network calls on President Benigno Aquino 3rd to include the Forest Resources Bill (FRB) as part of his priority legislation.
The Senate and House of Representatives must fast track the consolidation and enactment of the said “Green Bills” such as the Forest Resources Bill and its allied bills, including the Alternative Minerals Management Bill and the National Land Use Bill.
Standing by Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words, “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another,” the group emphasized that the Philippine laws on forests have focused on the forest as a resource for utilization and exploitation for decades.
The group emphasized on data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that show Philippine forests used to cover 80 percent of the country’s total land area, compared to the current state of 24 percent. DENR estimates about a minimal 3 percent of primary forest cover.
The loss of forest cover did not translate into long-term sustainable development, and therefore, such an outdated concept of forests as resource for utilization and exploitation needs serious revamping in the light of the evidence of global climate change.
The country is hardly recovering from Super Typhoon Yolanda as typhoons continue to hit the country that leaves in its wake damage to crops, property, loss of lives and livelihoods. Worse, the El Niño phenomenon is threatening to add to the growing problems of climate change impacts, food and water security and worsening poverty. The rains that came with the storms were not able to stabilize the water levels in the existing dams in Luzon.
There is also overwhelming evidence that healthy natural forests maintain environmental systems that are essential for life and sustainable development. Forests provide ecological services such as regulation of the hydrological cycle, stabilize climate by storing large amounts of carbon, provide clean water, air and fertilize the soil. We need at least 54 percent to maintain ecological services (Sajise, 1996) in the country or 40 percent for water related functions alone (Cruz, 2001).
Several case studies have proven that mangrove forests, lowland forests and other healthy forests have mitigated the devastating impact of Yolanda and have saved lives and properties in the process.
President Aquino had initiated efforts to mitigate natural disasters among other things by issuing Executive Order 23, declaring a Moratorium on Cutting and Harvesting of Timber in Natural and Residual Forests and Creating an Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force. It needs to be strengthened and reinforced by relevant laws given that exemptions were issued by the same executive department to government agencies and other so-called development projects.
With time against nature, this inaction could lead to lost opportunities in mitigating global climate change and preventing the loss of cultural heritage along with the indigenous cultural communities and the biodiversity resources unique to Philippine forests.
Other actions should be acted upon by the government, including the declaration of all natural and residual/secondary forests as protection forests; create a mechanism for valuation and payment for ecological services provided by forests; complete ban on commercial logging and mining in protection forests; and allocate forestlands for restoration purposes from remaining open and denuded forests.
There is also a call to use indigenous species for reforestation; adopt a co-management scheme in forestland management among concerned stakeholders; and have an increased role and powers of the local government units in forest management; as well as strengthening law enforcement mechanisms in forest protection.
The Forest Resources Bill Network is a coalition of environment and natural resources advocates and organizations campaigning for forest and biodiversity conservation through local and national legislations.