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Growing Together One Tree at a Time

By Alexa H. BacayOctober 1, 2017

Like Shel Silverstein’s story in The Giving Tree, forests provide numerous benefits to human development. It supplies food, medicine, and products for livelihood that support people’s needs. It also balances the ecosystem in that it purifies the air, serves as catchment area for water, as well as helps in soil conservation.

According to the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the official total land area of the Philippines is 30 million hectares, which is legally classified as 15.8 million hectares of forestland, and 14.2 million hectares of alienable and disposable land.  As of 2010 however, the Philippine forest cover is estimated at 6.8 million hectares, restraining vital ecosystem services and affecting the quality of life of people who depend on it.

The DENR came up with a forest rehabilitation program called the National Greening Program (NGP), which was established by virtue of Executive Order No. 26. It aims to grow 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares nationwide from 2011 to 2016.

In November 2015, Executive Order No. 193 was signed to sustain the gains of the NGP, expanding the coverage to all the remaining unproductive, denuded, and degraded forests, extending the period of implementation from 2016 to 2028. Because of the NGP, 1.66 million hectares of target areas have been planted with 1.37 billion seedlings of various species, resulting in 4.02 million jobs generated in upland communities.

Meanwhile, since Executive Order 23 was passed, there has been a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting in natural and residual forests nationwide. An Anti-Logging Task Force was also created as well as partnerships between DENR, AFP and PNP were forged to combat illegal logging in Mindanao.

However, saving and preserving the forests doesn’t have to fall on the DENR’s shoulders alone. Non-profit organizations like the Forest Foundation Philippines (FFP) also provide grants to organizations that empower the people to protect forests. The organization was established in 2002, under two bilateral agreements between the United States and the Philippines.

“Since our founding, we have been on a mission to protect the Philippine forests from the threats and challenges that they face. We have supported over 450 projects, which improved the management of approximately 1.5 million hectares of forestlands, restored approximately 4,200 hectares of forests through the re-introduction of appropriate native species, established over 40 community-conserved areas and built over 60 community-level enterprises,” said Executive Director Atty. Jose Andres Canivel in response to Focus Feature’s questions.

The foundation’s long-term goal is the protection and sustainable management of Philippine forests and its biodiversity. They aim to grow forests, grow livelihoods, grow partnerships and grow advocates. With these goals, the FFP supports the participatory protection, management and enhancement of forest ecosystems that provide products and services. They also support the development of sustainable livelihoods, consistent with the manner of protecting forests, as well as supporting the strengthening of organizations and frameworks critical to forest protection. Lastly, they also support projects which can empower the public to be the driving force to further protect forests.

Most old growth forests in the country are in danger of deforestation. According to the data from FFP, forests in Palawan, Sierra Madre, Samar and Leyte, and Mindanao are threatened by conversion to agriculture and human settlements, mining resource industries, illegal logging, forest fires and climate change.

Meanwhile, closest to Metro Manila is the Sierra Madre mountain range, which covers the northeast coast of Luzon, serving as natural shield against typhoons coming from the Pacific Ocean. It also supports major infrastructure, including irrigation dams, water utility and power plants that serve urban settlements including Metro Manila.

People can help in protecting the forests by reporting incidents of illegal logging and poaching to the proper authorities, buying wood and other products from sustainable sources, recycling, participating in tree-growing activities and knowing more about the forests. As environmentalist Baba Dioum said, ‘In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught’,” said Canivel.

He further suggested that government and stakeholders should conduct information and education campaigns on the importance of forests and how to conserve them. Providing alternative livelihoods and sustainable sources of wood materials to forest-dependent communities can also help. Meanwhile, appropriate cases against those involved in illegal logging should be filed.

When asked about the importance of the Paris Agreement, and how it would’ve affected our forests had President Duterte refused to sign it earlier this year, Canivel said, “Our ratification of the Paris Agreement requires the government to conserve and manage our remaining forests, reduce threats and increase forest cover. The Paris Agreement provides the framework for wider participation in forest conservation. It allows forest managers to receive performance-based payments for carbon offsets from participating countries. Lastly, it allows access to technology for further adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts.”

Today, the FFP continues to work on protecting the forests that still face threats. They have allocated around P480 million to protect the country’s most critical forest landscapes namely: Sierra Madre, Palawan, Samar, Leyte, Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental.

For more information, email info@forestfoundation.ph, or follow Forest Foundation Philippines’ FB page (forestfoundationph).