A CENTURY OF FOREST DESTRUCTION
By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes
Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers
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E CANNOT realize fully the folly of our ways with the forests of the Philippines unless we are able to contrast descriptions of them made about a century apart. In the late 1880s, the Spanish colonial Office of Forestry in Manila gave this description at the Philadelphia Exposition:
"The richness and variety of Philippine vegetation is beyond praise. Since the cultivated area is a very small part of the land, a great portion of the interior and coasts, even in Luzon, are still covered with immense forests which are amusing for the gigantic size of their trees and the diversity of botanical species found there.... When one enters one of those forests for the first time, one is struck by the spectacle of those gigantic trees with trunks of two or three meters in diameter, whose tops are lost above, forming an immense green bower." Wonderfully fertile (as the earth is), plants grow everywhere and in such profusion that only with the help of an axe is it possible at times to walk through them. The trunks of the trees are covered with innumerable parasites, they hide under their green covering, and colossal lianas climb over them and interlacing with them, they form showy garlands."
Just a little over a week after the exact turn of the century, US Sen. Alfred Beveridge described just how many trees we still had:
"The wood of the Philippines can supply the furniture of the world for a century to come."
Contrast this now with what is described in "An Ecological Crisis," a chapter by Alan Robles in the book, Saving the Earth: The Philippine Experience, published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in 1993:
"IN THE LATE 1950s, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), three-fourths of the archipelago was covered with forest. By 1972, this figure had shrunk to half, and by 1988 only one quarter of the Philippines was wooded and only a tiny fraction of this was virgin forest.
"Peter Walpole, an ecologist with the Institute of Church and Social Issues, says that the country has only 988,000 hectares of primary (virgin) forest left, and logging firms are clearing about 50,000 hectares of these each year.
"To many experts, this spells ecological suicide. Today, there are six million hectares of critically eroses land. Without vegetation to hold it together, rains easily wash the soil downstream, clogging up rivers and dams with silt. This causes rivers to overflow, flooding farmlands.
"Ecologists put a lot of the blame for the drought that have ravaged parts of Luzon and the Visayas to denudation. Had there been trees, rainwater would be absorbed into the soil, there would be more transpiration, moisture would be retained and there would be more showers. With the trees gone, the parched land lies dusty and dry.."
It may not take another hundred years before we start aptly describing our country as an archipelago of deserts. And yet, our economy is apparently hooked to the logic of selling everything fast for foreign currency. And I really mean everything-- including the bounty of Mother Nature hereabouts, and including the Filipino soul -- a bargain sale where everything must go. Shall we now bother to weep for our children, grandchildren and further descendants?
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