By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

(July 1996)

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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?

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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