By JUDE BAGGO
BAGUIO CITY — Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), an alliance of indigenous people’s organizations called for the protection and preservation of the remaining forests of the region and urged voters to choose candidates who are serious at defending the remaining forests from destruction.
In her statement for the celebration of the International Day of Forests and Trees on March 21, CPA Secretary General Abigail Anongos said that the present state of the Cordillera forests is alarming.
In 2015, government data reveals that the remaining forest cover of the region is pegged at 47% and it decreasing by at least 300-500 hectares every year that even Augusto Lagon, the regional technical director for forest management services of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) admitted that the threats to the region’s watersheds and forests are real.
As early as 2012, the former DENR regional director admitted that Cordillera watersheds are at a critical state with only 37% of the total land area remain forested. As a result, all the major rivers in this ecosystem – the Agno, Chico, Abra, and Magat Rivers – are observed to be drying up.
“As a watershed cradle in Northern Luzon, the remaining forest must be protected and sustainable measures must be put in place to increase forest cover in the region,” Anongos said.
Also in 2012, Commissioner Heherson T. Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission said that more than half of the forests in the provinces of Apayao, Kalinga and Mountain Province had been logged over.
Antonio Manila, technical director for forestry of the DENR-National Capital Region stated that the deforestation rate in Cordillera region had risen to alarming levels resulting to massive erosion and groundwater depletion. Manila further attributed that the disappearing forest cover largely due to conversion to commercial vegetable and other farms, timber poaching, and fires from slash-and-burn farming.
Anongos pointed out that the decreasing forest cover in the Cordillera is a result not of vegetable garden expansions but largely by corporate large scale mining. She said that in Benguet along corporate mining has denuded forests in Itogon; Baguio, Tuba and Tublay. She added that when they ran out of timber, the mining companies expanded their logging to Bobok in Bokod.
She said that in Abra, the Cellophil Resources Company, then owned by Marcos crony Herminio Disini, was granted a Timber and Pulpwood License Agreement, covering 99,565 hectares of pine forests in Abra and Kalinga-Apayao in 1973.
Along with the massive deforestation is the drying up of the major river systems in the region that supplies water to the adjacent north Luzon regions. The 12 major and principal Cordillera river systems total drainage area is 5.5 million hectares and groundwater storage of about 150 million cubic meters for irrigation and hydroelectric energy of Northern Luzon while household sector consumes an annual average consumption of 24.77 million cubic meters.
Anongos said that while forest preservation and environmental protection is everybody’s concern, the government and the DENR holds greater responsibility.
Anongos said that CPA since its establishment, CPA continues to join and spearhead campaigns against illegal logging, open-pit mining operations and other destructive projects to the environment. In the grassroots, she said the CPA in partnership with its local chapters and development institutions in conducting capacity building activities to strengthen and develop sustainable agriculture and environmental practices among our communities.
Anongos further said that the issue of vegetable farmers expanding gardens into the last remaining forested areas should be seen as a matter of survival. She said that the lack of land to till and the drive of liberalized agriculture and commercial temperate vegetables in the country force farmers to expand their gardens into the forests. She said the government should come up with comprehensive plan and program on sustainable agriculture and to cater to the needs of our farmers.
Anongos urged voters to include environment protection as a major criteria in choosing candidates to support this coming elections. “Let us support candidates with clear environmental programs. On the other hand, we should reject candidates who are pro-mining, illegal logging, and other destructive projects,” she said. # nordis.net