Logging ban forces locals to look for other jobs

Posted on March 04, 2011

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- A JEEP maneuvers through blinding rain, with the driver unfamiliar with the terrain.

The 24-hour trek from Agusan del Sur to Quezon town in Bukidnon province, however, was worth the trip for Making M. Canhatan, a Banwaon community leader from the town of San Luis, Agusan del Sur and whose livelihood has been dependent on logging.

He was invited to visit the communal farms of Manobos, another tribal community, in Quezon.

Mr. Canhatan is among many who fear that they may be affected by the logging ban ordered by the administration in natural and residual forests.

"Logging, although not a part of our traditions, is the only source of income many of us know," Mr. Canhatan said in the vernacular.

"It’s been in Agusan ever since companies started their concessions decades back. Doing business with these companies is quick and relatively easy," he added.

Upland dwellers often depend on or support logging companies and wood processors, many times supplying sawmills with illegally cut timber.

Members of Mr. Canhatan’s organization, Tagdumahan, and other groups from the nearby municipalities of La Paz and Esperanza have started to explore other means of livelihood aside from logging as a result of the log ban policy.

Kasilo, a Manobo organization based in southern Bukidnon, had hosted the exposure trip of Mr. Canhatan’s group.

"We have been practicing the traditional way of farming without the technology now used by many lowland farmers," said Datu Marcelino Mandanoay, chairman of Kasilo.

"We are helping promote the slow but sure and safe practice of communal farming," he added.

Many tribal groups, or lumads, in Northern Mindanao welcome the logging ban as a means of saving the remaining forest cover in their ancestral lands.

The downside, however, is that the President’s order was allegedly lacking and unfair.

"Logically, it is the small cutting operations of the communities in the hinterlands that they are referring to as illegal," Mr. Canhatan said.

"The lumads are more than willing to stop our dependence on logs but what is the alternative they are offering?" he asked.

Meanwhile, the environmental group Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Cagayan de Oro City (LRNC-CdO), an anti-logging advocate in the Caraga Region, is also backing the policy.

"It’s one step forward in our quest for environmental justice," said Carl Cesar C. Rebuta of LRNC-CdO. "But it’s not the final solution to the problem."

For its part, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc.-Northern Mindanao (PhilExport), however, doubted if the recent presidential fiat will finally stop illegal logging.

"If a handful of companies were irresponsible in their operations, why castigate the entire industry?" said Michael Joseph R. Ignacio, executive director of the regional office of PhilExport.

"It’s the inefficiency of the regulation... The ban might only worsen illegal operations," he added.

PhilExport, Mr. Ignacio said, supports the statement of the Philippine Wood Producers Association, which is wary of the impact of the logging ban on wood product- and wood-dependent industries.

"In the eastern half of Misamis Oriental alone, five years ago, around 10,000 people depend on the wood processing industry," said Mr. Ignacio.

"Now, that figure has doubled, and this does not include the construction sector which also needs a lot of timber," he added.

Mr. Ignacio also pointed out the need to support the wood industry instead of accusing it as the culprit at every flooding incident.

"Second, there is inadequate budget for the monitoring of the forests. How can one or two rangers monitor hectares upon hectares of trees?

"Is it really logging which causes the floods? What about the conversion of lands into subdivisions, or into plantations?" -- Louie G. Dumas