Thursday, September 23, 2010

Metro faces new ‘Ondoy’ with continued illegal logging

Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces could
face another Ondoy-type disaster as illegal logging has continued in
the Sierra Madre, according to an environmental group working to
conserve the 1.5 million-hectare mountain range.

The country’s longest mountain range, the heavily forested Sierra
Madre serves as the eastern wall of Luzon that protects much of the
island from an average 26 storms entering the country through the
Pacific Ocean each year.

However, because of widespread illegal logging, environmentalists fear
that the mountain range may no longer be able to protect low-lying
areas like Metro Manila.

“We must be aware that we cannot destroy Sierra Madre and continue to
live... it is a mother, not a commodity that gives us life,” said Fr.
Pete Montallana, chair of the Save the Sierra Madre Network.

‘Save Sierra Madre Day’

The network, composed of more than 30 organizations involved in
development and conservation projects in the mountain range, will kick
off the “Save Sierra Madre Day” on Sunday to mark the first
anniversary of the occurrence of tropical storm Ondoy, during which
large areas of the capital and nearby provinces were submerged under
water and hundreds of people were killed.

The Sept. 26 activities will include a tree-planting activity at the
Marikina watershed, with each seedling to bear the name of every
person who died as a result of Ondoy.

Montallana said the event will act as a catalyst to intensify
awareness of the importance of preserving the Sierra Madre.

“Metro Manila doesn’t see what is really happening there but it is
already feeling the consequences,” he said at the weekly forum
yesterday hosted by the Catholic Media Network.

The priest, who is based in Dingalan, Aurora province and works with
the indigenous peoples living in the mountain range, said the Sierra
Madre’s trees were being cut down every day up to now.

‘Hot logs’

He related how on Aug. 31, he and his group had witnessed “hot logs”
being taken to the Umiray River, a waterway between Aurora and Quezon
provinces which is often used to transport illegally cut logs. The
priest showed photos of this at the forum.

Montellana said he has also been receiving reports about illegal
logging activities from parishioners and members of various
organizations based in the provinces around the mountain range—Quezon,
Aurora, Isabela, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija.

He said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has
largely failed to curb illegal logging in the Sierra Madre.

Montellana also said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje’s policy of
putting up video cameras in all DENR offices to stamp out the
corruption that was the core of the illegal timber trade was a

‘Not working’

“It’s not working... he might as well just put video cameras in the
entire Sierra Madre so he can see what is really happening there,”
said the priest.

Nilo Tamoria, DENR-Calabarzon regional director, said the issue of
illegal logging always came down to dealing with the lack of
livelihood opportunities for the families living in the mountain

He said the DENR was finding it hard to keep up with illegal loggers
because the agency does not have enough forest rangers and the few
that it has are no longer young.

A ranger, usually aged between 50 and 60, has to oversee 4,000
hectares of forest, Tamoria said.

Montallana insisted that the only way to stop the illegal timber trade
was to address widespread corruption in the environment agency.
Jocelyn R. Uy


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