When President Noynoy Aquino made an unorthodox decision in approving Executive Order 23, which bans logging in natural and residual forests (read: indigenous trees that were not planted by man), we knew that the country’s environmental landscape is up for a bumpy (yet exciting and worthwhile) ride.
The enactment of EO 23 has invited varied reactions from different sectors —from the political scene to the economic/commercial arena down to the man on the street. EO 23 traces its birthright from the noble intention of government to save our forests already crying for dear life. From 80 percent forest cover in 1910, ours has already dropped to an alarming 18 percent in 2010.
Small wonder why, when calamities, even those less ominous ones, strike the country, we are left with big havocs destroying not only lives and properties, but also that glimmer of hope from countless Filipinos wishing for decent lives in a habitable country, at least. EO 23 serves as catalyst for Filipinos to put some conscious effort in helping rehabilitate the environment.
EO 23 found supporters from government units and environmentalists, but it has also found foes and staunch detractors from the business sphere as well as from the working class whose very existence are intertwined with logging.
Members of the wood industry warned of huge losses in the economy: P30 billion in investments and $1 billion in annual exports from the log ban. More threatening is the impact on jobs of some 650,000 Filipinos employed in the logging industry. The tug-of-war is now between loss in investments and source of income, and loss of lives, loved ones and property.
Synergy: logging ban and national greening program
While logging ban is reactive in nature, another law, the Executive Order 26 or the National Greening Program (NGP) is more proactive in its approach. Signed by the President last February, NGP seeks the help of government employees and students in the growing of 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land in six years.
Government employees and students will be required by the law to plant a minimum of 10 seedlings per year. With the convergence of the two laws and with their effective implementation, the eight million hectares of denuded forests in the country could easily be refilled with trees. And these trees could easily refuel our economy with P8 billion worth of exports, investments, and other source of revenue.
Forest species like mahogany, narra, etc. and fruit-bearing trees are the target of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the government agency spearheading all these environmental advocacies.
“Good things do come to those who wait... and act”
The entry of the two laws regarding the environment and social scene invite positive action not only from environmentalists or government employees. It also calls for attention and renewed concern from amongst all Filipinos to act now to save our environment.
In implementing EOs 23 and 26, government has moved out of its comfort zone, well aware of the risks of lower annual income due to lessened exports (woods and wood products) as well as the challenge of providing jobs for those retrenched by the log ban.
But these laws could open doors for the development of more farm and industrial tree plantations to improve timber supply. These laws could finally put an end to our dependence on natural forests and indigenous trees that do get cut but are never replaced. With the tree-planting enterprise and the no-touch policy in indigenous trees, Filipinos can have a renewed hope of having sustainable living conditions up to the next generation of Filipinos.
As Sec. Paje said during an interview in government radio-tv program “Talking Points,” he said, “the environment is a responsibility of every Filipino. We are responsible for each of our carbon footprint-- what is emitted and left behind from each our single act. Everyone deserves clean air, clean water, a clean environment—all of which are fundamental rights of all Filipinos.”
While it may take a while before we could reap the rewards of the log ban and the greening program, the rewards will come, and they will come to those who wait and act.