EO 23: Renewing Hopes for Sustainable Forestry in the Philippines

 

 

banner_EO23-web

February 1, 2011 marked an exciting change in the dynamics of Philippine environmentalism.  On this date, His Excellency Benigno Simeon Aquino III issued an order that is intended to respond to the problem of forest denudation and environmental degradation in our country.

Executive Order (EO) No. 23 could not have come at a better time.  We have reached a state where we humbly admit that our environment is sick and needs rehabilitation.  We feel alarmingly trapped between floods, landslides, hot weather and dirty air.  All these are caused by depriving ourselves of a most potent resource: our trees.

Over the years, extractive activities have resulted in the thinning of our forest cover from 80% in 1910 to 18% in 2010, a century after.  Sadly, the denudation of our forests has reached such an alarming level that efforts to reforest may hardly keep up with the rate of destruction.

Hence, in pursuit of protecting our remaining trees and increasing our forest cover, President Aquino took the bull by the horns, and EO 23 was born.

The EO has sparked interest among naysayers, and garnered the support of some local executives and environment groups, but it also raised questions from the local wood industry and skeptics in the political arena.

To further our understanding of this executive order, let us explore its intentions, components and pertinent features. 


Law’s Intent

EO 23 declares a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests of the entire country and creates the anti-illegal logging task force.  The intention of President Aquino in creating the said EO is to uphold our intergeneration responsibility to protect the environment and to prevent further destruction wrought by natural disasters.  

Still fresh in people’s memory are the occurrences of landslides in Ormoc, Baguio, Leyte and Aurora which killed thousands of our countrymen; and the disasters brought by Reming, Ondoy, Pepeng and Frank which destroyed hundreds of lives and millions worth of properties.  And just recently, our country witnessed the devastation in Bicol, Samar and Surigao.  In the midst of perceived further threats of more landslides and the destructive potentials of the La Nina phenomenon, EO 23 was signed.

The EO underscored the State’s obligation to protect the remaining forest cover areas not only to prevent such calamities, but also to preserve biodiversity, protect threatened habitats and sanctuaries of endangered and rare species, and to allow for the natural regeneration of residual forests and the development of plantation forests.


Components and Pertinent Features


Forest_natural-web
In order to implement the moratorium, EO 23 has prohibited the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from issuing and renewing logging contracts and tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests.  When we say natural and residual forests, we refer to forests composed of indigenous trees that were not planted by man.

plantation_forest-web







On the other hand, a plantation forest is a man-made forest, where trees were planted pursuant to a management agreement with the DENR.



The 
 log ban is in place indefinitely.  

The only exemptions allowed by the ban are the clearing of road right-of-way by the Department of Public Works and Highways, site preparations for tree plantations, silvicultural treatment and similar activities, provided that all logs derived from the said cutting permits shall be turned over to the DENR for proper disposal.  Likewise, the ban may allow tree cutting associated with cultural practices pursuant to the Indigenous People’s Right Act (IPRA) subject to strict compliance with existing DENR guidelines.

The Executive Order also tasks the DENR to review all existing forestry agreements and immediately cancel those that have violated forest laws at least twice.  Furthermore, said agreements will be immediately terminated if the holders engage in logging activities in any natural or residual forest.

The DENR was given authority to close all sawmills, veneer plants and other wood processing plants that are unable to present proof of sustainable sources of legally cut logs for a period of at least five years starting this year.

NGP_tree_planting-webA National Greening Program shall likewise be developed by the DENR through the DA-DENR-DAR Convergence Initiative.  The NGP is meant to anchor on the government’s goal of poverty reduction, food, security, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.  To effect this, the EO has directed the DENR to partner with agencies such as the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education (to initiate the necessary educational drive campaign), the Department of Interior and Local Government (to help in establishing communal tree farms for firewood and other purposes), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (to identify the upland farmers covered by the NGP as priority beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program), the Department of Budget and Management (to provide the funds for the production of quality seedlings for reforestation programs from available funds of the government), and the private sector and other concerned agencies and institutions (to raise funds and resources for tree planting activities).


The Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force

For the EO to be more effective, we need environmental law enforcers.  Consequently, EO 23 created the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force to enforce the moratorium on logging and take the lead in the anti-illegal logging campaign.  

Taskforce_illegal_logging-wThe Task Force is to be chaired by the DENR Secretary or his duly authorized representative.  To assist him are the heads or representatives of the Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, Philippine National Police, and Armed Forces of the Philippines.  Said agencies are also mandated to assist the DENR in enforcing other existing environmental laws.

All illegally-cut timber confiscated by the Task Force shall be donated to the Department of Education and shall be utilized to produce more school chairs and build classrooms.



Not a Total Log Ban


Local governments and some environmental groups welcomed the EO with enthusiasm. However, the industry that would be most affected by the order was not as jubilant.  An immediate rush of appeals and protests by members of the wood industry greeted the new Executive Order.  The Philippine Wood Producers Association (PWPA) warned about the wide impact the EO will have on jobs and revenues.  It projected losing at least P30 billion in investments and $1 billion in annual exports from the log ban.  This sentiment was echoed by the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc., which asserted that continuing the log ban will also result in the retrenchment of 650,000 workers, drive up the cost of wood and housing units, and will have serious repercussions on the economy.

DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje tried to allay their fears by explaining that the EO does not impose a total log ban.  “Timber companies could still legally cut trees in tree plantations. What are being protected are only the natural forests and the residual forests.  There are still hundreds of thousands of hectares of plantation forests that wood producers can utilize,” Secretary Paje clarified.

As to the potential economic losses, it must be said: Environmental protection should now come first over business decisions.

Conversely, the denudation of forests has allowed calamities to wreak havoc on the country in the past years, causing not just thousands of lives lost and families displaced, but also millions of pesos worth of damages to infrastructure and agriculture.  For the year 2010 alone, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda noted that calamities brought about the loss of 36 lives, injured 32 others, displaced thousands of families, and hurt the economy with an estimated damage cost of P142 million to P306 million.

The good news about this EO is that more tree plantations could sprout as a result of the log ban.  It could pave the way for the development of more tree farms and industrial tree plantations necessary to improve timber supply.  Secretary Paje stressed that “timber extraction has now become a solely ‘what-you-plant-is-what-you-cut enterprise’.”  

tenurial-webBy ending their reliance on timber extracted from natural forests, the country’s wood producers are encouraged to expand their harvesting operations in tree plantations.  This poses a challenge for them, and for all of us, to show that indeed we aim for sustainable forestry and that we genuinely care for our environment.

In the past, we lost many of our trees in order to acquire timber.  And yet, in exchange for timber, we lost the many other uses of trees such as protection against topsoil erosion and landslides, storage of water reserves during droughts, production of oxygen, and absorption of carbon dioxide which could have significantly reduced air pollution.  If we continue to lose our tropical forests, we lose more than just timber; we too lose the wildlife to which the forests provide habitat.  And finally, less trees would mean less fruits to harvest, less sources of medicinal preparations, and less opportunities for the aesthetic pleasures that many trees offer.

EO 23 can help us ensure that future generations may still reap these benefits we now enjoy from trees.  It has renewed our hopes for a possible sustainable future for forestry in the Philippines.#