WATERSHED CRADLE NO MORE?

The Cordillera has a total land area of 1.85 million hectares with 85 percent classified as having an elevation of 18 degrees and above while only 15 percent of the region’s total area have an elevation below 18 percent. It earned the title as the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon because of its rich forest cover that provides adequate water supply for domestic, industrial, power generation, agricultural among important other uses for people along the various river systems it waters extending up to the lowland communities. Under the pertinent provisions of Presidential Decree (PD) 705 or the Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines, lands classified with an elevation above 18 percent are considered to be inalienable and indisposable while those below the 18-degrees elevation are considered to be habitable.

The region is a semi-temperate area suitable for habitation that is why through the years people from different parts of the country have migrated to some parts of the region, especially Baguio City and Benguet purposely to look for sustainable sources of livelihood and food for their families. The region’s cool climate, scenic spots, among others, have become the major attraction to people wanting to join the indigenous peoples of Cordillera. But the Cordillera also became the center of mining and logging in northern Luzon as early as the early 1900s.

The pace of forest denudation in the early 1900s was not as rapid as compared to the present times. It took decades for logging companies to deforest various virgin forests in the region for the needs of mining companies. In some areas, indigenous communities drove away the expansion of logging companies into their communal forests. Famous among those who successfully fought against logging were the indigenous peoples along the mountains of the western flank of the Cordillera against the Cellophil corporation, this in the time of martial law in the 1970s.

In 2011 when the previous administration embarked on its anti-illegal gambling campaign coupled with its massive greening program, the forest cover of the region was estimated to be below 40 percent of its total land area, a cause for alarm by the government and environmentalists considering the vital contribution of the region in sustaining the growth and development of agriculture and industry the lowlands. For a good number of years, the government partnered with various community-based organizations for the implementation of a massive greening program to reforest some 1.5 million hectares of denuded forestlands which should have been planted with at least 1.5 billion assorted tree seedlings.

There were several concerns that were raised against the previous greening project of the government because the projects were not actually downloaded to the supposed beneficiaries on the ground while some local chief executives in the remote communities have complained that they were actually being requested by personnel of the environment department to sign reports relative to planted trees which they do not have actual knowledge.

We are wondering why responsible officials and personnel of the environment department could not actually predict the overall forest cover of the region after the implementation of the controversial national greening program. The present administration which embarked on an enhanced greening program does not actually know where to start things although there are existing road maps for the said purpose. We really need trees in our midst as they are beneficial to the various aspects of life.

The way to go in a sincere greening program is to involvement everyone and for everyone to walk the talk. Planting trees in denuded portions of watershed is easier said than done. A person must have the heart for the protection of the environment for him or her to rally the support of their community. We need people who do things and lead people by example. We do not need table planners, lame ducks and fence sitters considering the alarming state of our watersheds. Let us give justice to the present and future generations by preserving and protecting our forests so that they will enjoy the fruits of fully-grown assorted trees within their midst. Let us not deprive them with the chance of living with nature developed and conserved by us. We need to make sure that the trees will actually grow and serve their purposes, thus, let us be responsible stewards of the environment.

We have witnessed the serious negative effects of denuded mountains during the onslaught of natural calamities. We lost millions of lives because of natural disasters that were aggravated by man-made disasters. Let us not wait for the worst to happen to us. Let us emulate the best practices of various local government units, concerned government agencies and the private sector in the planting and nurturing of the trees so that our efforts will not go to waste.  The government already wasted billions of pesos in useless, failed and mishandled greening projects so let us not allow tens of billions more to be lost in our midst without us seeing the fruits of what we have spent them for. It is high time that there should be a paradigm shift for us to achieve reality more than our dreams.

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