Monday, June 04, 2007

Plundering Paradise: The Last Rainforests

PLUNDERING PARADISE: Chapter Three. The Last Rainforests

WHAT WE FILIPINOS SHOULD KNOW: (Note: Bold and/or underlined words are HTML links. Click on them to see the linked posting/article. Forwarding the postings to relatives and friends, especially in the homeland, is greatly appreciated).

This extract is somewhat dated but is very relevant to what has happened and is still happening in the homeland; to our natural resources, to our patrimony that should have been taken cared of by us for the future generations of native Filipinos. Instead, due to a mix of mass ignorance, mass apathy and selfish individualism of the educated Filipino, we have allowed our patrimony to drastically diminish. In this particular case, our forests to be denuded by a few of our own kind -- who with their "guns, goons and gold" have abused our lands and have taken the native poor, their fellow countrymen, for granted.

Today, whatever and wherever beautiful, pristine piece of our homeland is left, it is being slowly parcelled out to foreigners, with the natives like us fenced out. We seem not to care and we allow such to occur... in our own homeland!


“Most people would rather die than think, in fact, they do so”. – Bertrand Russell

"I either want less corruption, or more chance to participate in it." - Ashleigh Brilliant, 1933

"The accomplish to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference." - Bess Myerson, 1924-present

“Nations, whose NATIONALISM is destroyed, are subject to ruin.” - Colonel Muhammar Qaddafi, 1942-, Libyan Political and Military Leader

"Upang maitindig natin ang bantayog ng ating lipunan, kailangang radikal nating baguhin hindi lamang ang ating mga institusyon kundi maging ang ating pag-iisip at pamumuhay. Kailangan ang rebolusyon, hindi lamang sa panlabas, kundi lalo na sa panloob!" --Apolinario Mabini, La Revolucion Filipina (1898)


PLUNDERING PARADISE: Chapter Three. The Last Rainforests

Our environmental problem is not a problem of trees and of water. It's a problem of politics, of economics.
Dr. Delfin Ganapin, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Republic of the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources

About 22,000 years ago, Palawan was already inhabited by man. This is proven by the discovery of fossil remains ... Where he came from. . .is not known ... perhaps he was one of those born in the Garden of Eden and wandered to Palawan. Or it could have been that the Garden of Eden was right here in Palawan instead of in the valley of the Tigris-Euphrates as supposed.

Province of Palawan, National Census and Statistics Office, Facts and Figures About Palawan, 1985, p. 1
As recently as 1900, lush tropical rainforests carpeted most of the Philippine archipelago. At the current rate of deforestation, however, the country will enter the twenty-first century a barren landscape, with nearly all of its rainforests destroyed. No province better illustrates why the Philippine tropical rainforests are disappearing than the long, narrow island of Palawan, some 350 nautical miles southwest of Manila. There, an unfolding drama of people, power, and politics has turned Palawan into a microcosm of the rapidly vanishing tropical rainforests throughout the country and in many parts of the world.

Palawan is the Philippines' last frontier. Its relative isolation from the rest of the archipelago spared many of its resources from the systematic exploitation practiced elsewhere. As the planning and development coordinator for the province phrases it to us, "Palawan has been thrown out into the China Sea." Indeed, its closest neighbor is not even another Philippine island, but the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. It is said you can use a five-battery flashlight to signal between Palawan and Borneo. In fact, we are told, in the Pleistocene period a land bridge linked the two islands.

Until recent decades, the rest of the Philippines viewed Palawan simply in terms of its isolation; the island has long hosted a leper community and a convict colony. As transport costs fell, however, and as the other islands were increasingly overlogged and overfished, it became only a matter of time before Palawan was "discovered" by thousands of poor farmers and fishers from other islands— and by big commercial loggers.

Today, Palawan is covered with one of the Philippines' largest continuous tracts of tropical rainforest. But the forest's days are numbered if the present rate of logging continues. As a result, Palawan has become the center of one of the fiercest environmental battles in Southeast Asia, a battle taken up in early 1988 by one of the Philippines' most influential environmental groups, Haribon (a contraction of the Tagalog words haring ibon, meaning "king bird," in reference to the endangered Philippine eagle).

Among the first Palaweños we interview are a group of local environmentalists, who in 1989 are in the process of setting up in Palawan Haribon's sixth chapter. But they defer answering many of our questions; they insist that the only way to understand what is happening to Palawan is first to hike into its rainforests. We agree to do just that, with some of these local environmentalists as guides.

A hike into Palawan's rainforests requires both time and patience. We wake up early to catch the one daily jeepney that runs from the provincial capital of Puerto Princesa to our first stop, Baheli. Jeepneys in the province are just like jeepneys in Manila—except that they are often several times more crowded. Initially we perch on a thin piece of wood that is balanced across the back of the vehicle, where passengers get on and off. Luck is with us, however: after about half an hour we get seats inside the jeepney. True, the jeepney is a bit crowded: there are eight people on each side, as is usual, but added to that are three young children standing in the center, two women who replace us on the board, and three men who dangle rather precariously off the back, their feet balanced on the running board, plus several live chickens (feet tied) and one very scared, squealing piglet in an old rice sack. On the roof, rattling around with the baskets of food and wares, cling another twenty or so men and boys who enjoy the view and endure the blaring tropical sun.

After a couple of hot, dusty hours (roads in the provinces are seldom paved), we arrive at Baheli, a small fishing village on a river. Here the jeepney route ends. Now we are confronted with a typical Palawan problem: no more roads. We talk the owner of a banca—a fishing boat, in this case, small and motorized—into carrying us on our journey's next leg, down the river. A young boy stands at the boat's bow, a long bamboo pole in hand, to help guide us along the narrow, shallow river. Exchanging constant banter, he and the driver maneuver the boat between the incredibly thick mangroves that line the river on both sides.

We have read of such mangrove forests, which once bordered much of the Philippines' coastal areas, creating rich breeding grounds and shelters for fish. These days, however, it is unusual to find such dense mangroves in the Philippines. According to Philippine government statistics, 92 percent of the virgin mangrove swamps that existed in 1920 had been destroyed by 1985: victims of coastal development, local demand for firewood, and, increasingly, "fish-pondification," that is, conversion to commercial fishponds and prawn farms.

After an hour we reach the point where the river spills into a spectacular bay that feeds the South China Sea. We hug the northern coast of the bay, gliding over transparent water, until we reach another mangrove-lined river and turn inland.

Soon thereafter, at a grouping of a few huts, we disembark. An old logging road runs from this community to the area where we will spend the night. But the noontime tropical sun is fierce, forcing us to respect siesta hours. We stop at the open hut of an old farmer (whom, out of respect, we call tatay, "father") and ask if we can take refuge until the heat subsides.

When we begin our hike, we do so accompanied by a sled-like cart drawn by a carabao (water buffalo), rented for the peso equivalent of $2.50 from tatay's neighbor to pull our food and belongings. Carabao are the main work animals and the only technology most Philippine peasants ever dream of owning. (At a cost of about the equivalent of $250 per animal, however, even carabao remain an unaffordable dream for many.) They are said to be very dependable animals. But, as we discover, because they do not sweat and therefore have to be bathed every few hours, be it in a river or a mud puddle, as a means of transport they are slow.

As the sun sets, we stop for the night in a small barrio nestled between two mountains. The next day, we hike in the morning and then board another fishing boat for the final leg of our journey. The scene from the water looking landward is magnificent. Tall mountains, blanketed by lush forests, plunge dramatically to the shimmering sea. It is, we remark, much like the scenes all around the country that would have greeted Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century or the Chinese traders centuries before.

As we trek, we see few signs of civilization. Virgin forests of ipil, almaciga, balete, and other majestic trees surround us, peak after peak. Monkeys chatter over our heads, stopping to stare in silence when they spot us, as interested by us as we by them. At intervals, narrow waterfalls cascade from limestone cliffs into the emerald waters below. We pause occasionally to pay our respects to trees so huge that when three adults circle the trunks, arms outstretched, fingers barely touch. Underneath an enormous mountain, with a cathedral-like dome so grand it has acquired the name of St. Paul's, we paddle a small banca up a long underground river, its caves illuminated solely by the light of our kerosene lantern. Thousands of bats and swifts soar and dive overhead.

The surrounding forests, as one of our Palawan-born guides proudly tells us, are "one of the world's last living libraries of ecology." Yet, as we hike, the singing of the birds is often disturbed by the roar of chain saws, even as we enter areas near the underground river that have been declared part of the Philippine national park system and therefore officially off-limits to logging.

At one point, our guides point to thin green saplings growing alongside the trail. These are falcata (Albizzia falcataria), fast-growing non-native softwoods planted as part of the logging concessionaire's reforestation program to replace native hardwood (Dipterocarp) species that have been cut down. One guide silently motions us to follow him off the logging road and into the falcata. We find that the falcata replanting simply hugs the trail. About ten feet off the road, the reforestation ceases abruptly. The reforested strip is designed to give the impression that, as is required by the logging concessionaires' license agreement with the Philippine government, which "owns" this forest land, reforestation has been accomplished.

Instead, nestled between that reforested strip and mountain-sides still green with hardwood forests lies a large, flat expanse that has been clear-cut. Scruffy green bushes dot a field scarred with tree trunks and brown debris, dead branches and leaves. Here and there, felled but unwanted logs crisscross it. (The scene reminds us of a statistic cited by Nicholas Guppy, who has studied tropical rain-forests the world over for more than thirty-five years: "Frequently 90-98 percent of trees are left unused when an area of rain forest is logged ... Where 10 percent of trees are extracted, around 55 percent are usually irreparably damaged.")
2 "This area was clear-cut in the early 1980s," says one of our guides, adding that it worries him, because it is the source of water for the underground river.
The major fear of Palaweños such as our guides, as they watch their forests disappear, is not the loss of beauty. Nor is it the globalwarming effect, of which many have no knowledge. In a country where the majority of people live close to the margin of survival, the main concern is more immediate. According to the Palaweños, the rampant logging is drying up the island's watersheds, threatening municipal drinking-water systems as well as irrigation for low-land farmers. Palawan is encircled by the nation's richest fishing grounds; we are told that approximately two out of three fish sold in Manila come from its waters. Yet, silt from denuded mountains is flowing down rivers into the sea, smothering coral reefs and thus depleting fish resources. The deforestation has also threatened the survival of the Batak, indigenous Filipinos who live by gathering resin from almaciga trees. They are being driven into extinction as that giant of hardwoods—supposedly a protected species—is hauled out of Palawan's forests.

Later, as the sunset brings a surreal glow of reddish pink to the mountains, we ask our guides more questions about the forests of Palawan. They know the statistics well: Although forests still cover an estimated 54 percent of Palawan, some 19,000 hectares of trees are being torn down every year. The main culprit, we are told, is Palawan's biggest logging company, Pagdanan Timber Products, owned by Filipino timber baron and businessman Jose "Pepito" Alvarez. A man who became rich exporting timber from Indonesia in the 1970s, Alvarez owns two logging companies with concessions in Palawan. His forest concessions are estimated to cover about 61 percent of Palawan's productive forest, with as much as two-thirds of the concessions in virgin rainforest. Most of Alvarez's harvest is exported to Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, nations which now carefully control the cutting of their own forests.

Ultimately, however, the problem is not just Alvarez. Like all logging and mining concessionaires in the Philippines, Alvarez is beholden to the Philippine government since, by Philippine law, all lands above eighteen degrees of slope (and all minerals found within) belong to the state and are managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This has turned fully one-half of the Philippines' 30 million hectares into so-called "public land," including almost all its forests and most of the ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. As a Philippine indigenous-peoples' support group notes: "Simply put, lands of the public domain include mineral and forest lands, public parks and reservations, as well as other lands which the government has failed to classify. All in all, these constitute some fifty-three percent of the total Philippine land mass, making the State the greatest landlord in the country."

In return for what have historically been some of the world's lowest logging fees and flimsy promises to reforest cut lands, the government has granted such loggers as Pepito Alvarez concessions to log specified areas for a specific period of time. To say that the power to distribute forest concessions gives DENR (and the president, if she or he wants it) a great deal of clout is an understatement. For a government that is chronically short of cash, forest and mineral concessions become a prime government instrument for rewarding allies and engendering patronage. As Haribon's president Maximo "Junie" Kalaw, Jr., notes, "Forest resources and land resources were given as political patronage and as a source of resources to keep people in power and to buy electoral votes."
6 Not surprisingly, timber and mining concessionaires have historically been some of the main electoral financiers of the candidates. 7

Alvarez is a player in this patronage game. His Palawan concessions, Pagdanan and a sister timber company, were granted in the early 1980s by then-president Ferdinand Marcos. As Pagdanan's executive vice-president tells us, the firms began to "log in earnest in 1981" in Palawan. By one account, "the logging companies are cutting round the clock so the forest continues to dwindle as each month passes."
8 According to Haribon calculations, Alvarez's Palawan operations provide him annual revenues of some $24 million. 9 That figure by itself may not immediately convey a sense of Alvarez's power in Palawan, but two comparisons put it in better perspective: it is equivalent to three-quarters of the total income of this entire province of about 500,000 people, and it is 24 times the provincial government's annual budget of $1 million. 10

These comparisons are important, our guides stress, in understanding who is and who is not to blame for the deforestation in these last rainforests. Both the Philippine government and the big loggers have long placed most of the blame on the millions of Filipino peasants who now inhabit the country's upland areas. Through forms of shifting (commonly but pejoratively known as "slash-and-burn") agriculture and tree-cutting for fuel, the argument goes, these upland farmers have been chopping down the Philippine forest. In other words, poverty is blamed for the deforestation. According to Pagdanan's full-page advertisements in the nation's leading daily newspapers, the blame for the disappearance of Palawan's forests lies at the door of "slash-and-burn farmers, settlers, and illegal loggers who indiscriminately cut the trees."
11 Indeed, the logging company claims that it actually protects the forests; 120 Pagdanan guards are armed with high-powered rifles to keep Palawan's 21,000 shifting agriculturalists from clearing portions of the forests to plant subsistence crops.

This argument angers our guides. "The biggest kainginero [slash-and-burn agriculturalist] is Pepito Alvarez," one says. He reminds us that the clear-cut area we saw earlier in the day was cut down by Pagdanan. That area is not an isolated case, the guides say. Indeed, we later meet a number of former Pagdanan workers who have lodged a complaint with DENR, charging that Pagdanan practices illegal logging (including clear-cutting and cutting of under-sized logs) and that its reforestation program is a showcase limited to the sides of the roads. The workers show us dozens of photos to prove the charges.

Alvarez's indiscriminate logging practices are not the only rebuttal our guides provide to the kaingineros' defense. It is, they emphasize, a case of blaming the victim. To understand why poor shifting agriculturalists exist and why many no longer practice the traditional sustainable methods of farming requires a look at the whole picture. As Haribon president Junie Kalaw explains in an interview with the Berkeley, California-based Philippine Resource Center:

In the past 15 years we have had only 470 logging concessionaires [in the Philippines] who [have been given the right to exploit] all the resources of the forests ... The average profit on logging is 100,000 pesos per hectare after you've paid all expenses. When you total this, it would amount to about $42 billion, more than our foreign debt, that came from the forest and this money went to 470 people. The process created poverty for 17 million people around the forest areas.

More concisely, as Kalaw himself phrases it time and time again to Philippine audiences: "The fundamental thing is that the greed created the need." Gareth Porter and Delfin Ganapin, Jr., call it "the politics of natural resources," by which they mean that "the Philippine political system has concentrated control of natural resources in the hands of the few at the expense of the economically disadvantaged and [has] put a premium on the short-term exploitation of resources."
13 In other words, as with Palawan's one huge commercial logger versus its thousands of shifting agriculturalists, unequal control of resources, not poverty, is the chief culprit. Inequality, not poverty, leaves the very poor with no choice but to dig their own graves environmentally. 14

In addition, our guides and other Philippine-based environmentalists explain, it is precisely because of big loggers like Alvarez that most farmers can enter the forests in the first place. Only loggers have the equipment to build roads into the heart of the forest. Once the big commercial loggers have chopped down the commercially viable trees, they abandon the area. But they leave logging roads that, in the words of one Philippine forester, serve as "the arteries of forest destruction."
15 As we are told by a farmer elsewhere in the Philippines, poor shifting agriculturalists "will only penetrate into areas that loggers have opened up because of the roads. How could [the farmers] cut all the big trees by themselves?" 16

In Palawan we learn not simply that a few individuals control the resources. We learn how such a system is maintained. Palawan is testimony to the fact that the environmental issue in the Philippines and in much of the Third World is primarily a question of power. Palaweños often refer to Pagdanan as people did to the legendary banana companies in Central America at the turn of the century: as El Compañia ("the company"). For all intents and purposes, Palawan is a company island. Control of natural resources—forest, minerals, fishing grounds, or agricultural land—gives economic power. That "economic power," as one of the few local politicians who is willing to meet with us explains, "is always political power if you know how to use it."

Alvarez understands the connection well. A 1988 exposé in the well-respected Far Eastern Economic Review presented evidence that Alvarez has cultivated close ties with Palawan's two congressmen (one of whom is Ramon Mitra, Aquino's ambitious speaker of the House of Representatives). As we discover in Palawan, almost all local politicians, from the governor down to the mayors, are "connected" to this logger. The church hierarchy, an outspoken critic of natural-resource destruction in other parts of the country, remains noticeably silent in Palawan. The Far Eastern Economic Review reported that Palawan's bishop "is alleged to receive free lumber from Alvarez."
Our trip to Palawan comes at an historic moment: electoral democracy has returned to the Philippines after two decades of the Marcos dictatorship. Corazon Aquino is in power; elections have been held for local, provincial, and national offices. Yet, the island of Palawan feels eerily like the Philippines during the days of martial law. There are politicians opposed to Alvarez, but most are circumspect in voicing their opposition. Says one to us in reference to the rule of the logger and his political allies, "Theirs is a reign of terror."

That reign includes attempts to censor opposing views. The province's two newspapers and single radio station are controlled by politicians close to Alvarez. An application by an opposition group for a second radio station, we are told, was turned down by the national government. Around the time of our visit, copies of a Manila newspaper carrying an article critical of Palawan's power structure mysteriously disappear. Days later, copies of the article are distributed clandestinely, in the belief that mere possession of the copied page could bring down reprisals. Subsequently, a person quoted in that article is physically assaulted. At least one civil servant with Haribon connections is reportedly threatened with dismissal.

In Palawan, environmentalists talk quietly in restaurants, changing the subject quickly if someone passes nearby. They often look over their shoulder as they walk. Says one Manila-based environmentalist who visited Palawan a couple of months after we were there, "I know I was followed during my last trip there."

A reporter who co-authored the Far Eastern Economic Review article about Palawan and Alvarez not only was slapped with a large libel suit but also received a death threat. Both presumably are attempts to frighten other reporters away from the story.

The former Pagdanan workers who lodged the complaint against Alvarez with DENR also brought a case against him with the Department of Labor, citing unfair labor practices and violation of labor law. They filed yet another with the Commission on Human Rights, charging that the Philippine military gave training to Pagdanan's guards who, in turn, have murdered several individuals. These workers too have felt Alvarez's power. According to one former Pagdanan worker, Alvarez initially laughed at the workers' case, boasting to some of them that he could buy off any lawyer they found.

It was a threat he appears to have been able to follow through on three times—until leading human-rights lawyer Augusto "Bobbit" Sanchez (Aquino's first labor minister) offered to represent them. More personal threats of reprisals against them and their families have forced the labor leaders to leave Palawan. A battle is now pending in the lethargic and often corrupt Philippine courts. As the worker tells us: "It is very hard to win if your opponent is a rich person. ... This is a government of the rich. We are poor, so there is nothing for us."

In this context of extreme inequity of resource access and control and of political power, well-meaning reforestation programs can easily backfire. What we learn about reforestation in Palawan reminds us of stories told of inequality in another context: Some years ago, U.S. researchers Betsy Hartmann and James Boyce wrote an insightful book about Bangladesh. The authors studied foreign funded tubewells, an aid project intended to bring irrigation water to Bangladesh's small farmers. Time and time again, however, the tubewells ended up owned by the richest people in the village—effectively making them richer and more powerful, and leaving others (including the targeted beneficiaries) even poorer and less powerful than before.

Financial aid and other forms of assistance poured into a community dominated by a few wealthy individuals are likely to reinforce, if not exacerbate, the unequal power relations. This is as true for reforestation as it was for tubewells. (And it is as true for projects of nongovernmental environmental organizations as it is for those of Western aid agencies.)

Indeed, Hartmann and Boyce's tubewell story is replayed in Palawan, only this time it is about trees, not irrigation facilities. The executive vice-president of Alvarez's Pagdanan Timber Products informs us that Alvarez's company is among those applying to DENR for some of the money from an Asian Development Bank loan for Philippine reforestation: "We intend to avail [ourselves] of the ADB reforestry loan. We want to get a big portion." The Asian Development Bank and the other multilateral development banks have billed this and other reforestation loans as part of their answer to complaints by Western environmental groups that they do not lend enough for environmental projects.

But the on-the-ground reality is somewhat different, as longtime Philippine-based Irish Columban missionary and ecologist Sean McDonagh elaborates to us: "When you say the Asian Development Bank is going to replant trees, everyone claps. But [the ADB loan] isn't for real reforestation of hardwood forests. It is to put plantations on the hills, which will be monocropped. And the very people who replant it will be the loggers who took the original forest down," who will then, of course, get richer taking it down again.

Pagdanan's concern is not hardwood forests for Palawan's future generations. Rather, as that top executive of Pagdanan readily admits to us during an interview in Manila, Alvarez's plan for the ADB loan is to plant fast-growing softwood trees for his plywood plant, thereby ensuring his own economic future after the natural forests have disappeared: "Sooner or later, we'll be going into processed woods. Lumber may be a thing of the past later on." The idea is to prepare for that eventuality: "When our leases run out, our industrial tree plantations will tide us over."

The lesson of Hartmann and Boyce's tubewells and of Alvarez's reforestation is simple, as the Friends of the Earth representative in Asia, Paul "Chip" Fay, explains to us: "You cannot have a technical solution without addressing access to resources. Investing into the existing resource allocation system is investing into a structure that is unsustainable." David Kummer reaches a similar conclusion in his work on post-World War II Philippine deforestation: "The process of deforestation described for the Philippines is not amenable to a technical solution. ... Rather, the fundamental issue is, who has the right to use the forest resource? In the Philippines, the answer has invariably been that the forest belongs to loggers and their allies."

This lesson is particularly important now that many Western environmentalists are highlighting how deforestation contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases and hence to global warming. The understandable initial impulse of many environmentalists without firsthand exposure to the "politics of natural resources" is to steer money toward massive reforestation projects and the like. In 1988, for example, the World Wildlife Fund signed a "debt-for-nature swap" agreement with Haribon and the government's DENR. The World Wildlife Fund agreed to purchase up to $2 million of Philippine external debt papers and, through DENR and Haribon, to use that amount for environmental projects in the Philippines, with priority placed on St. Paul's and one other stunning national park in Palawan, El Nido.

Haribon members to whom we talk are excited about the swap but caution extreme care in moving forward with similar undertakings. The swap was announced before meaningful discussions could be carried out with intended beneficiaries about how the money could best be used and managed. Indeed, there seems to have been neither time for such discussions nor a realistic plan as to who would initiate them. Logging interests in Palawan capitalized on this by telling small-scale fishers that the swap would deny them access to their fishing grounds. The charge was untrue, but the damage difficult to undo.

This incident underscores the necessity of carrying on extensive discussions with local people to define such programs. As we learn in Palawan, to reverse deforestation requires consciously taking the side of those who are battling against timber tycoons like Alvarez and for the democratization and redistribution of forest resources to the people who live there. As long as they keep these basics of power and politics constantly in mind, Western and poor-country environmentalists together represent a strong force in reversing the destruction of natural resources.
Sometimes the stories of life with El Compañia seem almost humorous. Haribon president Junie Kalaw tells of being invited to speak before the Palawan provincial board: "One member of the board invited me. But after I spoke, a resolution to 'thank Haribon' [for speaking] became such a contentious issue that the board had to recess." Eventually the resolution was voted down, seven to four. For a time, Haribon was notified that it was banned from Palawan. The Pagdanan executive vice-president explains to us that, among other things, "Haribon would like Palawan to stay in the iron age."

To be an environmentalist in Palawan these days is to court harassment, threats, and even death. A local official in Palawan who tried to stop illegal logging was murdered, allegedly by bodyguards of one of Palawan's biggest politicians.
21 Merely saying the word environment out loud in Palawan can get you in trouble. That, one shaken local-government official who has no involvement with Haribon relates to us, is all he and some friends did one night over beers in a Palawan bar. "Four drunk men, big men, approached our table. One threatened: 'You, Haribon, you get out of Palawan.' They ignored our denials. We left quickly. ... 'We'll remember your faces,' they shouted after us."
Palawan's trees and Alvarez are participants in what Sean McDonagh calls a "plunder economy." Like McDonagh, many local environmentalists believe that the current environmental crisis and the inequity that breeds it are endemic to the Philippine development strategy. Dating as far back as the Spanish and U.S. colonial periods, that strategy has been to grant a near-monopoly over natural resources to a few individuals and firms. For decades, gold, copper, timber, and agribusiness firms—both foreign and, more recently, Filipino—have been offered incentives to extract the maximum amount of resources at the minimum cost, with most of the resources earmarked for export. Facing virtually no environmental controls, firms have torn up the soil, the forests, and the coral reefs with little regard for anything beyond their own short-term profits.

Forest destruction began under the Spanish, Philippine colonial rulers from 1565 to 1898, who sought lumber for shipbuilding and who deforested land for huge sugar, coconut, and abaca plantations. The destruction accelerated under U.S. colonial rule (1898-1946), which marked the start of modern commercial logging on the islands. U.S. lumber companies joined with Philippine businessmen to cut trees on Negros, in Bataan, and in other areas. Within a decade of independence, the Philippine government began a system of one-to-ten-year concessions wherein the lumber company was supposed to replant some of its logged-over areas. Corruption, inadequate enforcement, and an interlocking of interests (as well as, on many occasions, of directorates) between loggers and government officials made a joke of this requirement.

The 1920s through the 1960s marked the heyday of Philippine log exports; the Philippines was, during that period, tropical Asia's top exporter of tropical rainforest timber. As demand for wood in Japan grew rapidly in the 1960s, quick and easy money was made. In 1969, for example, Philippine raw log exports accounted for 16.8 percent of world log exports (by value), second only to the United States's 23.5 percent.

As we saw in the case of Alvarez, Marcos transformed the concession system into a way to reward close associates (whose concession contracts were, at times, simply handwritten notes from him).
24 By the mid-1970s, cronies such as Marcos's defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile (subsequently one of the main protagonists on the anti-Marcos side of the Philippines' people-power revolution, then Aquino's first minister of defense, and later a senator in an anti-Aquino political party), controlled a large share of the then few hundred companies with timber leases. 25 By 1976, almost all the easily accessible lowland forests of the Philippines had been felled, increasing the appeal of more inaccessible forests such as Palawan's. 26

Under President Aquino, DENR has reduced the number of concessionaires and has attempted to press them to replant more forests. And it has increased government taxes on cut timber and rents for the holders of timber licensing agreements. But the charges are still far below reforestation costs and still encourage maximum exploitation in the shortest period possible.
27 The reforms have not changed the overall system in any significant way. As one environmentalist explains to us, "We're still subsidizing the loggers."

If the Philippine executive branch were able to transcend its own special interests, the Philippine Congress would present the next obstacle. For if Alvarez is a king-maker in Palawan, wielding economic power that dwarfs that of local political, military, and environmental forces, so too, in their own areas, are most of the country's other big loggers. Like Alvarez, many of these loggers have shifted their allegiance and economic backing from Marcos to politicians in Aquino's camp—and will do the same with Aquino's successor. Meaningful environmental legislation, like the countrywide logging ban debated ad nauseam in Congress in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is difficult to pass through a Congress made up of the nation's elite. And even should a logging ban eventually pass, as the World Bank notes in one of its masterful understatements, "government sanctions of any kind are not notably successful in the Philippines."

The plunder economy has been fueled in recent years by the financial pressures of the debt crisis. Because the Marcos government borrowed heavily to finance this resource-destructive form of development and to pad private bank accounts, the Philippine government now channels approximately two-fifths of government expenditures into servicing a large domestic debt and its approximately $28 billion foreign debt. This leaves few resources for government ministries that are supposed to look after the health and education of Filipinos, let alone for the part of DENR that is supposed to protect the environment (as opposed to the part of DENR that makes money from the forest concessions). Indeed, the Philippines budget allocation for total debt service is about double the amount for all social services (education, health, housing, community development, and the like).

The more than $3 billion now paid annually as service on the foreign debt exceeds the amount that comes into the country as new aid and loans. The resulting negative net resource flow—a reverse Marshall Plan of sorts—puts the Aquino government in a constant frenzy to generate more dollars to repay its creditors. The burning question is, How to get ahead of those debt repayments? International development experts and creditors (including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United States' Agency for International Development) prescribe a certain solution, which the Aquino government continues to follow: Spend less and export more.
30 That means, Ship out more wood products, minerals, fish, prawns, and cash crops such as pineapples and bananas, as well as such manufactured goods as garments and electronic parts—all already among the top exports.

The export frenzy to earn foreign exchange to repay the Marcos debt reinforces the activities of Alvarez and others involved in the extraction or destruction of natural resources. (In 1988, official export earnings from timber were $200 million.)
31 Debt did not cause the Philippines to become a plunder economy; the country had started on its path to plunder long before. What the debt burden did was add one more reason to allow the plunder to continue. But the people of Palawan are fighting back.

We extend our stay in the capital city of Puerto Princesa to witness a congress held by Palawan's local environmentalists. Attending the meeting are delegates representing a wide cross-section of Philippine society: former Pagdanan workers, small farmers, bird watchers, lawyers, schoolteachers, government employees, a member of the military. A month later, in May of 1989, 250 of Palawan's environmentalists gather for a formal launching of their local chapter of Haribon. Chapter members are already involved in a campaign to preserve the watershed of Palawan's capital city and in an effort to stop the export of rare animal species. Within a matter of months, they begin an artificial reef project in Puerto Princesa and a livelihood project with the Batak.

Those at the launching are well aware that their mere presence is a serious statement. And no one there contests the fundamental reality of Palawan inequality: one logger is far more powerful than all of them in terms of political connections, financial resources, and sheer force—"goons, guns, and gold," as the Philippine cliché goes. yet, the participants tell us, they are confident they can stop the plunder; they are confident of being able to organize others on the island and then link them to broader national and international campaigns to save the last rainforests here and elsewhere. "Palawan," one of them says with conviction, "is important to the whole world."

The environmental activists of Palawan represent a new breed. Rooted among farmers, fishers, and workers, their network includes allies in the middle and professional classes. The phenomenon is not unique to the Philippines' last frontier. Such groups are cropping up all over the country. As in Palawan, despite growing repression, their ranks are swelling, as are their connections to broader campaigns for sustainable development.

Chapter Three: The Last Rainforests
An earlier version of parts of this chapter appeared in Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, "Marcos's Ghost," Amicus Journal 11, 4 (Fall, 1989).

Note 1: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, "The Philippine Environment," briefing paper on the state of the environment, Manila, 1989, p. 29; Dames & Moore International, Louis Berger International, and Institute for Development Anthropology for the United States Agency for International Development, Sustainable Natural Resources Assessment—Philippines: A Review of the Present Status with Recommendations for Future Directions, U.S. Aid Project 398-0249 (Manila: U.S. Agency for International Development, September, 1989), annex D, p. D-13; and J. Honculada Primavera, "Intensive Prawn Farming in the Philippines: Ecological, Social, and Economic Implications," Ambio 20, 1 (February, 1991): 29.

Note 2: Nicholas Guppy, "Tropical Deforestation: The Global View," Foreign Affairs 62, 4 (Spring, 1984): 949.

Note 3: See James F. Eder, On the Road to Tribal Extinction: Depopulation, Deculturation, and Adaptive Well-Being Among the Batak of the Philippines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

Note 4: The figure of 19,000 hectares cited in this paragraph is from Melanie Manlogon, "Interview with Maximo T. Kalaw, Jr.: A Million Signatures for Palawan," National Midweek 3 (July 6, 1988): 15. The 54 percent figure was given by Kalaw in personal correspondence to the authors, June 23, 1989. In addition to the interviews we conducted and the National Midweek article, the information on Alvarez in this paragraph and the next comes from James Clad and Marites Vitug, "Philippines: The Plunder of Palawan," Far Eastern Economic Review (November 24, 1988): cover story; and transcript of interview with Maximo Kalaw, Jr., conducted by Dolores Flamiano, John Gershman, and Walden Bello, staff of the Philippine Resource Center Monitor, Philippine Resource Center, Berkeley, California, May, 1989.

Note 5: Ruffy Manaligod, ed., Struggle Against Development Aggression: Tribal Filipinos and Ancestral Domain (Quezon City: Tunay na Alyansa ng Bayan Alay sa Katutubo \[TABAK\], 1990), p. 3. This situation is not unique to the Philippines. As a World Resources Institute study notes: "Throughout the world, governments largely determine how forests should be used ... According to a comprehensive FAO assessment, in the Third World over 80 percent of the closed forest area are \[sic\] public lands" (Robert Repetto, The Forest for the Trees? Government Policies and the Misuse of Forest Resources \[Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 1988\], p. 1).
On the Philippines, see also Owen J. Lynch, Jr., "Colonial Legacies in a Fragile Republic: A History of Philippine Land Law and State Formation," Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University Law School, 1991; and Antonio G.M. La Viña, "Recognition of Ancestral Domains: An Imperative for Democratic Upland Resource Management," in Chip Fay, ed., Our Threatened Heritage: The Transcript, Recommendations, and Papers of the Solidarity Seminar on the Environment (Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House, 1989).

Note 6: Transcript of interview with Kalaw by Flamiano, Gershman, and Bello, pp. 2-3.

Note 7: Isagani de Castro, Jr., "Money and Moguls: Oiling the Campaign Machinery," in Lorna Kalaw-Tirol and Sheila Coronel, eds., 1992 and Beyond: Forces and Issues in Philippine Elections (Quezon City: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs, 1992); and John McBeth, "The Final Test," Far Eastern Economic Review (June 13, 1991): 35. See also Belinda A. Aquino, Politics of Plunder: The Philippines Under Marcos (Quezon City: Great Books Trading in cooperation with the University of the Philippines College of Public Administration, 1987); and Paul Hutchcroft, "Olìgarchs and Cronies in the Philippine State: The Politics of Patrimonial Plunder," World Politics 43, 3 (April, 1991).
Note 8: Sean McDonagh, S.S.C., The Greening of the Church (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1990), p. 81.

Note 9: Manlogon, "Interview with Kalaw," p. 16.

Note 10: Manlogon, "Interview with Kalaw," p. 16. The budget figure was provided by a member of the Palawan provincial board.

Note 11: See, for example, the advertisement entitled "The Truth Behind the Palawan Forest Conservation Issue," Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 26, 1988.

Note 12: Transcript of interview with Kalaw by Flamiano, Gershman, and Bello, p. 2.

Note 13: Gareth Porter with Delfin Ganapin, Jr., Resources, Population, and the Philippines' Future: A Case Study, WRI Paper No. 4 (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 1988), p. 13.

Note 14: See Sheldon Annis, "Debt and Wrong-Way Resource Flows in Costa Rica," Ethics and International Affairs 4 (1990): 119, for an insightful distinction between the "merely poor" (who are resource optimizers and protectors) and the "very, very poor" (to whom this paragraph is refering).

Note 15: Nestor Baguinon, "Development and Conservation of Indigenous Non-Dipterocarp Trees and Shrubs," paper prepared for National Conference on Genetic Resources and Development, Tagaytay City, September 2-6, 1987, quoted in McDonagh, The Greening of the Church, p. 83.

Note 16: Norman Myers, who has been studying rainforests for decades, summed up the role and motivation of small farmers in a passage that merits quoting at length: "There is strong reason to believe the present deforestation rate will continue to accelerate for the foreseeable future unless vigorous measures are taken with due urgency to tackle the main causes of deforestation, viz. the commercial logger, the cattle rancher and the smallscale farmer. The third appears to account for much more deforestation than the other two combined, while being far less 'blameworthy.' In his main manifestation as the shifted (displaced) cultivator, the smallscale farmer is subject to a host of forces—population pressures, pervasive poverty, maldistribution of traditional farmlands, inequitable land-tenure systems, inadequate attention to subsistence agriculture, adverse trade and aid patterns, and international debt—that he is little able to comprehend, let alone to control. Thus he reflects a failure of development strategies overall, and his problem can be confronted only by a major restructuring of policies on the part of governments and international agencies concerned. Without an integrated effort of sufficient scope, there is every prospect that we shall witness the demise of most tropical forests within another few decades" (Norman Myers, Deforestation Rates in Tropical Forests and Their Climatic Implications \[London: Friends of the Earth, 1989\], p. 2). See also Myers's "Environmental Degradation and Some Economic Consequences in the Philippines," Environmental Conservation 15, 3 (Autumn, 1988).

Note 17: See Clad and Vitug, "Philippines: The Plunder of Palawan."
Note 18: Betsy Hartmann and James Boyce, Needless Hunger: Voices from a Bangladesh Village (San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1979). See also their A Quiet Violence: A View from a Bangladesh Village (San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1983).

Note 19: David M. Kummer, "Deforestation in the Post-War Philippines," Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1990, p. 236.

Note 20: World Wildlife Federation, "First Debt-for-Nature Swap in Asia," news release, June 23, 1988, p. 1.

Note 21: Sylvia Mayuga, "The Last Preserve," Philippine Daily Globe, May 30, 1989.

Note 22: McDonagh, The Greening of the Church, pp. 74-106; Richard P. Tucker, "Five Hundred Years of Tropical Forest Exploitation," in Suzanne Head and Robert Heizman, eds., Lessons of the Rainforest (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990); Dennis M. Roth, "Philippine Forests and Forestry, 1565-1920," in Richard P. Tucker and J. F. Richards, eds., Global Deforestation and the Nineteenth Century World Economy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1983), pp. 35-49; and Porter with Ganapin, Resources, Population, and the Philippines' Future, pp. 23-33.

Note 23: Tucker, "Five Hundred Years of Tropical Forest Exploitation," p. 49. "Raw logs" refers to SITC category 242, "rough wood," in United Nations, 1978 Yearbook of International Trade Statistics (New York: United Nations, 1979), p. 63.

Note 24: Delfin Ganapin, Jr., "Environmental Crisis in the Philippines: A Challenge to the NGO Community," speech at symposium of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), Quezon City, June 29, 1989.

Note 25: Porter with Ganapin, Resources, Population, and the Philippines' Future, p. 27.

Note 26: Guppy, "Tropical Deforestation: The Global View," p. 949.

Note 27: See Marites Danguilan-Vitug, "Fighting for Life," Far Eastern Economic Review (June 13, 1991).

Note 28: World Bank, Philippines: Environment and Natural Resource Management Study, A World Bank Country Study (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1989), p. 5.

Note 29: Figures from Republic of the Philippines, Department of Budget and Management, Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing, 1987-1991, quoted in Jenina Joy Chavez, "Bogged Down (by) Budgeting," Ibon Facts & Figures 14, 1 (January 15, 1991): table 1.

Note 30: For more on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, see Robin Broad, Unequal Alliance: The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Philippines (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988; paperback ed., 1990). On the connection between debt and environmental destruction, see Susan George, The Debt Boomerang: How Third World Debt Harms Us All (London: Pluto Press, 1992), pp. 1-33.

Note 31: "A Brazilian Tale," Economist (February 18, 1989): 31.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

I believe that Palawan is the Garden Of Eden as what Jose Rizal wrote it in his Mi Ultimo Adios few hours before he was executed at Luneta...!

andrei usters acosta of Palawan Life