The role of the Cordillera forest as the watershed of Northern Luzon has been the focus of public discourse lately. The region serves as the water source of at least 13 major rivers flowing down the Ilocos and Cagayan Valleys, and as far as Central Luzon.
It became also the center of discourse due to the climate change phenomena.
As an environmentalist friend says, the forest cover of the region proved that it is critical due to the warmer weather even during the so-called cold spell.
DENR-CAR data show that the region’s forest cover is critically below the 40% of the total land area of 1.8 million hectares. The ideal ratio for a region’s forest cover should be 40% of the area while 60 % alienable and disposable, the government environment watchdog claimed.
With the above reality, the battle cry seems to be reforestation. Since the government has limited funds, loan is always its welcome option. The Asian Development Bank, the regional counterpart of the World Bank, already committed $80 million loan for reforestation projects of various watersheds in the country, including that of the Agno and Chico rivers watershed.
No matter how noble the intention of the government is, however, it must be pointed out that this is a loan. Loan is paid by the people through the state extraction known as taxes.
In my interaction and interviews with community organizations in the region, they have various issues raised on the government reforestation project.
First, the government has conflicting policies.Manifested by the government’s encouragement of investments – both local and foreign corporations – on industries that rape the environment like its revitalization of the mining industry.
At present, the total mine application in the Cordillera is 1,111,995.4351 hectares from the region’s 1.8 million hectares land area. Elders pointed that the government views separately the land – from forest, mineral, national park, and agricultural lands and not holistically as indigenous peoples do.
Second, the projects cannot be fully implemented due to systemic graft and corruption. In the past, they cited that these reforestation projects had been milking cow even up to the extent of ghost projects. The best approach is to encourage community participation and strengthening of their on going forest management system.
Third, in the whole Cordillera, the various ethno-linguistic groups have various forest management systems. Elders I interviewed said that such systems continuously exist in varying degrees. In Sagada, Mountain Province, they have the batangan; the muyong in Ifugao; the pirahwa in Tulgao, Tinglayan, Kalinga; among others.
These elders claimed that the forest cover of the Cordillera was mainly due to their indigenous system. In fact it was the government policies, like logging, mining and destructive industries, that reduced the forest cover to its present 36% cover.
I am just wondering that while we have these indigenous forest management systems, the concerned government agencies should adopt these indigenous systems if the government is really concern with the environment and climate change. #