POSTSCRIPT / December 5, 2004 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Give us the list of all loggers, legal or illegal!

OVERLOGGING: The need for us to close ranks in crises should not be invoked to defer moves to identify and prosecute the scalawags responsible for the overlogging that caused the flashfloods in Aurora, Quezon and other typhoon-hit areas.

Sure, we should join hands and work overtime to give a dignified rest to the dead and bring relief to the survivors of the calamity. But attending to these priority tasks does not require that meantime we should postpone running after irresponsible loggers.

We are not referring to illegal logging but to overlogging. It is likely that some of those who indiscriminately cut down the trees on the defenseless mountainsides and destroyed the forest cover are licensed loggers driven by insatiable greed.

If the logger or concessionaire is licensed to cut 100 mature trees in 10 hectares of forest, who will stop him from using his government-issued license as legal cover and his influence as foil against prosecution?

He could go ahead and cut 10,000 more trees in 1,000 adjoining hectares of forest and flaunt his license when accosted.

* * *

‘SUBUKAN LANG NYO’: This is much like a licensed operator of a bus or taxicab company with a franchise to operate a specific number of vehicles on a defined route.

It is easy for the operator to field more than the number of vehicles allowed and get away with it. While his extra units may be considered “colorum,” the operator can claim he is a licensed or a legal franchise holder.

In a dubious sense, the man or the family behind the overlogging in the typhoon-ravaged areas of Eastern Luzon is not exactly an illegal logger.

So when this Big Shot glances at his manicured nails and asks “What, me an illegal logger?” he may be asking a valid legal question.

Mind you, he is not only asking a question. He is actually challenging everybody to try filing charges against him or his family. “Subukan lang nyo!”

And when he asserts that his family never profited a single centavo from illegal logging, he may be telling us his legal version of the truth.

* * *

ASK THE PEOPLE: In this country, when a Big Shot with a phalanx of de campanilla lawyers behind him, says “Prove it!”, the fainthearted among us usually raise their hands in resignation.

But, as some people are beginning to suggest in the face of death and destruction around them, to hell with lawyers and the courts — and let the case be decided directly by the people.

The people of Aurora, Quezon and neighboring areas know everybody who is logging in varying degrees in their community forests, legally or otherwise.

The local folk are eminently qualified to pass judgment on the loggers who had sent thousands of dead trees tumbling down the mountainside at the height of torrential rains and cyclonic winds.

Is the government willing to listen to them? And act on the basis of their declarations? How come the government seems to be afraid to act?

* * *

PUBLISH THE LIST: Direct people action need not come to pass, if the proper government agencies act firmly and promptly.

Among other agencies, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has, or should have, a complete list of all individuals and entities doing logging, legally or illegally, in all critical areas in the country.

It has been one week since President Arroyo came rushing home from another foreign trip as killer typhoons blew across Luzon. By this time, we assume that she has a list of all the loggers in the calamity area and nearby provinces.

It should be easy for the President to make public the full list of loggers, licensed or not licensed. The public needs this list for an informed discussion on the problem of forests being ravaged to make a few influential individuals instant multimillionaires.

* * *

STARTING POINT: The list should include the names of individuals involved. If the operator is a partnership or a corporation or an NGO, the incorporators, current board members and other officers must be identified.

The list should also include the area assigned to these loggers, their recorded production and the fees paid the government.

By itself, the list will not decide guilt or innocence of anybody. We just need it as a starting point for discussion. Malacanang should not hide it from the public, or wait for enterprising media to extract it from the files.

It is not enough that the President goes around distributing relief goods or condoling with the survivors or ordering this and that agency to work faster.

In the case of runaway logging, Malacanang should at least tell us who are cutting the trees that are after all community property.

* * *

FREEZE ALL LOGGING: We have been waiting for months for something dramatic to come from Malacanang like deafening thunder and blinding lightning.

Such high drama might just distract the people from the hard times and help arrest the alarming dive of the President’s popularity rating. But that is not the idea.

I wish the President would freeze right away all logging concessions and licenses, stop all logging in protected forest areas until further notice.

Is this legal? If the justice department is worth its salt, it should be able to marshal enough legal arguments to uphold such a drastic move.

* * *

VIOLENT TWIST: Once all logging is stopped by Executive Order, anybody caught cutting a mature tree in a protected forest is presumed guilty. Concerned citizens or vigilantes then could arrest the culprit without having to worry about legal paperwork.

In a worse scenario, a soldier or a policeman may shoot the illegal logger if he tries to “grab the gun” of the lawman or “fires back.” You know what I mean. Somebody like Gen. Fred Lim, now a senator, will understand this.

Or we can give rewards and protection to those who catch illegal loggers. There are many ways of motivating the people to help protect the environment.

But it does not have to come to a violent twist — if only the President would grab this calamity as a chance to make a grand move. Ma’am, the stage is all set for you.

More than a crisis, the calamity is an opportunity.

* * *

THE DUBYA PSALM: That Internet item last time from an AOL (AmericaOnLine) board citing President George W. Bush’s opposing gay marriage as an abomination on the basis of a biblical quotation from Leviticus, drew animated reactions from many readers.

Among the interesting reactions was this composition taking off from the “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” psalm. Called “The Dubya Psalm” the piece goes like this:

Bush is my shepherd, I shall be in want.

He maketh me to lie down on park benches,

He leadeth me beside the still factories.

He restoreth my doubts about the Republican Party.

He leadeth me onto the paths of unemployment for His cronies’ sake.

Yea, though no weapons of mass destruction have been found,

He maketh me continue to fear Evil.

His tax cuts for the rich and His deficit spending discomfort me.

He anointest me with never-ending debt.

Verily my days of savings and assets are kaput.

Surely poverty and hard living shall follow me all the days of His administration,

And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

* * *

KING QUOTES: Related to the issue of commitment and protest — and to this crisis exacerbated by our lack of political will — there were also memorable lines from black leader Martin Luther King Jr. posted by some readers.

We hope President Arroyo and the rest of us will be emboldened by his ringing words:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Cowardice asks the question — is it safe?

Expediency asks the question — is it politic?

Vanity asks the question — is it popular?

But conscience asks the question — is it right?

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it BECAUSE it is right.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 5, 2004)

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