POSTSCRIPT / February 15, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Time to lift, or review, total ban on logging?

CONSERVATION: Right after President Arroyo ordered a total log ban in reaction to the calamitous floods and mudslides in the Aurora-Quezon area ravaged by typhoons last December, POSTSCRIPT came out against a total ban.

Using common sense and the perspective of physical distance from the disaster area, I argued that any ban should be SELECTIVE and TEMPORARY. I cannot imagine a permanent total ban on the tapping of god-given forest resources.

Conservation, I pointed out, need not mean imposing a total and permanent ban on the cutting of trees. It means wise utilization of natural resources.

Having said that in a more elaborate manner in December last year, I looked for more data to buttress the argument. I have found some and now want to share them with readers who might care to listen.

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SURVIVAL: There is no guarantee that when we order all logging stopped, illegal logging would stop.

With survival as a primordial concern, people will always look for a way to make a living — whether it is legal or not. If they have nowhere to go, they could go to illegal logging and the cycle continues.

While this is not a good argument for lifting the logging ban, it calls attention to the need for at least reviewing the policy.

Recent studies have estimated that a third of the country’s population has already encroached on forested areas.

What are classified as forest lands in the country have dwindled over the years to only 15 million hectares, or half of our total land area of 30 million hectares.

Of these forest lands, only 7.2 million hectares still have what can pass for forests — which means that more than half of our “forest lands,” or 7.8 million hectares, actually do not have forests.

(Example: The sprawling site of the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City is considered forest land, but last time we visited it last week we did not see any forest.)

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LEGIT LOGGERS: When we say “legitimate” loggers, we refer to those holding a Timber License Agreement (TLA), or an Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA), or a Community-Based Forest Management Agreement from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the only agency doling out logging permits.

Holders of TLAs (and TLAs that had been converted to IFMAs) are usually the big corporate types. Overall, they operate on around 700,000 hectares nationwide. Those holding new plantation IFMAs have about 800,000 hectares.

The more numerous, smaller operators hold that newly invented Community-Based Forest Management Agreement and are mostly sponsored by cooperatives, local governments and their officials. They hold almost 5.7 million hectares among them.

Licensed loggers are allowed to cut only 20 mature trees per hectare per logging year out of an average 2,500 trees of varying ages in a hectare. They are required to replant twice the number of trees cut that are in turn harvested after 20 years.

But industry sources said these rules are hard to enforce among the smaller “community-based” loggers who are sometimes mere fronts of local officials who have no qualms about cutting trees with impunity.

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DIRE EFFECTS Wood prices have gone up by 40 percent due to the tightening supply and expensive import substitutes, adding pressure to rising costs in the furniture, construction and mass housing sectors.

The wood-producing and furniture industries employ more than two million Filipinos, involving investments of over P20 billion in upstream and downstream wood-based businesses.

The country needs 2 to 2.5 million cubic meters of industrial round wood (logs) yearly to satisfy local demand for primary wood products and the export commitments of high value-added manufactured wood furniture.

The export market for high value-added finished wood products fetches some P21 billion annually.

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REVENUE DROP: Over the last five years, the country has spent an annual average of $50 million to import logs and $140 million to import lumber and veneer, and $10 million for other finished wood products.

If a total ban were strictly carried out as ordered, the probable expenditure for importing the wood requirement of the country would be more or less $500 million.

Government revenue from wood-based industries amount to around P840 million annually. Wood and other forest-based products account for 82.2 percent of total furniture exports that brought in $278 million (P15.6 billion) last year. Are we ready to forego these?

About 12,500 establishments are engaged in furniture making. When materials run out and a total ban is enforced, they stand to lose P1.1 billion a month or P41 million a day in lost export revenues, with the government also losing potential income of about P29.7 million a month.

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PWPA GIVES SIDE: The big corporate loggers are members of the Philippine Wood Producers Association (PWPA), which represents the licensed wood-based and wood-producing industries.

Feeling the crunch of the total log ban’s effects on their business and on the economy, they have appealed to President Arroyo to direct the Secretary of the DENR to immediately lift the suspension of logging areas.

Among other things, they point out the total ban’s affect on the wood-using industries, jobs, government revenues, dollar-needs for importing raw materials, among other things.

The PWPA said the suspension of legitimate logging for two months now has plunged the legitimate wood-producing industries into a crisis.

“The closure, some in the next two weeks, of wood processing plants all over the country involved in the manufacture of lumber, veneer and plywood, posts, poles and pulp will result in the loss of more than two million jobs,” the group said.

This would also result in the dissipation of over P20 billion of investments and the loss of the export market for high value-added finished wood products estimated at P21 billion annually, according to the PWPA.

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DARK SCENARIO: Once TLA/IFMA areas go idle, the group warned, they would be thrown open to illegal loggers. This would worsen the very problem that the total logging ban seeks to address.

Total log ban means total importation of the wood requirements of socialized and low-cost housing, resulting in rising construction costs and pushing dwellings beyond the reach of ordinary Filipinos.

In comparison, China, Indonesia and other Asian countries have their own wood industry and production, most of which are for their own consumption.

The pressure on the limited supply could be abused by small loggers who may be tempted to step up their tree-cutting indiscriminately. This works against the intention of the total logging ban of curbing the wanton cutting of trees.

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DEMAND FOR WOOD: These are examples of products using wood as component:

Lumber, veneer and plywood, wood-boards and pulp, the raw materials of which are logs or timber taken from forests and tree plantations.

Furniture made out of wood, the raw materials of which are lumber, veneer and plywood and wood boards.

Other wood-based products such as doors and window frames, builder’s joiners and carpentry of wood, pallets and crating material.

Poles and posts for the mining and power sectors.

Pulp for the manufacture of paper, kraft and newsprint.

The industries dependent on wood include: mining, construction, housing and export sectors, as well as providers of chemicals, fuel and oil, stevedoring and transport services.

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RECOMMENDATIONS: The PWPA and its members recommend these measures to curb illegal logging:

  1. Continue imposing the policy of a total log ban in protection forests all over the country, while allowing sustainable forestry operations in production forests in areas already identified by the government.
  2. Dismantle all wood-processing plants with or without permits dubiously located in untenured forest lands.
  3. Revoke all wood-processing permits granted to individuals, partnerships or corporations without long-term log supply contracts with legitimate local or foreign sources.
  4. Create a National Timber Board to formulate and implement a master plan for the long-term sustainability of Philippine forests.
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 15, 2005)

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