Last August 15, Environment Secretary Mike Defensor lifted a 16-year logging moratorium in Samar, allowing the Juan Ponce Enrile-owned San Jose Timber Corporation (SJTC), to once again cut trees in a protected area inside the Samar Island Natural Park. Of course, the decision was a shock to environmentalists, clergy, and the people of Samar, who longed for the ban after a typhoon unleashed massive flashfloods in their province that killed 100 people and displaced thousands.

“It was immoral and unjust,” was all that they could say.

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Under the National Integrated Protected Area System Act of 1992, natural parks and other protected parks are to be spared from mining and logging activities. The Samar Island Natural Park, the third largest virgin forest in the country, was declared a “protected area” in 2003 through Presidential Proclamation 442.

Samareños claimed that in the last 50 years, more than 60 per cent of the island’s forest has been lost to logging, mining, and slash-and-burn farming—which caused “undocumented destruction to flora and fauna, and hastened soil erosion, and sedimentation.”

The forest, home to some 197 bird species—16 of them highly endangered (including the Philippine Eagle and Hawk Eagle), and 2,400 flowering plants—406 of which are only found in the Philippines, is also the largest remaining lowland forest in the country. Since the logging ban was imposed in 1989, the remaining forest of the province grew to 19 per cent from five per cent of the total land area. Once the loggers resume operation, 80 per cent of Samar’s forest and water shed are feared to face destruction.

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It is elementary knowledge that logging destroys forest covers, root systems, and erodes the topsoil, so rainwater easily cascades to lower grounds, causing flashfloods.

According to Haribon Philippines, the forest area in the Philippines has fallen from 21 million hectares in 1900 to less then six million in 1996. The significant decline in old-growth forest from 70 per cent to 18 per cent in less than a century is perhaps the most rapid and severe case in the world.

These numbers are more than enough to show that what our forests need is air and space. Let them be. Logging, be it legal or illegal, should be banned in the country, until such time that out forests have recovered. Reforestation should also be sustained by the government, and should not be used to only score media exposures. Media plays a crucial part here, so that these programs would not be a victim of ningas-kugon.

Although Enrile has all the rights to the disputed area, being the owner, he should be the first to look on the possible environment degradation. If the senator really loves his country, he should give up his concession and spare the Samareños of another Ormoc tragedy. Let that be his great legacy.

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This edition of Geiger Counter is dedicated to a dear fellow in the Sci-Tech section. Ghis, believe us when we say that UST’s loss is PSBA’s gain.

“Once a ‘V’ staffer, always a ‘V’ staffer.”

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