Legarda: Protect forests to prevent climate change and biodiversity crises

March 21, 2021

In observance of this year’s International Day of Forests, with the theme “Forest Restoration: a path to recovery and well-being,” three-term Senator, now Deputy Speaker, Loren Legarda raised the alarm on the state of our forests, in the light of two recent studies.

The first, published by MDPI journals in October 2020, showed that despite the massive number of seedlings reported to have been planted under the National Greening Program (NGP) in Phases 1 and 2, the state of the forest cover in the greater Luzon region showed no significant improvements on a large as well as regional scale. Satellite data also showed significant losses in both open and closed forest cover during the same period when NGP was being implemented, even increasing significantly towards the end of phase 1 of the NGP program. [1]

The second study from the National University of Singapore involved dipterocarp species, of which we have 50. Half of these can be found nowhere else in the world and most of which are classified as threatened. The species is found mostly in the lowlands and early policy decisions to devote most lowlands and flatlands to agriculture and settlements, and their long seeding cycles of 5 years or more, have spelt disaster for these forests. The study found that dipterocarps have already had their geographical ranges reduced by more than 50% due to deforestation.[2] Model projections until year 2070 incorporating climate change scenarios showed that the combination of possible species range shifted and present day deforestation will further reduce the land area of future suitable habitats for these tree species.[3] The study, therefore, highlighted the highly probable extinction of highly valuable endemic dipterocarps in the near future if we fail to find and protect their remaining viable habitats and if we do not act more strategically to propagate them.

“Overall, had the NGP been a success, we would have had at least 6 to 10 year old stands from NGP Phase 1 that would significantly show up on satellite data. Furthermore, we would have figured out where we still have dipterocarp stands and planted enough of these endangered trees to ensure their survival and production of seeds planted in the right habitats for years to come,” Legarda pointed out.

“There is no need to keep repeating that forests are indispensable in the overall ecological balance of the world: for biodiversity, for hydrology and soil, as a carbon sink, and many other functions. During my stint as Senate Finance Committee Chair, I had pointed out the need to re-evaluate the NGP, because while the allocations in billions of pesos were deemed necessary, even considered relatively small compared to other investments, I wanted to make sure they produce the outcomes the entire country needed,”Legarda said.

“Recent events have shown us the grim scenario of climate change impact. The massive floodings in Metro Manila and in provinces where floods do not usually occur, as well as the consequent fatalities and damages have shown us that the price we pay for denuding our forests and abusing the environment is well beyond our means,” Legarda said.

As the country’s foremost advocate for disaster risk reduction, environment and climate change, Legarda authored and sponsored the passage of laws, such as the Clean Air Act of 1999 (RA 8749), Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (Republic Act No. 9003), Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001 (RA 9147), Clean Water Act of 2004 (RA 9275), National Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008 (RA 9512), Climate Change Act of 2009 (RA 9729), as amended by the People’s Survival Fund Act of 2012 (RA 10174), Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 2018 (RA 11038), and the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121), among others.

“We need to do better. I filed the bill on creating a Environment Protection and Enforcement Bureau (EPEB) Bill because of my frustration that the laws I authored continue to be violated so rampantly. Apart from being better at protecting existing forests, we cannot keep failing at raising new forests. We need to understand the dynamics of the ecosystems to see why we are not succeeding,” Legarda added.

“We already have the laws. We need the institutional capacity for serious enforcement and we need to learn from past mistakes to determine how to succeed in bringing back our forests and snatching our unique and valuable dipterocarps back from the brink of extinction. It is the first year of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Our window to survive and thrive is closing. I challenge all the foresters in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), all local environmental planners, to make it their personal vocation to succeed in the next ten years, take charge of their respective areas and nurture forests in their remaining years in the Department, show results or else we lose much more than the money that the government, even the private sector, invested,” Legarda concluded. “If we do not do all we can, we will lose our biodiversity, our endangered dipterocarps, our life support systems, and our souls.”***

[1] https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/11/10/1071/htm
[3] https://www.science.nus.edu.sg/blog/2021/01/27/philippine-forest-trees-threatened-by-deforestation-and-climate-change/