Philippine Forests

November 6, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, officers and members of the Society of Filipino Foresters, Incorporated, my partners in
environmental protection, a pleasant day to all of you.

Across the years, Philippine forests continuously declined in physical and environmental terms. Forest land area alarmingly went down from 36.3 percent or more than one-third of the country’s land area in 1970 to 18 percent in 2001. Evidently, most of our country’s once rich forests are now gone.

This is tragic because forests are indispensable in the overall ecological balance of the world by acting as a home for biodiversity and by protecting vital water and soil resources. Also, forests serve as major carbon sinks that absorb great quantities of carbon dioxide that otherwise would add to the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and rapid climate change.

Recent events have shown us the grim scenario of climate change impact. The intense and record-high rainfall by Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi, 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.

It is therefore an imperative for us to do everything in our power to protect the forests left for our children and for humanity. It is an uphill climb but we must gather courage. We must pool in our knowledge, our skills, our commitment, and our passion. Essentially, we could find the know-how, the skills, and the passion among our foresters.

Our foresters are the ones who are literally “on the ground” in protecting our forests from abuse and misuse. They are the foot soldiers. They are our forests’ caretakers. And incident to their vocation, foresters are also our partners in reducing poverty in the rural areas. Indeed, many are already rising to the challenge, and our gathering here today is a testament to this.

Let me reiterate that forest protection, like environmental protection, is not its own end. As always, the strong environmental thrust of my advocacy is part of my larger plan and vision of eradicating poverty in the grassroots. Taking care of our forests not only responds to climate change and other environmental concerns but also deals with persistent local poverty because forests are a vital part of the development in the rural areas. I envision every part of the country, every nook and cranny, to be planted with trees so as to be eventually capable of developing to their fullest potential.

The recently passed Climate Change Act gives a window of opportunity for us to respond to the challenges of climate change in a comprehensive manner. As the principal author and sponsor of the law, I set out to give more stakeholders and communities greater responsibility and opportunity to initiate programs in their respective areas of responsibility that are aligned to the national and global goal of sustainable development.

This legislation mandates the creation of a Climate Change Commission which will create an enabling environment for multi-stakeholder participation. Moreover, it will provide technical and financial support to local research and development programs and projects in vulnerable communities. Financial packages for climate change related projects will be provided by government financial institutions.

Given the global condition of the environment, foresters are becoming more important in the future. Rest assured that my advocacy of tree-growing and rejuvenating our forests has not been a case of missing the foresters for the trees. You have my ears in matters of environmental protection and so feel free to tell me your concerns. We will find ways to address them.

In conclusion, I wish you success in your convention this year. As I read your theme, “Sustainable Forests: Key to Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity Conservation,” I am gladdened because it is aligned with my advocacy of environmental protection and sustainable development. It is aligned with our efforts in finding the best ways to put forests to work for the benefit of the poor in rural communities and in the world. It is aligned with our efforts in making forests adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Forests make the world safe for habitation and you, foresters, are instrumental for making this world a better place.