More than planting trees to restore forests, the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) said concerned government agencies should instead focus on protecting and conserving what is left.
The statement was made by ELAC executive director, Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, in response to the call for every municipality to allocate at least 10,000 hectares of land to be used for reforestation.
The call was previously made by Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) executive director Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta during the Usapang Palawan Summit held last August.
The PCSDS call also served as a precursor to legislative measures crafted by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan aimed at restoring Palawan’s forests.
Anda aired the recommendation in a meeting with environmental authorities called for by the Committee on Environmental Protection of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for an update on the programs of different environmental agencies.
During the meeting, she made a presentation where she discussed issues of deforestation due to the conversion of forests into mining sites, plantations, and other infrastructure projects.
In her presentation, she focused on the mining issues, particularly where natural forests are threatened and those that have already been cleared by the industry.
“Ang issue ng ELAC doon is, bakit pa tayo magre-reforest kung marami naman tayong natural forest na pwede nating ipanatili. Pero kung miminahin yan, libo libong punong kahoy ang masisira. Ang in-emphasize ko doon is that many natural forests are threatened by mining, at naputol na talaga,” Anda said.
“So ang isang message na kailangang mai-project is that, ang ELAC and other CSOs strongly believe that we do not have to fund a lot of reforestation projects if we only protect the forests that we have in Palawan, which are all threatened by mining activities, pati na yung conversion ng plantations like palm oil,” she stated, adding that there are mining companies operating in the province that have pending tree cutting permits.
Anda also said ELAC has submitted proposals for the passage of an ordinance to implement a moratorium on the conversion of natural forests into mining and plantations of palm oil, and for new Mineral Production Sharing Agreement permits for mining companies.
She further stated that it would be less expensive and more practical for the government to stop the destruction of existing natural growth if it wanted to reforest.
She added that she finds it ironic and preposterous for the government to spend hundreds of millions on reforestation and yet allow trees to be cut and forests to be destroyed.
“Unconscionable talaga para sa akin yan. Papatawarin kaya tayo ng Diyos niyan? Anong saysay nung pagtatanim when it will take decades for those forests destroyed to recover. So sana, the provincial government and the DENR will start to consider protecting the remaining natural forest and stop the destruction so that you can lessen the expenses for reforestation,” she exclaimed.
“Yung sa Ipilan, ang isang issue pa, why did the government DENR specifically extend the MPSA of Ipilan, which was issued in 1993 and expired in 2018, to 2025 na walang endorsement from the provincial board and the PCSD, and walang FPIC? So major issue ko siyang inilahad doon. Nakakatakot na seven years pa na in-extend sila, libo libo pang punong kahoy ang puputulin niyan dahil ang tree cutting permit nila is for 28,000 trees. Can you imagine that? Tapos magtatanim ka ng ilang libo?,” she stated.