Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) Executive Director Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda clarified that they are not against reforestation, stating that there is nothing wrong with it.
In an interview with Palawan News, Mayo-Anda said that what they are advocating as a priority is the conservation and protection of the remaining natural growth forest in the province.
“Ang sinasabi namin is that we should give priority to the maintenance, conservation, and protection of the remaining natural forest. Ang nangyayari kasi is, they are giving Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) clearances to secondary forests and old growth forests. Kaya noong nasa provincial board ako, ang sinabi ko nga, kung magtatanim, magkano ang gagastusin doon sa 10,000 hectares? I think it’s valid to me yung mga nasa Odette stricken areas, dapat lang mag-reforest, assisted natural regeneration,” Anda explained.
“Ang mahalagang ma-stress out na ELAC is not against reforestation. Just to clarify, walang masama sa pagtatanim dahil bahagi kami ng efforts na yun, pero dapat bigyang prayoridad ng gobyerno at dapat paggastusan yung pagpapanatili at pangangalaga ng natitirang natural na kagubatan natin,” she added.
The environmental lawyer issued the clarification in response to a statement released by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) saying she has negatively responded to the agency’s call for every municipality to allocate 10,000 hectares of land to be used for reforestation to address the challenge of declining forest cover in the province.
“Atty Mayo-Anda instead turned to mining, plantations, and industrial projects as major contributors of deforestation in Palawan,” the PCSD statement said.
According to PCSD in a statement, a study called “Land-Use and the Sleeper Effects of Agriculture on Deforestation in Palawan, 1990–2015,” released in July 2022, the majority of deforestation in the province was due to slash-and-burn farming, or “kaingin,” which eventually opened areas for agriculture and settlement.
Furthermore, between 2005 and 2015, 63 percent of closed forests were opened up and converted into agricultural lands for annual and perennial crops.
“Consequently, agricultural lands almost doubled, gaining 75%–78% more land from open forests. Meanwhile, mining only occupies 0.71% (or less than one percent of Palawan’s total land area), contrary to Atty Mayo-Anda’s statement,” the statement added.
PCSD further stated that while it is advocating preservation of the existing forest lines through (Environmentally Critical Areas Network) ECAN, other measures must be implemented for reforestation like assisted natural regeneration “supported by education to instill behavioral change, providing skills to increase the people’s capacity to dwell in non-resource extractive jobs shall be made.”
Anda, however, emphasized that in the southern part of the province, the government “should focus more on the remaining natural forests rather than allowing the expansion of mining.”
She said that aside from the lost forest cover as a result of mining, there are other adverse and consequential effects on the environment and the community.
“Ang isa pang statement, yung .71 percent na covered ng mining, while that is their data and we respect that, it does not take into account the polluted impact. Pag may laterite like sa Brooke’s Point ngayon, nagrereklamo yung mga mamamayan na pumupula na yung kanilang ilog at hindi na sila maka gather ng shells,” she said.
“So hindi lang yung pinutol mong area ang apektado kasi may kaakibat na mapanganib na epekto ang operasyon ng pagmimina. Kaya dapat sana, broader yung ating pananaw hindi lang sa kagubatan kundi yung consequences ng mining bukod doon sa displacement ng katutubo, biodiversity area yun. Yung .71 percent, hindi lang yun ordinary forest, but there are also biodiverse areas there, like yung Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape,” she added.