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by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

Last month, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), backed up by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, dispatched a documentation team to the foot of Mt. Apo in Magpet, North Cotabato following reports of an attempt to build a road which would cut through natural forests on the way to Davao City.

The natural forests at the foot of the Mt. Apo Natural Park are natural habitats of the endangered Philippine Eagle and among the remaining rainforests of Mindanao.

There was indeed a road opening but it looked like the project had been abandoned although there are reports that work is on-going in the Davao City-side of Mt. Apo.

What was alarming in the report made by the technical team of MinDA was the fact that in the area reached by the old road, wide plantations of Lacatan bananas, which now enjoy good market price, were seen in forest clearings.

The owners of the banana plantations had obviously caused the cutting of natural grown forest trees to be able to plant bananas.

What makes this story tragic is the report that the banana farms are actually owned by top government officials, the same people who are supposed to protect the country's remaining forest cover.

Our campaign to protect the environment and save the remaining forests had largely been just press releases following the passage of meaningless legislations.

The Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), a regional agency with a minuscule budget is doing its part in addressing this impending disaster by launching the Green Mindanao Project which seeks to promote the planting of bamboo and high value fruit trees in the deforested areas by creating an industry.

I believe that this is the chink in the armor of our government's campaign to plant trees in critical watershed areas, the absence of economic benefits for those who will be engaged in the endeavour.

If we do not stop the decimation of the remaining forest cover and fail to reforest the critical watersheds, there will be a water crisis which would affect the county's food security.

There is a need for a serious national program to address the problem and among the recommendations are:

A National Program to locate and protect the country's headwaters must be implemented at the soonest possible time and when this is done, all of these areas should be declared as Highly Protected Areas where no human intrusion should be allowed;

2. The reforestation of the denuded mountains must now be a multi-agency task, not just the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to include Local Government Units;

3. A legislation to require all local government units, with the support of national government agencies, to establish water catchments, small water impounding and mini-dams should be enacted with the needed funding support;

4. The dredging of the country's major river systems must be undertaken immediately to increase their water-holding capacity and ensure that there will be enough water for the dams and impounding;

5. Government must invest on the construction of more dams not only for irrigation purposes but as reservoir for water supply of urban areas during droughts;

6. Most of all, illegal logging and the cutting of natural growing trees in designated protected areas must be classified as a heinous crime in the same category as murder because the act kills not only one person but the next generation of Filipinos.

We must act now or else many more springs will dry up and disappear and they could never be brought back to life.

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