Monday, March 7, 2011

Where There Is Logging, There Is No Bird!

Wild bird watching is one of the activities lined up by the Department of Tourism Caraga Region for the Wow Caraga 2011, Payanig Sa Bislig, celebrating the 16th founding anniversary of the new administrative region covering the six cities of Butuan, Bislig, Cabadbaran, Tandang and Bayugan, and five provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao de Sur and Dinagat Islands in the southern part of the Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient.

The wild-bird watching expedition team is composed of the Department of Tourism group--Assistant Secretary Domingo Ramon "Chicoy" C. Enerio III, DOT-Caraga Director Leticia Tan, Aleli Guevarra, Gina Velasco, Boyet Sayo, and myself--Rex of Bislig City Tourism Office, one from the Presidential Management Staff, two members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, and Zardo, the guide.

Early morning of February 24, cocks seemed reluctant to crow for it was chilly and the dawn has yet to yawn with its radiant yellow rays. It was unusual for it was four o’clock already when we rode on what locals call jeep, which there is nothing of what looks like those in Metro Manila. From the point of departure, Paper Country Inn, Brgy. Mangagoy, Bislig City, it took us more than two hours of long wobbly ride with a dose of cold breeze that penetrates to the bones before we could reach the crossroad that leads to the wild-bird watching site. While ASec. Chicoy and the two foreigner-looking members of the Wild Bird Club chatted for most of the trip about their bird watching escapades, most of us dozed instead of watching the environs barely lit by the vehicle’s headlamp which I nevertheless did with much delight not so much for the vegetation but for overhearing the depth of ASec's knowledge about birds.  He related that in Europe, the market for bird watching is huge.  "England has only one endemic bird specie compared to about 200 in the Philippines.  This translates to 200 reasons for Europeans to visit the Philippines," he said. When we reached the take-off point, it was past six already. Still foggy.

After taking breakfast, we climbed up the road going to the left. Chirping sounds coming from different directions gave us hope that we could see those birds despite their being called wild. Unfortunately even Zardo, our avant-garde tour guide, despite his being famous as someone who can summon particular bird species with his gadget, could hardly be effective at many instances. With bare eyes, it was a pain for most of us to celebrate with ASec. Chicoy and the two seasoned wild bird watchers who were using binoculars. Although, they were kind enough to lend us their tools sometimes, we could still hardly see a single bird which they tried to help us to see using their laser pointers pointed to the direction of the trees that are towering high with their leaves sparkling because of the morning dew touched by the rays of the sun rising over the mountain. How could we see such birds, if indeed there were, if their size and color blend with the leaves that reflect the blinding sunlight? Or, are they just too wild to be tamed by our naked eyes for a good view, for a while? If they are, then, we were truly watching wild birds. Or, perhaps, we were just expecting too much to see those birds the way we could in the zoos that made the day frustrating.

The scarcity, or maybe just the difficulty of seeing the birds, led the whole team to get deeper into the forest. While trekking, we realized that it was not the scarcity of birds that made the activity disappointing. Logs are lined and piled up along the pebbly road. As we went deeper into the forest, it was becoming clearer. The sound of chainsaw cutting trees somewhere nearby made the birds fly away or at least kept them in their hiding place.

So, to make the most of the activity, I turned it into a wild flora-and-fauna (dragonflies, butterflies, and bees) watching spree. And, I vowed to have the deplorable logging situation in Caraga brought out to the open--to the cyberworld at least--for a lesson and rectification.

It does not matter if logging in Caraga is legal or illegal. The thing is…Caraga suffered massive flooding every year. This year alone, the flooding victimized 545,285 people or 111,679 families with damages to infrastructure, farm crops and other agriculture products amounting to P451 million, according to the Philippines' Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The death toll had reached 10 and two people were reported missing as of February 6. Online Gold Star Daily has the full story and statistics. 

In various instances during the Wow Caraga 2011, especially during the Bird Forum at De La Salle Don Bosco College Gym, Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel vowed to fully implement Executive Order 23 issued by President Aquino last February 1 declaring a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests and creating an anti-illegal logging task force. Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro cognizant of the ill-effects of logging industry in his home city also promised to support the policy in view of the new tourism product that he is pushing in his city--wild bird watching.

While their speeches sound promising, there is a real and urgent need for a very strong political will and solid community support considering that, while Wow Caraga 2011 was on stage, logging is still unabated.

Recently, as reported by Philstar on March 4, “Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje announced…that chainsaws, bulldozers, graders and other logging tools and implements are now off-limits in natural and residual forests nationwide.” If implemented, this can certainly support the new tourism product of Bislig City—wild bird watching. If not, a suitable replacement is proactive ecotourism--mountain trekking that culminates in tree planting in the PICOP site with bird watching merely as a side dish.

I feel strongly for forest protection to sustain ecotourism but, for heaven's sake, the lives of men and women of Caraga are even more important than wild bird watching! In Caraga, more than anything else, it is about human survival!

Stop irresponsible logging in Caraga now! Protect the Philippine forests! Plant trees!

For emulation, worth mentioning is the El Verde program of the provincial government of Camarines Sur. The program is a magnificent example of a strong political will backed up by solid community support. There is nothing impossible when all stakeholders imbued with a sense of community act together resolutely for a common cause.

Let’s go green! Together, we can!