Movement to save Mindanao?s remaining forests launched

The signing of the manifesto, which coincided with the celebration of Earth Day, took place inside the Liceo de Cagayan University campus here. It was preceded by an indigenous ritual and a program where tribal leaders narrated how logging, mining and other corporate activities have destroyed their forest homes.

“Kung mahurot na among lasang, mapugos mi pag-anhi sa syudad kay naa man daghang pagkaon dinhi. Pero baligya man diri ang pagkaon, samtang didto sa amo dili man paliton,” (Once our forests are gone, we will be forced to go the city because there is plenty of food here. But food here is for sale, while in our place we don’t have to buy it) Datu Malo-ay of the Higaonon tribe in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, said.

“The rape of our forests has been going on for too long and we hope it is never too late for our never ending campaign to protect what’s left of it. In launching this campaign, we believe effective protection of remnant forests does not only depend on conventional domestic and global conservation projects or programs,” the advocates said in a declaration of commitment that spelled out their moves to defend the island’s forests.

“The most crucial part is community's conviction to defend their survival associated with the forest and the support and cooperation of relevant actors in society,” the declaration stressed.

“Diplomatic efforts will be made to reach out to and encourage the contribution of armed groups like the New People’s Army, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front which exercise political and strategic control or influence over some forest territories,” it added.

“It has become practical to involve armed groups in this campaign because we cannot deny their presence in Lumad territories and forest areas,” Butch Dagondon, executive director of Green Mindanaw, explained.

Dagondon said the presence of armed groups stemmed in large part from the “unbridled exploitation of forest resources by the colonizers and the beneficiaries of successive administrations and the subsequent dislocations of tribal communities.”

“In Mindanao, whole coastal and forest-dwelling communities were uprooted to give way to plantations, pastures, mines and logging. As a result, tribal peoples were forced to move to the highlands to avoid confrontation, coercion, and slavery,” he added.

The New People’s Army, one of the armed groups in the island, has been accused of benefiting from logging operations by exacting “revolutionary tax” [from loggers], although the National Democratic Front – Northern Mindanao had declared in the early 1990s a logging ban in areas under their “control.”

Green Mindanaw is implementing various environmental projects in Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Caraga Region and parts of Davao Oriental and is the main organizer of the “One Million Forest People Campaign.”

The Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro under Archbishop Antonio Ledesma is also supporting the campaign.

“The target [mobilizing one million forest people] sounds ambitious, although not necessarily unrealistic in the light of a growing environmental consciousness among various sectors in the island,” Dagondon said.