Nature reconquers ‘illegal highway’ in Mangatarem

February 10, 2014 at 4:55 am Leave a comment

By Yolanda Sotelo

Nature has reconquered the 19.5 kilometer Pangasinan-Zambales road project that crossed the rainforest in Mangatarem town and which was built by a private contractor sometime 2008.
More than 200 different trees in a 700-meter stretch of the forest were cut for paving of the road which had no contract from the Department of Public Works and Highways. The trees were cut without permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
But the road project has been abandoned and is no longer passable by vehicles except by bicycle “which can be carried by the rider when passing through deep cracks and wide holes” that have now characterized the “highway,” Lt. Colonel Nick Alarcio, deputy brigade commander of the 70th Army Battalion in Binmaley.
The Philippine Army helped the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stop the massive illegal logging activities in 2012 reportedly directed by a resident of the town.
The “highway” was used by the illegal loggers to easily enter Pangasinan’s largest remaining rainforest. It was used as the main artery from which networks of roads and trails that went deeper into the forest were constructed.
But the highway and the networks of roads and trails have been taken back by nature, although not entirely yet, Norma Laluan, forestry specialist of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office in Dagupan City, said.
Rainwater and eroded soil from the mountains go down into the roads, transforming the roads into a bumpy landscape full of craters and mounds.
But no saplings have started to germinate yet, Laluan said. And it may take long years before the area can regain its glorious state of being a part of a rainforest with verdant trees.
As of now, the place looked like a desolate land were only grasses grow on some parts while the potholed portions turn into rivulets during rainy days, Laluan said.
Nobody was held accountable for the massive illegal logging activities in the rainforest, Cenro Dagupan Officer in Charge Raymundo Gayo said.
The agency filed a criminal case against the drivers/operators of a bulldozer found near the forest which the military and the DENR officials presumed to have been used in the unlawful activities. But the drivers/operators are still at large and the bulldozer can not be confiscated under the law, Gayo said.
But the massive illegal logging was stopped, with the head of the activity, already in his 80s, allegedly already bedridden.
The Army established detachment post in the entries and exits of the rainforest, deterring trucks from going near the forest, Alarcio said.
But “smalltime” timber poaching and charcoal making by residents still continue to pose threat to the forest, Gayo said.
A Cenro report in 2013 showed that cutting down of trees and poaching of forest products are conducted by “impoverished residents” in the nearby communities.
Guarding the 37,000 rainforest that straddles four towns in western Pangasinan is no easy task, forest rangers said.
Evalyn Capito, 52, used to roam the forest as a ranger until she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis in 2010, “perhaps from walking for miles around the forest and even wading in creeks.”
“Some residents are sincere in protecting the forest. But most, since they are impoverished and dependent on forest products, can be considered foes of the forest,” Capito said.
She recalled that when she became a ranger in 1993, the rainforest was “really thick with trees,” but now it has considerably thinned.”
Being a forest ranger means sometimes acting like a spy, she said. “For instance, you pose as a buyer of timber and you would be sent to somebody who cut down trees. Then, together with the military or police, you go and apprehend that person or persons.”
“We also get threats from the loggers so we have to act carefully. We have experience being threatened,” she said.
Another forest ranger, John Barbiran, said the residents assume that the forest is for everyone. “if they need timber for housing, wood for cooking, they think they can get for free.”
For the expansive Pangasinan rainforest, there are only three rangers and 19 bantay gubat (forest watchers), and it could be impossible to watch everything that is happening, Laluan said.
Also, after apprehension and preparation of cases against illegal loggers, the cases are dismissed, which is really frustrating, she said.
But for the moment, with the “highway” and spar roads already “decommissioned” by nature, the Pangasinan’s only rainforest is protected somewhat.

Entry filed under: News.

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