Destruction of Philippine forests is due and unabated. When our Malay forefathers came to this archipelago centuries ago, they were fishermen-hunters-farmers.
Tumandok (natives) [connotes: ignorance; uncivilized] have come a long way from coastal settlements. Through generations they have moved upstream from where they had usually started their communities – in river mouths and deltas.
Moving alongside waterways was convenient than hacking one’s way through thickets. Rivers and tributaries were to them like avenues, streets and alleys. Also, waterways provided abundant foods like sili (eel), balanak (carp) and varieties of freshwater crustaceans like ulang (lobster), when they were not chasing wild baboy (pig) and usa (deer).
People ate halo (alligator) but were shy to buaya (crocodile) that were feared but regarded shy creatures too. Crocs were known to climb out of rivers to steal domesticated pigs that people usually tied through punched ears [so they were easy pull-around and] so that they did not mess with the crops.
Although plowed agriculture is more productive, slashing and burning was the chief form of farming. Even to this day, karabaw (carabao) are priced possessions that belong to the ‘affluent’ farmers. Without beast of burden, farmer saw only two choices –either to toil for another man or to slash and burn as a freeman. In modern-day, some tumandoks have reached as far as the gutters of urban centers when others, tired of the esteros or squeezed out of towns and cities , took their place in the hills.
Tumandok refers to natives who have lived in the outbacks since Spanish colonization of the island, preserving much of the old Malay culture. They are marginalized indigenous people. Most kaingineros today are lowlanders.
[Kaingin-ero. Slash-burn farmer. Ethnic Filipino with Spanish suffix. From kaing or (type of big) basket, kaingin or clearing, tag-kaingin or the slash-burn farmer; tag-kaing, kaing-ero or basket -maker.
Slash and burn farming is best in sloping terrain. It is an art. A kaingin-ero studies the positions of trees. He selects the biggest tree, positions the right cuts and makes the final chops at the right moment and direction of breeze. That sends the tree crashing against secondary and smaller ones downhill. A few such trees make the first phase of the kaingin. Kaingin of plains is second choice though flat land makes best barter or trade-off later.
Lasang (Virgin forest) makes most fertile kaingin. December is high time for slashing in there. Felled trees will burn by March, which is before the coming of rains. Burning will sear the trees which survived the slash, standing but dead enough to let the sunshine in for the crop. That would be upland Rice.
Weeding is back-breaking work. Dried, prepared seeds sprout readily when sowed. By the time the crop has grown, weeds have also started to show. It’s them struggling for survival against the crops that started ahead. These weeds are tolerable.
A kainginero clears only what his family can handle. Like: protecting crop against birds and monkeys in daytime, guarding against marauding wild pigs at nighttime, and harvesting grains before rice stalks could crumble to the ground. The area ranges from one-quarter up to a hectare of land. As soon as Rice is harvested, second crop or ratoon is dropped. This would be corn.
After the corn, weeds will be unmanageable and the clearing has to be abandoned. Under certain conditions, natural forest will reclaim the land killing the weeds as the trees, mostly of fast growing Philippine softwood varieties, overwhelm them. After five years, the place would be fit for kaingin again. The place would still be considerably very fertile. But after the lati (second growth forest) usually it is the weeds that dominate.
Slashing and Burning of the Forest Is and Was Illegal
When I came to this world in the 50s, slash-burning of the forests, as today, was already outlawed. I remembered my late father. He was not a politician, not til the mid 1960s, nor a public authority. Like my mother, he involved himself with civic action groups. Like, one day he could be with outreach program distributing medicines or giving nameless Filipinos their surnames. On another occasion, with another group, he could be chasing them.
I came at a time when children did not open their mouths when parents were talking. Children talked only when asked or during clear family conversations. One learns a lot more by listening to parents while eating silently during mealtime, for example.
Father was among those who believed in the idea that felling and burning of trees for a few sacks of palay [husked rice] is not right. He had been in civic action chasing kaingineros in the hills. They used to arrest one or a few of them in each foray. Mother thought it was heartless of them. He agreed he felt pity for those whom they took in. That, indeed, what could become of one miserable family when its breadwinner was taken away, was unimaginable. That, they did what they’d done with closed heart hoping others would end their practice. Kaingineros rarely stay long in jails, anyway. Politics always got in the way. We lived next door to a town councilman who saw himself as a lovable person.
Political Economy: Politics of Economics and Economics of Politics
Generally, people have closed their eyes or simply looked away from les miserables who have seemed nowhere to go and when there seemed nothing could be done for them.
Political-economic powers simply saw cleared territories as titled properties and/or as pastoral leases for them later. Others thought kaingineros should be toiling in sugarcane fields instead, when hacienderos were importing miserable sacadas that were mostly brought in from Antique province during that time.
Logging concessionaires were more genuinely concerned against kaingin and timber poaching. The latter were eating their profits! It was always a cat-and-mouse game between those concessionaires operating in sizable areas, against outlaws. Concessionaires deputized locals as concession guards, but most of them were actually sympathizing with the slash-burn farmers and poachers.
In the Negros experience, Total Log Ban helped killed the forests. Kaingin and Illegal logging became open and flagrant when sawmills went away. Politics, from barangay level and upwards, can not claim innocence in there.
But, I thought gone were the days when Mr. Big guys came to the hills and told people to beat off the land as they had Title or Lease to prove that land was theirs. And to those who resisted, Mr. Big guys had court orders that had the police, the military and even unwitting Uncle Sam, dragged in there had it came to that.
It may even be better for Mr. Big guys today. State itself will do that and pass territory to them, or as soon as land is secured – “privatization” – like that in the manner by PNOC.
When Basay sawmill and Insular Lumber & Co winded down operations in the 80s, territories shown in picture above were all log-over but very much forested territories. “Total log ban” only hastened the death of the forests. Insurgency has left much of the area idle by large-scale developers. Many pastoral leases in cleared public lands were actually abandoned.
Commercial exploitation of forestland in the guise of reforestation:
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has expressed concern that the country’s production of biofuel that is land-based will eventually compete with food, and that corporations are already searching for millions of hectares for jatropha alone./ CPG
“We have no conflict in the use of jatropha for biodiesel because it is being planted on non agricultural idle cogonal lands,”/ (Sen) Juan Miguel Zubiri
The contract will be effective for 25 years and renewable for another 25, and among the incentives of participants will be exemptions from paying forest charges, taxes on revenue from reforested and protected areas, as well as from real property taxes,/ Rep. Genaro Alvarez Jr.
Bright time for everybody or more troubles for Juan dela Cruz and Mother Earth, ahead, what do you think, folks?