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From illegal logger to conservationist

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Issue date: 
September 17, 2011
Publisher Name: 
Manilla Bulletin
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MANILA, Philippines — Expedito Vanzuela, 59, was once an illegal logger, cutting trees in the forests of Maasin, the capital city of Southern Leyte, where he grew up.

He sits outside the wooden shack in Sitio Canlugoc recalling those days. It is the headquarters of the Young Innovators for Social and Environmental Development Association.

“I didn’t have a job so I resorted to cutting logs to feed my family. I don’t know how many trees I cut down from 1975 to 1982… countless numbers),” he says in the broken Tagalog he learned growing up in his native village.

Although logging has been illegal for some years, Vanzuela and many people in Maasin considered it their only option for livelihood. They continued chopping the trees and selling the wood, despite the Leyte province’s prohibition against cutting trees.

Leyte is one of the only two provinces in the Philippines that supports total log ban; the other is Negros Occidental.

Vanzuela says that after being caught by local police in 1982, and after having conversations with people from the local government unit, he changed his mind. From then he started attending seminars offered by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other organizations like the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

“Tumigil na ako sa pagputol. Natakot na rin ako dahil magkaron ng landslide pati sobrang paginit ng panahon. Sumama ako sa mga seminar una kong natutunan ang pag compose ng abono, pag asikaso sa lupa (I stopped cutting trees. I got scared of landslide and climate change. I attended seminars and the first lesson I learned was about organic composts, soil management),” Vanzuela recalled.

Today he is a conservationist, an active member of YISEDA, a community-based forest management project in Sitio Canlugoc in Barangay Lanao, Maasin City. Vanzuela has led his fellow Maasinhons in protecting the forest around them. He has thought dozens of children with the proper way of planting trees and has shared his agricultural knowledge to many.

Another YISEDA member Celsa Mori, 41, a mother of 4 children, says, “Negatibo ang pagtingin sa amin ng mga ibang mga tao nung 1980s, ignorante, walang pinag aralan, walang mga trabaho, kaya nag sumikap kami para ipakita na mali sila (We were perceived as ignorant, uneducated, worthless bunch of upland dwellers back in 1980s, so we worked our way to prove them wrong).”

So the people of Sitio Canlugoc soon engaged in reforestation, agro-forestry, domesticated animal-raising and alternative livelihood. They were awarded the Best Peoples Organization in Southern Leyte during the PO Regional Summit in Tacloban City on July 23, 2010.

“Kahit mga bata kapag may nakikitang buto ng Mahogany sa daan, pinupulot nila ito at itatanim ng maayos. Hindi na kami nangangaba sa kinabukasan dahil alam namin ang mga anak namin marunong na magbigay ng importansya sa kapaligiran (Even the children whenever they see a Mahogany seedling they would pick them up and plant it in a proper way. We are not scared about the future because our children know how to take care of the environment.),” Mori said.

Mori, together with other members of YISEDA, expressed their gratitude for the interventions of local government units and other organizations such as GIZ for the uplifting their lives, giving them the much-needed support for their livelihood programs. GIZ awarded 75 hectares for reforestation, 25 hectares for agro-forestry and 50 hectares for Assisted Natural Regeneration project to the group back in 2010.

With the pilot launching in Southern Leyte of the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)-Plus, the newest variation of REDD campaign by GIZ, many organizations in the area will be deeply involved as they were to embark on the establishment of more nurseries raising trees seedlings needed for the program, conduct of surveys, mapping, tree planting, among others.

These groups include YISEDA, Katipunan Imelda Catmon Community Forestry Association (KICCFA) Inc. in Silago and other active People’s Organization, particularly among the Community–based Forest Management (CBFM).

Aside from the general objective of saving forests from further deterioration while conserving them for biodiversity and sustainable livelihood for local communities, REDD-Plus also aims to reduce emission out of deforestation and forest degradation.

This means conservation of forest carbon stock, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stock. REDD-Plus also offers a performance-based incentive approach towards sustainable forest management and climate protection.

REDD-Plus, together with the National Greening Program (NGP) of the Aquino administration, are now vigorously pursuing until 2016 to conserve what is left of the more than 500 hectares of the virgin forests of Silago, Sogod, Bontoc, Tomas Oppus, up to the remaining forests in Maasin City.

According to the United Nations, the world population will grow by 50 percent to 9.4 billion by 2050. As the world population grows, the demand for timber grows in parallel with it. Thus, sustainable forest management and mainstreaming social accountability is an important step towards developing the national REDD-Plus strategy. Forests are renewable, an important fact to remember when considering how to best manage them.

Vanzuela now proudly walks inside the forest carrying Mahogany seedlings to be planted on the slopes of Maasin forest. He braves the slippery and dangerous terrain of the mountains to plant seedlings that his children and grandchildren will harvest 20 years from now.

“The arrival of the new millennium provides an ideal opportunity to implement a positive vision for the future - one which draws together the peoples and nations of the world behind a common goal,” according to Restoring the Earth Project.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut