Speech of President Marcos on the First ASEAN Forestry Congress

His Excellency Ferdinand E. Marcos
President of the Philippines
On the First ASEAN Forestry Congress

[Delivered on October 11, 1983]

Since I received the invitation to speak before the first ASEAN Forestry Congress, I have been keenly anticipating the pleasure of meeting all our friends in ASEAN who would be coming to manila either as delegates or as our special guests. So it is with great reluctance and a deep sense of disappointment that I had to defer my meeting with you to a more propitious time because of so many urgent matters demanding the immediate attention of the president of the Philippines.

My absence from this inaugural session of your congress, however, does not prevent me from extending to you a very warm welcome to our country and our best wishes for a successful conference.

Neither should it be interpreted as a sign that we in the Philippines attach only passing significance to this meeting, for the concerns that have brought you together are matters that we clearly recognize to be of the highest importance to the Filipino people as indeed they are to all of humanity.

Fifty or even as late as twenty years ago, it was still possible to talk of our forests as practically an inexhaustible natural resource. Then forestry’s concerns went no further than the maximization of profits for investors and foreign exchange earnings for nature’s favored nations.

But it took only so long for the world’s population to double, and with it the pressure on our forest resources for land, food, shelter, forage and livelihood has more than tripled. The situation has been further complicated by the growing use of wood as a cheap alternative to oil as fuel not only for domestic uses but also for industrial purposes.

The net result has been today’s unequal race between deforestation and reforestation. The food and agriculture organization, for instance, estimates that every day at least 15,000 hectares are being lost world-wide, while a meager 1,000 hectares per day are being reforested.

Under these circumstances, the day may not be far off when the full fury of what scientist call the “greenhouse effect” overwhelms us. Under this terrifying scenario, the continued degreening of the earth leads to a point where the atmosphere becomes saturated with carbon monoxide. This then blocks the excape of hot gases, and consequently the earth1 s temperature rises to such a level where the world’ s glaciers and polar ice caps melt, unleashing a deluge from which humanity may not escape.

Of course all this sounds like something drawn from science fiction. But even today, there are already perciptible signals of nature’s displeasure over our profligate ways. The experience of the incas, and the peoples of Lebanon and parts of China give as a forewarning of what may yet come to pass. Closer home we have begun to experience a succession of floods and droughts of unusual severity in recent years.

But whether out of fear or unbelief we refuse to contemplate such a doomsday scenario, we cannot ignore the reality that our forests or what is left of them have become today’s new breeding grounds of poverty and discontent among a significant portion of the World’ s population. Millions of what the World Bank calls “the poorest of the poor” today face a relentless assault on their land, their homes and their means of existence. In the ASEAN region, we count several thousand. Forest dwellers and tribal people whose survival is continuously threatened by our unmitigated abuse of our forests.

It is therefore heartening to note the growing consensus among people and nations that forestry is of “strategic interests” and must assume for itself economic, social and political dimensions; and that it should concern itself not solely with forest engineering but social engineering as well. In the words of Erik Eckholm: “the challenge facing world forestry is not just to halt deforestation and to plant enough trees to satisfy commercial and environmental needs. From a social perspective, top priority must also be given the elementary forest and wood needs of the poorest one-third of humanity. And with forest products, as with food, merely growing more produce is not necessarily sufficient to eliminate deprivation. Who does the producing and how the benefits are distributed are equally crucial considerations.”

This view of an expanded role for forestry which puts equal emphasis on the promotion of social justice and the elimination of poverty has already gained universal acceptance following the approval by participating nations of the Jakarta declaration during the last world forestry congress. And it remains for us in ASEAN to give substance to this policy by creating the institutions and promoting the attitudes, values and practices that will bring it about.

I believe we should begin by asking ourselves how we are going to utilize our forest resources. Shall we, for example, continue parlay our future, the future welfare of our people and the environment, to satisfy our immediate need for foreign exchange? Shall we allow our loggers to push back our tribal forest settlers to the innermost recesses of our forest lands?

The answers to these and similar questions are quite obvious. But we have to make a hard and unpleasant decisions fast. It has been our common experience in Southeast Asia as well as in many third world countries to be perennial exporters of raw materials. This has been the case with so many of our products. Perhaps with some of these products, we are left with few alternatives considering the state of our technology and the scarcity of capital.

But this is not the case in our wood industry, at least not in the Philippines. For so long, the major portion of our export receipts from forest products consisted of proceeds from the exports of raw lumber. Yet today our wood processing plants are operating at only 55 percent of their capacity. We have the capability to process 9 million cubic meters of logs per year, but we actually process 5 million.

There can only be one explanation for this and, to be frank about it, it is our greed, our propensity to make money quickly regardless of the consequences.

In the same manner, we can ask ourselves who will ultimately profit from a sincere effort to reforest the logged-over areas. And yet some people who have made a nest egg of our forests are loathe to maintain them.

It was for these reasons that I ordered a total ban on logging in certain critical areas of our country sometime last month. We revoke the licenses of 71 logging concessionares, and allowed only 122 to continue operations. And those that are left to operate are constantly being monitored for compliance with the rules on selective logging and the requirements on reforestation. You can rest assured that we will not think twice about cancelling the licenses of those who are caught violating our laws on logging.

For those who were let jobless, we offer alternative employment opportunities through the national livelihood program, the Kilusan Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran. I have instructed the ministry of natural resources to accommodate the displaced workers in government reforestation projects. Others are to be encouraged to go into agro-forestry or forest-based cottage industries.

Even the loggers whose license have been revoked will not be left to fend for themselves. We are seriously looking into the possibility of using their managerial expertise and resources in the task of rehabilitating our forests. Following the successful experiment in Thailand, we plan to engage the services of the private sector in the reforestation effort through a system of profit-sharing or co-managership.

Earlier in July last year, we adopted social forestry as a government policy and launched the integrated social forestry program. This program has been designed to reduce the incidence of wasteful slash-and-burn cultivation of our forest lands while at the same time promoting the economic well-being of people that have traditionally depended on our forests for their livelihood. Through this program we provide incentives to the forest occupants, especially the kaingeros or slash-and-burn cultivators, to engage in food production and countryside development as well as forest conservation. Also through this scheme, we hope to harness the experience and expertise and the knowledge of the kaingeros about the ecology of the areas they have been cultivating for the reforestation effort. Finally by giving them a measure of security of land tenure, it is our hope that they will begin to exert their utmost to increase their productivity, improve their lives and live with dignity.

Our reforestation efforts have yielded encouraging results. For once we have begun to bridge the gap between forest denudation and regeneration by enlisting the involvement of our citizens in the tree planting program and through the vigorous implementation of the government’s program for ecosystem management or profem. Since 1978, the deforestation rate was drastically reduced from 170,000 hectares a year to 65,000 hectares.

I have cited all these programs and achievements in the same spirit that brought you together in this gathering: the spirit of cooperation and frank exchange of experiences from which concrete actions

And achievement ultimately spring. I have no illusions whatsoever that the problems facing the world of forestry can be solved by a single individual or even a single nation, and it is for this reason that we warmly welcome your effort to consult with each other on the problems and concerns of forestry. Nothing less than the concerted action of nations can stave off the growing problems affecting our forests, our environment and significant numbers of the world population.

Perhaps more than any other people, we in ASEAN must begin to take concerted action to save our forests. Today, two-fifths of Southeast Asia’s timber have been cut down. Thailand has lost a fourth of her forests during the last ten years, the Philippines one-seventh during the last five years, and Indonesia harvests one-thirty-fifth of its commercial timber every year. Studies made by the World Ecological Areas Program lists down Thailand, the Philippines and Peninsular Malaysia at the top of the critical list of countries with dwindling forest resources. Deforestation has becoming endemic in Sabah, Sarawak, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The problem threatens to get out of hand unless each country takes concrete measures to arrest the despoliation of our resources. And I am sure the leaders of ASEAN look to you to provide us with workable measures that would stop the rape of our forests. Together we can work to fulfill the theme of your conference and its objective to keep the ASEAN forests as “a World Heritage.”

Thank you and good day.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Marcos, F. E. (1983). Speeches by President Ferdinand E. Marcos. [Manila] : Presidential Library.