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The Forgotten Rainforest - The Phillipines

The Forgotten Rainforest - The Phillipines
by Jean Gier

In 2025, twenty-three years from the writing of this article, the Philippine rainforest will likely have ceased to exist, not just in theory, but literally. The land on which that forest grew will be denuded. How can this be?

The extinction of the Philippine Rainforest.

In twenty-three years, the Philippine rainforest will likely have ceased to exist, not just in theory, but literally.

Along with the rainforest, some 3,600 species of plants, fungi, and animals found only in the Philippines will be gone. (Footnote (1).) Among the animals we can say farewell to:

The Unknown Glamour of the Philippine Rainforest.

The Philippine rainforest has never been quite as glamorous to western environmentalists as the rainforests of Central and South America.

Rock Stars like Sting and Bono do not visit the Philippines to raise world consciousness about its diverse flora and fauna, or its exotic wildlife.

No world-famous poet has written about its lush glory, as Neruda has written about the Patagonian rainforest.

In fact, one can say that the Philippine rainforest and its wildlife has been forgotten. Notice that many Filipinos complain that their war with the United States has been conveniently forgotten. (Footnote (2).)

Some call that war America's "first Viet Nam,". The New York Times reported (in an interview) that over 600,000 Filipinos died fighting against American colonial forces. That war's records were filed away in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., far from the hands of Filipino historians.

Why this comparative lack of attention, when it will inevitably lead to the death of many important plant and animal species?

Of course, South America is situated closer to the United States, and as such, North Americans feel some connection to the land. North Americans know that extinction of the South America rainforest will have an immediate affect on our lives in tangible ways. South America's rainforest has aesthetic, mythic, and literary appeal. To western cultures, the land and the forest of South America have symbolized, for centuries, a kind of lost innocence and edenic existence. The lushness of its rainforest, its multiplicity, its remoteness and legendary danger, are the stuff of literature, entrancing, and resonant.

A much-plundered country.

The Philippines, on the other hand, is a much-plundered country. Asians and Southeast Asians traded and occasionally raided the Philippines. Then came invasion by the Portugese, Spanish, the Americans, and finally the Japanese. The land bears the scars, and so does its population. Despite the defeat of the Japanese in World War II, Japanese companies have continued to log the hills and mountainsides for precious mahogany and narra tress, leaving the locals vulnerable to flooding and a loss of resources for employment, housing, food and medicines.

To reach the Rainforest of the Philippines

To reach the forest, one must first land in Manila, a huge city burgeoning with poverty, ugly and distressing reminders of colonialism, the predations of tourists and the World Bank. It can be a difficult place to visit. Accounts by travel writers (Pico Iyer is a good example) that visit Manila are often riddled with irony and guilt.

To go into the countryside can be just as difficult. One is faced with questions about American military bases, and about the toxic materials left behind by these bases, which are poisoning and killing victims in the local population.

In the southern Philippines, one must beware of hostile Muslim groups or members of the N.P.A. (New People's Army), groups that are trying, through various strategies (some useful, some vicious) to redress the wrongs of history.

Must the Phillipines be sacrificed to salvage others?

If one must sacrifice some countries in order to salvage others, why not the Philippines? Although the Philippines seems far away, the end of its rainforest will affect us just as strongly as the loss of the South American rainforest. Tangibly.

It's affecting Americans now.

The fact that American citizens have been abducted by the Abu Sayaaf has to do, at least partly, with the loss of natural resources in the Southern Philippines, and the toxic wastes left behind in American military bases. The extent to which Americans can hope to have the Filipinos as allies in their "war against terrorism" is being weighed against these situations, and they are not looking good.

"Beauty" is probably as good a reason as any other for saving the rainforest. But sometimes, you have to face ugliness, first. And some of the ugliness in the Philippines is ours, those of us in the USA. Doing something to help save the Philippine rainforest requires that we face this ugliness, even while looking towards the beauty.

And there is still beauty in the Philippines. Much of that beauty resides in what is left of the moist rainforests and mangroves, its diverse wildlife, and the indigenous peoples who still make their home under the canopy of green.

Filipinos have in recent years become more and more alarmed at the distressing rate of deforestation in the Philippines. In order to bypass corrupt government policies that turn a blind eye to excessive logging and destructive mining, environmental groups have begun to form NGO's (non-governmental agencies) and coalitions with other groups in order to find funding and solutions for the environmental decline in the Philippines.


Footnote (1). 3,600 is an estimate. I got it from the National Geographic (referencing data from the World Wildlife Fund), which said, "rainfall and warm temperatures combine to nourish more than 12,000 species of plants and fungi in the Philippines moist forests. Of these, about 3,500 are endemic. This highly diverse region also supports many endemic species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians. What's more, 111 of the 172 species of land mammals found on these islands are also endemic."

Footnote (2). This figure is given in The Philippines Reader, edited by Daniel B. Schirmer and Stephen Rosskamm Shalom. The Times did not include an estimated 100,000 killed as reported by General Bell on the island of Batangas, nor did it include those who died in guerrilla warfare, in prison, or of disease attributed to war during the "post-war" period. Some sources estimate over 1,000,000 died.

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