HAVING been involved with reform advocacies for almost 30 years, there’s one thing that I have always stressed to the programs I’ve advised: Do your homework.
More often than not many people shouting out for reforms in society have all the heart they can muster, taking to the streets and crying their lungs out for this or that cause with broad strokes and motherhood statements without that healthy balance of mind – facts backed up by unassailable and well thought out research presented in sober fashion.
Nothing can make a compelling argument than a full bodied presentation of facts. And as I matured in the reform advocacy field, more and more did I rely on experts and researchers in various fields and disciplines – mostly from the academe – and stressed this need to funding agencies and aid groups supporting reform movements.
I am reminded of this because once again the mainstream news has been covering certain environmental activists – “tree huggers” to be exact – in their protest actions versus some true cutting activities for public works and other projects.
The main message is that tree cutting is bad.
But is it always? Does their plea answer that very basic dynamic between tree hugging and social and economic progress, both of which have the goal of ensuring public welfare?
Take the recent news of the Public Works Department (DPWH) cutting the trees along Almeda Highway in NagaCity for road widening. This was stopped by local officials and NGOs, saving some 651 trees from the ax. The trees line up the highway and provide a pretty shaded area.
The DPWH, however, was let loose in the same Bicol region when they cut 785 trees along Maharlika Highway to make way for road widening. In this case local government support for the cutting was there.
The fact is there is a need for the increased access on both roads, but more in Maharlika than Almeda. Plus, the conditions on both areas are different. So the Naga environmentalists have come up with an alternative solution: build a parallel road to Almeda.
Maharlika highway is a different matter, and obviously the local governments and people affected by that road have no recourse but to widen the highway in the conventional way.
It’s much the same with the highway in Pangasinan where centuries old trees were felled to make way for road widening. Indeed, there is no other recourse for this highway. The two-lane road is simply not enough for this major thoroughfare for cars, trucks, buses – ferrying people, goods and services to and from the country’s extreme north to south.
While we lament the sentimental value and aesthetic of these old trees – it has always been a wonderful drive through this rustic “tunnel” of trees – today’s traffic volume will have you sitting for hours in your stationary vehicle rather than breezing through.
Add to this the reality that these very old trees pose a grave danger of falling over, not only during typhoons but in any day, in any type of weather. It’s a sword of Damocles.
Most recently some Baguio-based tree advocates have again raised the protest flag on the Mt.Sto. Tomas. For the lowlanders, that’s the high mountain peak with the radar antennae you see from the city.
Again, the cry has been made to save the trees as these serve as watersheds, clean air source and green aesthetic for future Baguio generations.
But, as discovered even by investigative and environmental journalists, the main culprit for Mt.Sto. Tomas deforestation are the Benguet citizens themselves, specifically the potato and vegetable farmers that have been clearing the trees for their farms. As we very well know, these farms supply the increasing food demand nationwide.
Who are these farmers? What does the local government say about these? What alternatives are there for these farmers? These are just some of the questions that must be answered by these environmental activists through sober discussion, intelligent research and, in most cases, compromise.
A side note, in the mid 1990s I was invited by some business friends to join a consortium to buy and develop land on Mt.Sto. Tomas. Some sort of possible mountain resort, spa and high end residential area. Apparently, the indigenous peoples of the area were selling their lands for a song… or at least what I thought would buy them enough firewater to last them a couple of months. Apparently, the indigenous peoples of the area did not care for their heritage… and the efforts to protect them with a law of the land.
We did not pursue that plan, partly because other business endeavors made better sense, what with the Asian financial crisis coming to town then.
Again, to the tree huggers, walking the streets, ranting on Facebook and Twitter, getting your 15 minutes of fame on print and broadcast media and patting yourselves on the back after all these won’t do it.
Making a compelling case backed up by facts and credible research will.