Sunday, December 05, 2004

Death by Insanity

As Reuters succinctly put it, "More than 1,000 people have been killed or are missing after mudslides and flash floods devastated three coastal towns in the eastern Philippines, a military spokesman has said." Not surprisingly the impoverished Filipino government sent out a call to foreign taxpayers to help them rebuild from the devastation.

Philippine officials sought international help Sunday to rebuild villages devastated by back-to-back storms that left more than 1,000 people either dead or missing and devastated mostly poor northern agricultural regions. ... The United States, Japan, the European Union and the International Red Cross were among the first to respond with financial help, transport and relief goods. ... Washington offered to dispatch troops to undertake humanitarian help, including at least one helicopter for transport and a team of U.S. military damage assessment experts. It also donated US$200,000 (euro150,000), 500 body bags and plastic shelter materials to the Philippine Red Cross, he said.

The severity of the floods was put down to denudation of Philippine east coast forests. Predictably, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo vowed to stamp out illegal logging, which she blamed for much of the devastation. These proclamations are issued almost every year because illegal logging has been illegal for some time.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has suspended logging and pledged to prosecute violators after two storms set off mudslides and floods that killed 640 people and left nearly 400 missing in the northern Philippines. Deforestation has stripped hillsides of vegetation that might have held mud and other debris in place during last week's tropical storm and typhoon, and many believe years of illegal logging set off the landslides. Reinforcing that view, Arroyo said Saturday that illegal loggers would be prosecuted like terrorists, kidnappers, drug traffickers and other hardened criminals and called for unity amid the disaster.

This time, however, Arroyo identified one of the major loggers (oops, illegal loggers) by name: the Communist New People's Army (NPA).

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday accused the New Peoples Army (NPA) of rampant illegal logging activities in areas, particularly in Quezon province, which was worst hit by flashfloods and landslides spawned by typhoons ... The President revealed the NPA’s illegal logging activities during a visit late yesterday to the flood-ravaged towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar, all in Quezon province, to extend government assistance and express her sympathies to the victims of the most widespread and deadliest calamity to hit the country in recent history. "We will go after these illegal loggers. You know a lot of the illegal loggers are NPAs," the President said. High-ranking military officials, who joined the President in Real, confirmed that NPA rebels are engaged in illegal logging activities in Quezon province.

The New People's Army (NPA) is among the 38 terrorist organizations listed by the US Department of State, in company with ETA, Hamas, the Abu Nidal and Al Qaeda. But it finds the time, despite attending to the serious business of terrorism, to openly operate a headquarters in the Netherlands, where thanks to the efforts of the international Left, they are free to continue their attacks upon Americans -- and conduct  illegal logging in the Philippine Sierra Madre. According to the NPA they are completely innocent of ecological crimes and any impression to the contrary is due to their enemies "impersonating" them. (The CPLA, for those who wonder about the acronyms, is a breakaway faction of the NPA.)

The extortionists and illegal loggers in Apayao are none other than the CPLA and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) who sometimes masquerade as NPA to cover up their criminal activities and put the blame on the NPA. ... Both the CPLA and the AFP should cease their extortion and illegal logging activities and desist from smearing the NPA with their filth.

In this case all the accusations are probably true. The Philippines is so corrupt that swidden farmers, town mayors, the country's armed forces and rebel groups of all stripes outdo each other to strip the archipelago of any remaining merchantable timber. When the US left the country in 1945, most of its mountains were covered with thick and sometimes primary forest. Today it is on its way to overtaking Haiti in its degree of denudation. But who can blame the NPA for trying to make a buck. After all, it costs to be a revolutionary-about-town in Europe.

Then the Floods Came

I had an opportunity to brush past some NPA logging in the Cabadbaran Watersed ten years ago in Agusan del Norte on the Philippine island of Mindanao. On the way to a logging concession there were subtle hints that it was unsafe to proceed any further, but we hung around the area and later it transpired that it was "NPA day" at the concession, which explained why it had been marked 'do not disturb' on the boonie telegraph. The way NPA illegal logging works is the concessionaire works a specified number of days for the benefit of the local thugsters as a form of 'revolutionary taxation'. The trees are felled, bucked, transported and sold in the usual way but the money goes to supporting the Commie bosses in the Netherlands. This replaced the former methods of cash payments prevalent when logging was in flower, before the forests declined. Then the concessionaire could no longer guarantee an amount certain to Jose Maria Sison and his cohorts in Europe because they could not guarantee the required amount of timber would be found. By switching to an "NPA logging days" arrangement, the Communists were forced to bear the risks of supply and price fluctuation. The same model is used to pay off the Philippine bureaucrats, army and any other group which has enough guns to swing the grift. As a result, everyone has their "logging days" until the whole calendar is filled. There is in addition a whole bunch of subindustries, such as the 'escort' of logging trucks and extortion at checkpoints, which are put up by anyone with enough firepower to make it stick. The result is an immense pressure on the forest resource which is mercilessly destroyed until the abused slopes generate floods such as have recently killed a thousand break out.

Most Filipino politicians make the regulation of logging out to be rocket science. Nothing could be simpler. From the physical point of view controlling logging simply consists of the control of roads and rivers down which you can transport logs. It is the easiest thing in the world. No roads, no logging. But everyone, including the Commies, have their hands in the pie and so more roads into forest reserves are being built all the time, very often at the instance of local government. But recent advances in technology, in their own way are as revolutionary as the chainsaw, are making road control less effective. Perhaps the most important is the proliferation of the mini-sawmill. The Philippine boonies are littered with the archaeological ruins of sawmills from the Happy Time, which could process nothing smaller than four-foot diameter logs and which were themselves fueled by trimmings. But last I looked, which was nearly a decade ago, the Philippines was swarming with salesmen for processing plants able to handle very small log diameters and for processing chipboard. The mini-sawmill now makes even the smallest trees fair game.

The second most damaging myth besides the oft repeated "the white man looted the Philippine forests" is the idea that the situation can be reversed by reforestation. This is silly on its face. The only way the natural forest will regenerate is by leaving it alone. Close down the roads. The rotation lengths of Philippine dipterocarps are in excess of a hundred years. The trees need a century to reach maturity. Most reforestation consists of planting fast rotation species in terrain that is ill-suited for it. Reforestation has never worked and will never work. They are pure and simple make-work programs and a scam of yet another sort. The real answer to the denudation of the tropical forest consists of two things. Tree plantations, which can be grown on the flat and not on the original site of the natural forest and the granting of land rights to people who will farm timber. Tree plantations can be devoted to quick rotation species and their timber will economically destroy the incentive to "illegally log". Why go through all the trouble to annihilate the last dipterocarp up in the Sierra Madres when you can buy the timber by the roadside from a tree farmer? Alas, tree farming has been vehemently opposed by Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Foundation and Greenpeace as the "capitalist solution" and they have effectively killed it. It is also important to grant land rights to tree farmers. Half of the Philippines including all the uplands as defined by the criterion of slope belong, in perpetuity to the State. That's why all logging is done on concessions. No one can own forestland. This restriction was at the insistence of 'nationalists' who would insisted it would protect the 'patrimony of the nation' -- essentially by making them the Commons. If this sounds ridiculous, well it is. But then we live in a world where organizations blacklisted as terrorist by the US State Department can operate openly in the Netherlands by the same man, Jose Maria Sison, who almost certainly ordered the execution of Colonel James Rowe in the Philippines. That he should participate in denuding the Philippine forests while retaining his 'nationalist' cachet is not to be wondered at, but to be expected.