you're reading...
Academic Papers

Poverty and Deforestation: Consequences of Export-led Development: A Philippines Case Study

1989 Phillipines (16) Poverty is the biggest drain on our natural resources.  You cannot separate sustainable development from social equity – Maximo Kalaw, President of the Haribon foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources in the Philippines

Intertwined with the social crisis is a crisis that has emerged directly from man’s exploitation of the planet – Murray Bookchin, The Concept of Social Ecology

The Philippines ranks 14th in terms of world food production, with just a fraction of the global population living on its soils.  Yet, according to conservative World Bank statistics, 75% of its children are malnourished and 65% of all Filipinos live below the poverty line, 30 million of whom live in “absolute poverty”, not even able to satisfy basic needs.

Urbanization is a growing trend.  The populations of Davao and Cebu, the second and third largest cities in the Philippines, respectively, are approaching one million.  And well over 4 million people have found their way into Manila, where 35% of all families are illegal squatters. (Chapman, 26)  Many live on Smoky Mountain, the notorious garbage dump on Manila’s East side, awaiting the arrival of the next truck.

Despite this trend towards urbanization, the country’s population remains largely rural, consisting predominantly of landless peasant farmers who rent or sharecrop from a minority of wealthy landlords at premium rates.  An example of this is the case of copra sharecroppers in Pitoga, Quezon.  Peasants there work the coconut land of the town mayor’s wife, contributing all the labor and seeds for only 30% of the return.  Copra is an important export crop and recently the price has been very low.  If a sharecropper has a bad year he goes into debt to the mayor’s wife creating a situation where she can drop his percentage even further, effectively making him her slave. (Hawes, 19)

The farmer would be much better off planting a subsistence crop such as maize or beans, but the landlords seldom allow this because they want a cash return from an export crop.  This situation leaves the sharecroppers to the whims of both the international commodity markets and the landlord.  Those peasants who tire of this arrangement or are denied access to rental lands do one of two things: they either move to the city or move higher into the hills to farm more marginal lands.

Uplands Migration

By late 1986, nearly one-third of all Filipinos, or 18 million people, lived in the upland regions of the country, while millions more are expected to migrate there by the end of the century. (Myers, 202)  Most who migrate onto these marginal lands become kaingineros (the Tagalog term for slash and burn farmers), often penetrating deep into the forests via commercial logging roads.  Still, the role of kaingineros in deforestation and other forms of environmental degradation in the Philippines is often exaggerated by government officials.  Even the World Bank admits that by far the leading cause of deforestation in the country is both illegal and licensed cutting by commercial loggers.

Any assessment of the damage done by these kaingineros must take into account the pressures which forced them to migrate into these sensitive watershed uplands in the first place; pressures such as unfair land ownership patterns and export mono-cropping on the nation’s most fertile lands.  Still, the damage done by these upland peasant farmers is significant.  Much of the farming is done on slopes of a 45 degree incline or greater. (Myers, 208)  As trees are felled from these slopes to create clearings for farming, the entire hydrological system is affected.  Without trees to soak up the rains, water instead runs down the steep slopes into the valleys, causing severe slope erosion, flooding and sedimentation of rivers.

Clearly the trend towards upland migration in the Philippines is cause for concern among those wishing to save the last Philippine rainforests, but, to borrow a concept from Henry David Thoreau, let us not needlessly hack away at the branches of this problem.  Let us instead get to its roots.

A History of Colonialism

In 1521 Ferdinand Magellan landed on the island of Cebu with a small army and a band of missionaries.  Though Magellan was himself killed by Chief Lapu-Lapu, after which his crew headed for home with a large booty of spices, the Spaniards soon returned in a more forceful manner.  While Spanish missionaries hastily converted tribal peoples to Catholisism, Spanish traders brought cattle to the islands to graze them.  Whereas the tribal people had survived primarily through hunting, gathering and shifting cultivation, leaving 90% of the towering Philippine forests intact; the Spaniards quickly began to burn these old growth forests to produce rangeland for their cattle.  They also introduced a sort of housing code which required that homes be built out of wood, so as to stimulate the domestic timber industry.  By the end of the 19th century, the archipelago was only 70% forested. (Wernstedt, 239)  Enter the Americans.

Admiral Thomas Dewey sailed into Manila Bay in 1898 to launch a 50-year period of American rule over the Philippines.  Plantations of hemp and sugar sprang up overnight to supply US markets.  American missionaries picked up where their Spanish counterparts left off.  Today the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in all of Asia.  Ninety percent of its citizens are Christian, while 85% are Catholic. (Wheeler, 406)  And US multinational corporations began to establish a firm foothold in the nation, promoting a process of colonial export-led development which still prevails today.

Multinationals now control 75% of the agricultural export trade of the Philippines. (Galang, 64)  They occupy the best farmlands, enjoy generous tax holidays compliments of the corrupt government in Manila and, according to the Alternative Resource Center in Davao City, frequently organize into cliques to control prices and markets.  To better understand how the presence of these companies contributes to poverty and thus to increasing environmental degradation in the country, one needs only to look to the island of Mindanao.

Mindanao is home to the best farmlands in all the Philippines.  Most of this land is owned by a wealthy Filipino aristocracy, who contract to grow pineapples and bananas for the US multinationals (MNC’s) Dole, Del Monte and United Brands.  Dole and Del Monte, which are subsidiaries of Castle & Cooke and RJR Nabisco, respectively, together control 95% of all pineapple production and 70% of all banana production in the Philippines. (Galang, 64)  Yet it is nearly impossible to find a pineapple in the markets of Manila and the only bananas to be found are those that are small and of low quality.  Land which could be used to feed a hungry nation is instead used to grow fruit for export, enriching only the multinationals and their local cronies.  Three-quarters of Mindanao’s forests have already been destroyed to make room for these plantations and the MNC’s continue to expand production, pushing more farmers into the marginal uplands, where yet more forests are cleared. (Canuday, 7)

In 1926 Del Monte had established its first pineapple plantation in Bukidnon Province on Mindanao.  When local peasants and tribal people resisted the intrusion and seizure of their traditional lands, Del Monte organized the Bolo Battalion, a fanatically religious and militant faction of the Tad Tads, who brutally hacked up the resisters on behalf of del Monte. (Miller, 32)  In the early 1960’s, the MNC’s undertook a huge expansion in the Philippines.  Amidst a growing global awareness of imperialism, they transferred their stolen lands to Filipino straw men, financed their startups, organized subsidiaries and made them overnight millionaires, creating a Filipino ruling class.  This strategy of contracting out actual production effectively alleviates the MNC’s of all production and expropriation risk, while leaving them firmly in control of the processing, shipping and marketing of the fruit.  This strategy has been followed by MNC’s worldwide.

Brutality on these plantations continues to this day.  Two Del Monte contract farms- Delta Farms and A.M. Sorianto- regularly beat and harass peasants who refuse to leave their lands during regular company “expansions”.  Often the peasants’ houses are bulldozed.  In 1972 Lapanday Security Forces, a Scout 2nd Ranger Battallion, was called in to provide security for the farms.  Owned by Ferdinand Marcos crony Don Luis Lorenzo, Lapanday also joined forces with the Asian Institute for Free Labor Development- an arm of the AFL-CIO with known CIA connections- to form the Lapanday Employees Union.  The union covers workers on the MNC contract farms and Firestone’s large rubber plantations, preaching company loyalty and anti-communism.  Workers on the plantations often work 15 hour days and, according to the National Development Authority, make one-third of what a family of six needs to survive at the most basic level. (Miller, 33)

At Polomok in South Cotabato Province Dole executives live on Kalsingi, a country club estate with swimming pools, tennis courts and a golf course, while below in Little Tondo (named after a Manila slum) workers live without electricity.  TADECO, a grower for United Brands, in 1988 claimed additional tribal lands.  When tribal chiefs protested to the Office of Southern Cultural Committees they were told that if they tried to take the land back they would be jailed.  This was no great surprise to the chiefs since in 1974 PANAMIN, another government agency which deals with tribal affairs, took 50% of the tribe’s harvest and forced them to work for TADECO for nothing. (Miller, 22)

The latest export craze in the Philippines is prawns and the Japanese can’t get enough.  MNC’s, along with large Filipino corporations like monopoly brewer San Miguel and the giant Ayala conglomerate, were quick to grab their share of this booming market.  Dole recently entered a joint venture to run the largest prawn farm in the country on Mindanao, receiving a generous four-year tax holiday from the Aquino government for its efforts. (Broad, 20) This latest round of export-led “development” not only does nothing to alleviate poverty in the Philippines, since it again benefits only a handful of wealthy Filipinos and their MNC partners, it is also an environmental disaster.

Prawn farming requires a mixture of salt and fresh water, so the ponds must be located near the ocean.  Coastal farmers and fishermen on the island of Negros, where prawn farming got its start in the country, complain that these man-made ponds are sucking too much water from the already low water table there.  When the water table is drawn down far enough, salt water from the ocean begins to creep in, dramatically increasing salination levels.  Excessive salination levels on Negros have already ruined much of the island’s coastal agricultural lands, itself cleared at the expense of old growth forest. (Broad, 21)

The Filipino Oligarchy

The neocolonialist extraction of natural resources from the Philippines by MNCs, which has left millions in extreme poverty and the environment in such dire straits that even former dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared it a “national emergency”, is only possible via the complicity of a small group of Filipino elites.  This handful of extremely wealthy families, many of whom served as government officials and constitute a social circle which coalesces around Marcos, continue to profit from a model of export-led development which has relegated most Filipinos to indentured servitude and outright slavery.

In the Philippines the line between government and business is blurred at best.  Corruption and nepotism are rampant and wealth disparity great.  Conservative estimates hold that 18% of the population receives over 50% of all income. (Andrews, S-4)  In reality, that figure is misleading since the black market flourishes and is also controlled by this oligarchy.  For example, official estimates put the value of 1988 timber exports at $200 million, but unofficial estimates are closer to $1 billion. (Andrews, S-4)  Sixty percent of the timber goes to Japan.  As demand grew in industrializing Japan during the 1960’s, Marcos began doling out timber concessions to his business cronies via hand-written edicts.

By the mid-70’s Marcos and Aquino Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and other cronies owned large chunks of these timber leases. (Broad, 23)  Enrile controls the conglomerate Jaka, which owns San Jose Timber Corporation, Delores Timber Corporation and Casilyan Softwood Development Corporation, as well as numerous matchwood plantations on the island of North Samar. (Clad, 44)  Enrile was a Presidential hopeful in 1992.

So was the Speaker of the House Ramon Mitra, President Corazon Aquino’s closest confidant and leader of her new coalition party.  In a November 24, 1988 article the Far Eastern Economic Review exposed Mitra’s dealings with Jose Alvarez, another timber tycoon currently clear-cutting the pristine forests on the island of Palawan.  Alvarez became rich exporting Indonesian timber to Japan during the 1970’s and gained his Palawan concessions through his friendship with Teodoro Pena, who was Natural Resource Minister under Marcos.  Apparently Mitra has become his latest advocate in Manila.  Through his companies- Pagdanon Timber Products and Nationwide Princesa Timber Inc.- Alvarez controls the destiny of 61% of Palawan’s remaining forests, which he is currently cutting at a rate of 47,000 acres per year.  Palawan is still 54% forested and contains the last significant rainforests in the Philippines. (Broad, 22)

In 1986 Pres. Aquino replaced Ernesto Mercado as head of the Dep’t of Environment & Nat’l Resources (DENR) due to his mishandling of timber concessions.  But the new head of DENR, Fulgencio Factoran, proclaimed that often the corruption occurs at a regional level and is thus beyond Manila’s control.  He says often his directives are simply ignored. (Clad, 19)  Regional officials are easily bought off because their pay is meager and a refusal to be bribed by the timber barons could prove hazardous to their health.  One official in Palawan who tried to stop illegal logging was murdered, allegedly by a body guard of one of the island’s most powerful politicians. (Broad, 28)  The timber industry is just one industry of many in the country which is plagued by corruption and tightly controlled by the elite.  The Economist once estimated that 60 families hold domain over the economy of the Philippines.

The Ayala and Zobel families are the primary magnates of both banking and property.  The Soriano family controls the San Miguel Corporation, the nation’s largest firm which controls San Miguel Breweries and dozens of other corporations, including Atlas Mining, the nation’s largest mining company.  San Miguel got its legs in 1952 when its predecessor Andres Soriano Corporation, still the country’s only multionational and one of only a handful of Third World multinationals, entered into a joint venture with the Rockefeller-family controlled International Paper Company, the world’s largest paper producer, to form Paper Industry Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP).  All Soriano family members are now US citizens and many reside in the US.  Emmanual Soriano was National Security Advisor to President Aquino. (Tiglao, 82)

The Benedicto family holds a virtual monopoly over the country’s sugar industry, while the Cojuango family controls the billion dollar coconut industry which employs one-third of all Filipinos.  Eduardo Cojuango’s firm United Coconut Mills, which controls processing, milling and exporting of most all coconuts, is a subsidiary of United Coconut Planter’s Bank, where he is CEO.  The bank has more branches throughout the nation than any other, loaning money to small coconut growers at interest rates as high as 50%.  The Cojuango family is the richest in the Philippines and controls interests all over the world, including a 5,000 acre mare stud ranch in Australia.  It’s most famous family member of late is President Corazon Cojuango Aquino. (Manning, 21)

The stark contrast between Filipino rich and poor has given rise to groups like the New People’s Army, which now controls vast stretches of land, mostly in the Cordillera Mountains of North Luzon Province, land seized from wealthy absentee landowners and given over to peasant farmers who survive on what they can produce on the land.  The Kilusang Magbudukid ng Pilipinas or Philippine Peasant Movement (KMP) has also gained momentum of late, concentrating its efforts on the issue of land reform, which the Filipino poor see as necessary in closing the massive gap the country’s rich and poor.

Aquino Land Reform & the IMF

Catherine Caufield has aptly stated that, “tropical rainforests are used as a safety valve for governments who refuse to enact significant land reform measures.”  Without decent land to farm, peasants in the Philippines are migrating into the forested uplands to become kaingineros, in the process destroying entire watershed systems.

When Corazon Cojuango Aquino took office in 1986 she attempted to pacify a burgeoning left which had formed from the blatant corruption of Marcos.  She campaigned on a platform of “people power” and cited land reform as crucial.  Upon election she immediately formed a Cabinet Action Committee (CAC) to deal with the issue.  But when the CAC announced plans to redistribute 2.2 million hectares of land; large landowners, bankers and government officials voiced strong opposition.  Sugar growers in Negros threatened to recruit and train their own armies to defend their property.  Foreign investors threatened to pull out of the country and the Philippine peso plummeted in value. (Hawes, 22)

What resulted was an extremely watered-down version of land reform, which many say is worse than the earlier half-hearted attempts of Marcos.  The land reform only covered land currently producing corn and rice and redistribution of the land was based on the land’s market value.  Although the government subsidized part of the price for buyers, the poorest landless farmers got nothing since they had no way of coming up with the remaining amount needed to buy the land.  The program was riddled with fraud; there were cases where wealthy landowners aquired even more land through the program. (Tiglao, 15)

Aquino herself refused to sell any part of her family’s vast holdings to peasant farmers.  Ayala Land Inc., one of the largest property-holders in the nation announced that it would develop an industrial estate in Laguna Province in partnership with Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Steel; this on property which was slated for land reform dispersal. (Cohen, 38)  Clearly the political will to carry out the significant land reform necessary does not exist within the Aquino Administration.  Realizing this, KMP members have begun to encourage squatting by peasants on the lands of absentee landowners, a situation which is sure to polarize Philippine politics even further. (Hawes, 22)

Although the failed December coup attempt by members of the Reformed Armed Forces (RAM) movement was covered scantily by Western media and the ideological bent of RAM never discussed, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported in a recent issue that RAM’s platform in many ways mirrored that of the National Democratic Front’s Communist Party, of which the NPA is the militant wing.  Though RAM had apparently formed a tentative alliance with ex-Marcos cronies (including, it was rumored, Juan Ponce Enrile) for financial reasons, it appears that the coup attempt may have been a signal of growing frustration among the left due to Aquino’s unwillingness to deliver on land reform.  Significantly, three weeks after the coup attempt Aquino dismissed her Minister of Agrarian Reform, Miriam Defensor Santiago, as part of a major reshuffling of her cabinet, which many on the left saw as purely cosmetic in nature. (Missoulian, C-3)

Much of the pressure to abandon significant land reform measures in the Philippines has come from the international banking community, most notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  With an external debt of nearly $30 billion and a flailing economy, the Aquino Administration finds itself at the mercy of IMF austerity measures if it wishes to continue borrowing hard currency from the multi-lateral institutions on which the country has become so dependent.  In 1987 the World Bank, through its subsidiary Internatinal Finance Corporation, began to finance steps towards the further privatization of the country’s economy. (Tiglao, 74)  This was hardly a direction conducive to state-funded land reform.

Last March the Philippines government signed an agreement with the IMF under which the country agreed to four draconian provisions if it is to receive continued funding: import liberalization, increased privatization of the economy, increased taxes (the Philippines tax system is extremely regressive with the poor currently paying at an average rate of 27%, while the rich pay at an average rate of 18%), and a willingness to continue hosting US military bases. (Tasker, 13)  This final stipulation concerning US bases is instructive of the sway which the US holds over the decision-making of both Manila and IMF officials.  Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base are the two largest US military bases on foreign soil.  In addition, the US operates 19 nuclear facilities in the Philippines. (Arkin, 3)

On June 23rd of last year, Economic Planning Secretary Solita Monsod resigned under pressure, following her outspoken criticism of IMF policies. (Tiglao, 68)  She was one of only two Aquino Administration officials who did not come from the private sector.  Her duties were assumed by Roberto Villanueva, a former member of the Lopez business group.

Currently the Philippines is buying back $1.3 billion of its debt for $650 million, with multilateral banks absorbing the rest.  But Citicorp, Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust, Fuji Bank and Bank of Tokyo are already planning to invest new money exceeding that amount into the country. (Awanohara, 56)  Since infusions will exceed debt buy-back, the Philippines will only sink further into debt.

The lack of environmental provisions in the current IMF plan, coupled with the status quo economy it promotes, can only lead to increased poverty and deforestation in the Philippines.  Alowing for the easier import of Japanese cars for the rich and continuing to export food and natural resources unprocessed and away from the poor will only deepen both environmental and social crises.

People of the Forest

There are no less than eighty distinct cultural-linguistic indigenous tribes scattered throughout the more than 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines. (Caufield, 86)  As export-based plantation agriculture and extractive industries have continually infringed upon traditional tribal hunting, gathering and subsistence agricultural lands, increasing numbers of tribal peoples have been decimated.  The destruction of primary forests encompasses the entire scope of life which the forest supports- the plants, the animals and the people.

The Philippines is a country of rich ecological diversity.  Like many tropical rainforest nations, it is home to many endemic species of plants and animals, as is Southeast Asia generally.  Of the 180 mammal species found in the Philippines over half are endemic. (Caufield, 61)  Many of these, including the ancient wild cow, are also endangered species.  The same is true of the nation’s bird population, which includes the rare Philippine (monkey-eating) eagle, from which the environmental group Haribon takes its name.  Plant diversity is astounding.  Mt. Makiliang alone has more woody plant species growing from its rich volcanic soil that does the entire United States.  Hunters and gatherers on Mindanao recognize over 1,600 species of plants just on that one island. (Gradwohl, 38)

There are four distinct types of forests in the Philippines: mangrove, pine, molave and dipterocarp.  While the first three types have been badly damaged, they collectively comprise only 25% of the nation’s forests.  The dipterocarps, which cover the remaining 75% of the archipelaego, are a valuable hardwood, much coveted by the export logging industry. (Wernstedt, 240)  Together, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Gabon and Ivory Coast export 80% of the world’s tropical hardwoods. (Gradwohl, 38)  Today, the Philippines has only 20% of its forests left intact and the ecological consequences are severe.

Over 16,000 of deforested lands lie on watersheds important to supplying water for irrigation projects, hydroelectric dams and urban water systems.  The Magat watershed in North Luzon supplies the largest irrigation system in the country, as well as providing the Cayagan Valley with the hydro-power necessary for economic development.  When the dam was constructed in 1982, its life expectancy was 95 years.  But due to heavy siltation of the reservoir, resulting from the deforestation and ensuing erosion of the watershed, the life expectancy is now estimated at only 40 years. (Myers, 208)

Likewise, the Ambuklao Dam reservoir is fed by the badly deforested Agno River watershed.  Due to siltation, this dam is still not even fully operational.  Its initial 75-year life expectancy has recently been downgraded to 30 years.  This being the case, the Philippines government will lose $25 million on the project. (Caufield, 24)  An increase in wet season flooding, dry season drought and unpredictable typhoon activity also represents evidence of damage to the country’s entire hydrological system.

Many Filipinos derive their livelihood from fishing and much of this is done within the spectacular series of coral reefs which surround most of the Philippines islands.  These reefs are rich feeding grounds for scad, sardines, herring, caesio, surgeon fish, croaker, lizard fish, mullet, bonito, mackeral and tuna; all of which provide sustenance and income for Filipino coastal families. (Wernstedt, 231)  But these reef ecosystems are also under attack.  Most seriously, they are being smothered under mountains of silt running off of deforested hillsides, then being carried to the sea by muddy rivers.  Many of the people affected by the loss of fishing grounds which has resulted are tribal people.

In 1974 President Marcos signed Decree 410 into law which declared, “ancestral lands occupied and cultivated by national cultural communities alienable and disposable and for other purposes”.  Eleven days later Cellophil Resources Corp., a subsidiary of the Herdis Group, was awarded a license to log a million acres of land in Abra which belonged to Tinggian tribal people and four other indigenous groups.  The tribes had used the land to hunt and fish and had created an ecologically sound system of terraced rotational agriculture.  The land also contained four supposedly protected watersheds and Balbalasang, a world-reknowned National Park.

Herdis Group was headed by Herminio Disini, a relative of Imelda Marcos and a golfing partner of her husband’s.  Disini became briefly infamous when Time magazine uncovered his role as middle-man in a bribery scandal through which Westinghouse Corp. secured a contract from the Marcos regime to build what became a white elephant nuclear reactor at Bataan.

Both Mitsubishi and Swiss-based Bauminter Corp. have invested in a pulp mill which will benefit from the Cellophil land grab and which is financed by American and European banks.  In addition the world Bank is financing a parallel forestry operation to satisfy future Cellophil needs.  The Tinggians and the other tribes were never consulted about the project and when tribal leaders made even modest requests that the company not cut down certain trees on stream banks or float logs down certain streams (these two activities would damage Tinggian fish traps and irrigation systems), the Marcos regime began calling the tribes “squatters” and proclaimed they had no rights to land use, depsite thousands of years of history that dispute this absurd notion.

The military soon increased its presence in the area and eventually most tribal people were simply removed to government camps, modeled after the strategic hamlets which the US employed during the Vietnam War in a futile attempt to pacify South Vietnamese peasants.  The area now suffers from chronic erosion, frequent landslides, siltation and flooding.  Water is no longer drinkable and Tinggian fishing streams are seriously damaged.  In May 1983, the Battalion Troops of 623 entered five Tinggian settlements and began to interrogate villagers about their alleged support of NPA rebels.  According to the Catholic Church, soldiers killed at least three people, including a 4-year-old girl and her pregnant mother, and tortured numerous others. (Caufield, 103)

The World Bank has financed other similar forestry projects, including one which usurped traditional tribal lands to provide trees for PICOP, the aforementioned joint venture between International Paper and the Soriano family, now the largest paper producer in Asia.  The T’boli, Manabo, Blit and Tasaday tribes (the later only discovered in 1972 with 26 members) of south Cotabato, Mindanao have been victims of an onslaught of gold-diggers and loggers in recent years.  PANAMIN and the Office for Southern Cultural Committees (OSCC), the two government agencies set up to ostensibly protect indigenous people in the Philippines, both have board’s of directors which read like a “Who’s Who” of the Filipino oligarchy.  These agencies have focused on removing tribal people from traditional lands and placing them on “reservations”.

Some anthropologists see these moves as “forced primitivism” which cater to the tourist trade, but Dinualdo Gutierrez, the Catholic bishop of South Cotabato diocese, sees a more sinister plan in the works.  Gutierrez, one of a growing number of clergymen to ally himself with the tribal people, claims the reservation system was formed to, “lock (tribal) people out so certain financial interests could exploit the area’s natural resources”.

The T’boli people have lived in this area for over 1,000 years, yet today only 20% of the tribe’s 60,000 members control land.  A combination of lowland settlers from neighboring Visaya, the MNC pineapple and banana plantations and, most recently, gold prospectors and loggers infringing upon their traditonal lands has pushed the T’boli further into the upland forests where they have taken to slash and burn kaingineros agriculture. (McCarthy, 10)  Outraged at this situation, many Catholic priests and bishops have begun to speak out.  Last spring, Father Carl Schmitz, an American missionary, was gunned down by company vigilantes when he became too vocal.  Two other priests in Mindanao have suffered similar fates for their opposition to increased logging activity.

Peter Walpole, a Manila-based Jesuit scholar sees the destruction of the environment and the destruction of tribal cultures as two symptoms of the same socio-economic injustice.  Unless drastic measures are taken, Walpole says, “ten years and we’re gone”. (McCarthy, 9)  Walpole’s prediction is already ringing true on Palawan, where rampant logging of almaciga trees, from which the Batac gather resin, is threatening to drive that tribe into extinction. (Broad, 20)

The Battle for Mt. Apo

Mt. Apo overlooks Davao City in Mindanao.  It is an active volcano and the highest mountain in the Philippines.  The mountain is sacred to the Ata, Bagabo, Kaulo, Manabo, Ubo and K’lagan tribes who live nearby.  They understand a spiritual pact with Sandawa, the spirit of Mt. Apo. (Canuday, 8)  The area provides the last remaining habitat for the endangered Philippines eagle and is one of the most pristine and ecologically rich areas of the Philippines.  In 1936 President Quezon signed a proclamation declaring Mt. Apo Sandawa a National Park.  In 1984 ASEAN recognized the area  as one of the richest botanical reserves in SE Asia and classified it as an ASEAN Heritage Site. (Fay, AA)

A year later the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) began exploratory geothermal development operations inside Bagabo tribal territory. The chairman of PONC was Presidential Executive secretary Catalino Macaraig.  Funding for the exporation came from the Japanese Overseas Development Bank and Philippine Geothermal Incorporated, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UNOCAL. (Fay, AA)  Opposition to the geothermal development plan is strong and the issue is quickly becoming a lightning rod for the growing environmental movement in the Philippines.  The Lumads (tribal communities of Mindanao) were the first to voice their opposition to the project.  Last April the nine tribes of Mt. Apo Sandawa held a dayandi (blood compact) at which they agreed to defend their ancestral grounds, “to the last drop of blood”. (Lopez, 14)

Not since the Chico Dam proposal have the nation’s tribal people been so vocal about their opposition to a project.  The Kalinga and Bontoc people of the Chico River Valley in North Luzon’s Cordillera won that battle when they stopped a World Bank-funded dam which would have flooded their traditional rice terraces.  That battle was not without bloodshed.  The Kalinga and Bontoc formed a military alliance with the NPA and took up arms to defend their territory in the mid-70’s.  In April 1980, Macli-ing, a Kalinga village leader, was assassinated in his home. (Fay, 24)  The event proved a catalyst, as the World Bank was forced by the bad publicity to abandon the project.  Opposition to the Mt. Apo project is even more widespread.

In 1988 the Philippine Catholic Bishops held a pastoral conference which culminated in a pastoral letter titled What is Happening to our Beautiful Land.  The manifesto attacks industry and government for their abuses of the land and the people of the Philippines. (Broad, 21)  The tone of the letter reflects an increasing consciousness among Catholic church leaders that the environmental and social problems of the nation are products of the unjust export-led development model which the country is following.  Mindanao bishops, clergy and lay people have established their own campaign against any development on Mt. Apo Sandawa.  International NGOs have joined Haribon, the leading Filipino environmental group, in the fight to save Mt. Apo Sandawa, as have leading Filipino intellectuals such as Dr. Delfin Ganapin of the U. of the Philippines/Los Banos, who was highly critical of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which PONC submitted to DENR for the proposed project.

Considering that PNOC is a government-owned entity, it is significant that an EIA was even filed.  Much of the credit for this must go to the new DENR secretary Fulgencio Factoran who, on July 25, 1988, sent a memo to President Aquino stating that in DENR’s view any geothermal development inside the National Park boundary would be “patently illegal”.  DENR had denied PNOC a permit to explore in the park earlier in the year, but PNOC proceeded anyway. (Fay, AA)  Recently, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have met with the Aquino government to discuss their possible roles in financing the geothermal project.  PONC continues to lobby Manila to segregate a section of the park for exploration.  Many environmentalists believe Aquino will soon cave into this pressure. (Fay, AA)

Logging Ban?

Both domestic and international support for the Philippine environmental movement is growing.  In 1988 the World Wildlife Fund entered an agreement with Haribon and the DENR to purchase $2 million worth of Philippine debt and to use the money to create two new National Parks on Palawan. (Broad, 26)  The New People’s Army has agreed to enforce logging bans in critical areas, while reducing taxes on companies who replant trees on land controlled by NPA forces.  The broader coalition of the Filipino left, the National Democratic Front, has incorporated an environmental plank into its 15-point political program. (Broad, 21)  Increasingly, the Filipino left and environmental groups like Haribon are viewing their struggles as one ans the same.

This recent coalition-building among domestic and international NGOs concerned with the exploitation of the people and environment of the Philippines has begun to make a difference.  On July 1st, under heavy pressure from this informal coalition, the Dep’t of Environment & Nat’l Resources announced a total ban on the export of unprocessed wood products.  This move towards a value-added economy is a bold one and the multinational logging companies have launched a multi-million dollar media blitz to discredit it.  Meanwhile, illegal logging has increased dramatically and problems of enforcement and internal corruption remain.

Some environmental groups have taken to monitoring logging activities, while Catholic bishops have agreed to act as DENR monitors in their respective regions.  Maximo Kalaw, President of Haribon, is constantly receiving death threats for his efforts, as are many priests, bishops and activists involved in the monitoring. (Broad, 25)  On December 25, 1989 at Port Barton, Palawan eyewitnesses observed Jose Alvarez’ Pagdanon Timber Company loading raw logs bound for Japan onto the freighter Eastern Jupiter.  The next day C.T. Skinner photographed the M.V. Isabella being loaded with Pagdanon raw logs. (EC, 169)  The mayor of Port Barton is Jose Alvarez’ brother.


The environmental crisis in the Philippines is deepening, despite a growing environmental movement here.  Despite her campaign promises, President Aquino has followed the same course of neo-colonial export-led development as her predecessors.  This strategy caters to the Philippine oligarchy, of which Mrs. Cojuango Aquino is herself a member, and to the MNCs who control 75% of all the country’s agricultural exports.  These MNCs utilize the country’s most fertile lands, while driving tribal people and peasant farmers into forested uplands where they become kaingineros, destroying forests and watersheds in their attempts to survive on these marginal soils.

Marcos-era corruption caused massive deforestation as logging companies supplied insatiable Japanese markets.  Though corruption has been less obvious under President Aquino, it is still pervasive and must be understood as a major force in Philippine politics.  The increased privatization of the Philippine economy called for by the IMF and international bankers will excacerbate wealth disparity and transfer government corruption into the private sector where there are even less checks.  Since most government officials are also wealthy businessmen, the same oligarchy class with benefit from the corruption.

Lack of significant land reform and political will to make sweeping structural changes to the export-led economy will strengthen the position of the radical left, spearheaded by the NPA, while further polarizing Philippine society along class lines.  The recent coup attempt by RAM illustrates this point.  It is instructive of the neo-colonial nature of the Philippine economy that US bombers from Clark Air Force Base were used to put down the rebellion.  Without significant land reform, both the environment and the Filipino poor will continue to suffer.  IMF stipulations run directly contrary to land reform or other social spending and with a $38 billion debt hanging over her head President Aquino will find it difficult to deliver on her “People Power” promises.  Instead, she will likely continue to serve her own elite class and their international banker and MNC counterparts.


“Development & the Environment in ASEAN”. Mark A. NcDowell. Pacific Affairs. 6-89

“Aquino’s Tree Problem; Destruction of Forests & Soils in the Philippines”. Debora MacKenzie. World Press Review. 9-88.

Tropical Forest Ecology. D.J. Maberly. Blackie. London. 1983.

“The Marcos Mafia: Crony Capitalism Meets Popular Democracy”. Robert Manning. New Republic. 6-25-84.

“Land Grab in the Philippines: US Corporations Make Their Own Law”. Brad Miller. Progressive. 11-89.

“Environmental Degradation and Some Economic Consequences in the Philippines”. Norman Myers. Environmental         

      Conservation. Autumn 1988.

“Forest Fires; Congress Acts in Bid to Restrict Logging”. Rodney Tasker & Rigoberto Tiglao. Far Eastern Economic    

      Review. 3-23-89

“The End of the Affair; Battle for Atlas Ends in Compromise”. Rigoberto Tiglao. Far Eastern Economic Review. 7-13-89.

“Caught in the Act; Scam Exposes Flaws in Land Reform Program”. Rigoberto Tiglao. Far Eastern Economic Review. 7-


“Privatization Runs Foul of Politics”. Rigoberto Tiglao. Far Eastern Economic Review. 9-7-89.

“Philippine Trade Deficit”. Wall Street Journal. 11-13-89.

Robin Broad article. Amicus Journal. 1988.

The Philippine Island World: A Physical, Cultural & Regional Geography. Frederick Wernstedt & J.E. Spencer. U. of

California Press. Berkeley. 1967.

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring. Tony Wheeler. Lonely Planet Publications. London. 1985.

“One of the Spirits”. Chip Fay. Sierra. March/April 1987.

“Hurdles to Reform”. Margaret Cohen. Far Eastern Economic Review. 1-11-90.

Econet Action Alert: 8-28-89. Chip Fay & Jim Barnes. Topic 169. 12-29-89.

Dean Henderson is the author of five books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve, Stickin’ it to the Matrix & The Federal Reserve Cartel.  You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @

About these ads


8 thoughts on “Poverty and Deforestation: Consequences of Export-led Development: A Philippines Case Study

  1. Very helpful. Can you tell me how Speaker Pelosi, the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama fit into all this? I have heard Pelosi controls Dole. True? What of other members of our government?

    Posted by T altman | July 1, 2012, 8:29 am
  2. thanks Dean, I am a big fan of yours and I live in the Philippines.

    Posted by paul | February 20, 2013, 3:27 am
  3. You might be interested to know that land reform laws have lead to many wealthy land owners abandoning farming. Now subdivisions are springing up all over Luzon to relieve the population preassures of Manila. This has caused flooding problems near former rice fields. Call centers are the not so new big thing, employing many Filipinos (as) and even attracting firms formerly operating in India. Pampanga has a lot of foreign investment, especially around Angeles City and Clark. Koreans seem to dominate. I pass through “Korea Town” on Friendship Hwy every time I go out for a drink or game of pool. Government officials have admitted off the record that the single largest financial sector is prostitution related, consuming 25% of the GNP. With all this said, as a long term retired resident, I am always impressed by the resilience and industry of the ordinary Filipino. I feel safer and more loved here than anywhere since I left home at 14.

    Posted by mfphughes | February 22, 2013, 12:37 am
  4. Of course we now have Aquino ll. Talks a good stick, but remains an Aquino.

    Posted by mfphughes | February 22, 2013, 12:39 am
  5. Absolutely:)

    Posted by gleaning2day | February 22, 2013, 5:59 pm
  6. Well said! Let us see how PINOY and the next generation of oligarch presidents will put the Philippines out of poverty’s way…

    Posted by james | March 27, 2013, 11:42 pm


  1. Pingback: Poverty and Deforestation: Consequences of Export-led Development: A Philippines Case Study | Fragments of Science | - March 6, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Join 5,703 other followers

Contact Left Hook to Make a Donation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,703 other followers

%d bloggers like this: