Forestry Laws Awareness: Creating Environmental Heroes

USAIDIn 1974 a group of tribal women native to the forests of the Indian Himalayas held a protest that echoed through time. Extensive logging deforested the lands of their tribe and their government had sold the logging rights to the last remaining trees on the slopes of their home. This threatened the stability of their village with an impending landslide. The women came up with a unique idea to stop the logging and save their village.

When the loggers came, the women hugged the trees.

They put themselves in front of armed contractors and chainsaw-wielding labourers. A village girl reportedly explained to one contractor that the trees and the forest, were her maika, a word which meant, “Mother’s home”. The loggers were forced to leave the area after a stand-off that lasted for days. This historic event was the first of a series of non-violent protests which saved a number of remaining forests in India.

This is a well-known story and merely one example of how communities are the best guardians of the environment. JVOFI recognizes the importance of arming communities with the resources needed to save the environment and utilizes this for a project that aims to protect and defend the Amburayan River, a river which spans more than 12 municipalities in the provinces of Benguet, Ilocos Sur and La Union.  In line with this project the Foundation conducted a Paralegal, Forest Patrol and Enforcement of National Forestry Laws Training last February 23-24, 2015. The main facilitator, Atty. Robert “Bob” Chan of the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI), has extensive knowledge and experience in organizing communities for forest protection.

Philippine citizens are given the right to seize equipment used in illegal logging and arrest the people involved. Atty. Chan discussed the extent and specifics of relevant forestry laws and its implications to citizens pursuing the protection of the environment. This approach has brought Atty. Chan remarkable success in protecting the forests and natural resources of Palawan and it has the potential to work just as well for the watersheds of the Amburayan River located mostly in Benguet.

Also included among the participants of the training were members of the ABADEG (Association of Bokod Adventure Eco Guides). They are partners of JVOFI for the project, Saving Mt. Purgatory, which aims to develop the mountain as an ecotourism destination for hikers. Forest Laws are of the utmost concern for them because they seek to safeguard their area’s pine tree forests from illegal loggers.

The training was done in the hope that participants are able to recognize practical activities that local communities can do to protect their natural resources. Environmental issues are not concerns restricted to large organizations or big businesses because these are matters of greater consequence for communities who rely on the rivers and forests as a means for living.