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Dec 09th
Home Sections Ecology and the Environment Plundering the Forests of Samar Island and the Philippines
Plundering the Forests of Samar Island and the Philippines PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Ecology and the Environment
Saturday, 24 November 2007 15:37

Plundering the Forests of Samar Island (Why We Should Not Allow Logging to Return to Samar Island)

by Charo Nabong-Cabardo

Part I

Al Gore says, this is the age of consequence. Indeed, in the Philippines alone, in the last two decades, we have seen disaster upon disaster hitting many – the disastrous floods in Ormoc City in 1991 which killed 3,000 people; in Cherry Hills Subdivision in Antipolo City in 1999 which killed 58 people; in Payatas dumpsite in 2000 which killed about 250 persons; in Camiguin in 2001 which buried 350 people; in Metro Manila, Valenzuela City in August 2001 which affected 4,392 families; in Bulacan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Pangasiann also in 2001 which affected close a million residents of those areas; in Aurora, Quezon in 2004 killing more than 2,000 people and displacing more than 250,000 people; in Ginsaugan, Leyte in 2006 which buried about 2,000 residents; landslides in Albay, Sorsogon, Camarines Norte, and Camarines Sur in 2006 which killed many, buried barangays and left thousands of families homeless; and just recently, in Iloilo where more than 2,5000 residents were evacuated to safety.


In Samar island, we were hit by heavy rains in January 1989 resulting in week-long floodings in 36 towns in Samar island, especially in Catubig and Catarman in Northern Samar; Oras, Dolores, Can-avid in Eastern Samar. and in Gandara, Samar, which killed 79 persons, 56 were reported missing and about a hundred injured. It left 60-thousand (60,739) families or about 346,366 persons homeless, many barangays and farmlands buried in silt, millions (in pesos) worth of agricultural crops destroyed. Seedstocks were wiped out. That was the first time Samar Island experienced such devastating floods.

When we visited Catubig, weeks after the floods, the residents narrated that they had to evacuate to higher ground and for several days they had nothing to eat but corot. The only time they ate corot was during the Japanese occupation (World War II). In Las Navas, many barangays were inundated for several days. In Dolores, we saw ricelands buried in several meters deep of silt. The farmers recalled that the floodwaters rose so fast they could only evacuate the women and children to safety leaving behind most of their farm animals. For a week while torrential rains poured, they survived shivering under the trees. In Dolores alone, 22 children drowned while many were buried in landslides. It took more than a week before the waters subsided and they were able to seek help. In the following months, famine ensued. Like a silent plague, hunger stalked the people in interior areas. “Ha gab-i na la kami nakaon, ngan naturo it ak luha kun ginugutom na it ak mga anak”, one father narrated. Prices of commodities went up. Pests attacked the remaining rice and root crops. Severe pest infestation was reported in Catarman, Catubig, Palapag, Las Navas, Mondragon, Pambujan, Victoria, Laoang, Rosario and San Roque.

Reeling from the disastrous effects of the flood, Samarnons across the island called for a stop of all logging operations, believed to be the cause of the killer floods. Las Navas and Dolores are where the San Jose Timber Corporation operated. The 36 towns that were heavily affected by the floods were located in the logging areas or logged over areas of big logging companies. In response, DENR Secretary Fulgencio Factoran ordered a moratorium on all logging operations in the three provinces from February to May 1989. But at the end of May, the people were still suffering from hunger and lost livelihoods that Sec. Factoran extended the moratorium indefinitely, despite strong pressures from the logging companies, DENR regional officials and military officials to lift the log ban.

Editor’s Note: This editor, in cooperation with Samarnon leaders like Prof. Cesar Torres, will launch in 2008 a modest project to undertake reforestation in the three Samar Provinces and the Province of Sorsogo 

The project is described in this article:

Funding Reforestation as a Solution to Global Warming (Part6), which the editor wrote.

After the disastrous floods and a logging moratorium in effect, we took stock of our forests and this is what we learned:

Forest Cover

Samar island is the third-largest island in the country and the easternmost of the Visayan islands. Its area is so large (1,348,000 hectares), it is equivalent to the islands of Leyte, Cebu and half of Masbate put together. Its eastern coastline faces the Pacific ocean. R.A. 4221 enacted on June 19, 1967, divided the whole island into three provinces, Northern Samar, Western Samar and Eastern Samar. Western Samar has retained the name Samar.

At the turn of the century, much of the island was unmapped territory of forested mountains. Vic Hurley, writing about the first Constabulary in Samar, describes Samar as "a place of high mountains, with sheer ravines, swift, rushing rivers…. a place of great snakes and malaria mosquitoes and sludgy, oozing swamps on the fringes of the forested mountains." (Vic Hurley, "The Jungle Patrol")

"Mile after mile of unbroken forest" was how American writers described Samar in 1900. A report in 1902 by the Philippine Commission to the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department stated that, "Much of the island consists of unbroken forest, and many years must elapse before any great headway can be made along the lines of successful agriculture."



Stripping the Island of Its Forest Cover

The '50s

Until 1952, much of Samar island’s forests remained untouched except for agricultural expansion. The first detailed maps of the American Military Mapping Services in 1952 showed that Samar island had a forest cover of 86%. The photograph showed logged areas only along the coastal areas. The interior of Samar island then was mainly covered with tropical rain forest consisting of dipterocarps and a multitude of epiphytes.

The '70s

Twenty-six years later, in 1978, the first satellite photograph from American LANDSAT of Samar island  was taken and showed a forest cover of 45%. The photographs showed inroads into the interior of Samar along the major rivers. By then commercial logging had already started. By 1973, after the declaration of martial law by Pres. Marcos, 12 logging concessions had been approved in Samar island and they have moved deeper into the primary forests. Large contiguous tracts of primary forests
still occupied the heart of the island. But the country was under martial law, there was hardly any outcry from anyone, thus the plunder continued.

1987The '80s

In 1987, nine years later, a SPOT satellite photograph showed that the foreset cover of Samar island was further reduced to 33.43% or a total of 449,000 hectares of forests left.

This would consist of:

3,000 has. mossy forests or .22%


 136,000 has. closed canopy or 10.13%


 287,000 has. of closed canopy or 21.13%


 23,000 has. of mangrove or 1.71%

(Source for maps: Samar Development Issues and Analysis by Stefan Cramer and Erika Hauff Cramer. Stefan is a geologist and Erika is an agriculturist who both volunteered to assist the NGOs in Samar. Stefan and I were together when we visited Dolores in 1989 after the floods. His research brought him to many areas in Samar island and to many government offices in Samar and painstakingly produced these maps.)



Ravaging Samar island during martial law years

Historical data showed that continuous and rapid and systematic destruction of Samar island's rain forests occurred in the last four decades. The primary cause of this deforestation was commercial logging. During the whole decade of the seventies, when the whole country was under martial law, the entire forests of Samar island were licensed to commercial logging companies for exploitation.

Timber Licensing Agreements or TLAs were the main instrument used to exploit the forests. In the "Politics of Plunder", author Marites Vitug says that "forest concessions used to be handed out by the different administrations at a frenzied rate. President Ferdinand Marcos, used the TLA to reward supporters, enrich friends and family and keep politicians under his patronage." Under Marcos, the number of timber licenses in the country leaped from 58 in 1969 to 230 in 1977, the highest recorded figure.

Samar island was a "pie" President Marcos carved into logging concessions for his cronies and friends. The largest of these concessions (95,770 hectares) was granted to then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile who owned the San Jose Timber. His license to cut timber extends up to the year 2007. Second largest concession was granted to Great Pacific Industries, Inc. owned by family of once Philippine Ambassador to Japan, the Yuchengco Family. Its license, however, was suspended in 1985 due to violations of its terms and conditions.

Senator Enrile's logging operations in Samar was reportedly protected by the

"Lost Command" headed by Renegade PC Col. Carlos Lademora, also known as Commander Brown. His group figured in the massacre of 45 men, women and children in Brgy. Sag-od, Las Navas town of Northern Samar in September 1981. They were "commissioned to enforce order in Sag-od where the operations of a logging company were reportedly being disrupted by the strong presence of the New People's Army. The timber firm's logging concession used to border Sag-od.." (Petilla, Phil. Daily Inquirer, Sept. 15, 1989).

Replicating the pattern in the country, the number of timber licensees in Samar island leaped from one TLA in 1967 to 15 by 1978. The concessionaries who were not from Samar. Even the precious Mancono forests (Philippine ironwood) in Homonhon Island were not spared. The total logging concessions added up to 599,000 hectares, equivalent to 47% of the total land area of Samar. The total allowable cut per year was 373,277 hectares cubic meters (Cramer). But we all knew that the loggers cut more that they were allowed. In fact, in 1986, six of TLAs were suspended due to non-compliance with its terms and conditions. One concession, Western Palawan, was cancelled in 1989 due to its overcutting. (Bautista, The Logging Moratorium Policy in Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya and Samar). Deforestation legally and steadily increased over the years and Samar and its people did benefit from the plunder of its forest resources.


The Logging Concessions in Samar Island








German B. Aranez, Inc.




Great Pacific



Suspended 1985


Basey Wood Industries, Inc.



Suspened 2/89 due to logging moratorium


San Jose Timber Corp.







Suspended 2/89 due to logging moratorium


PAVA Logging Co. Inc.








Suspended 2/89 due to logging moratorium


United Timber Export Co.



Expired 6/82


Phil. Associated Contractors Wood Industries



Suspended 11/86



Suspended 5/86 due to non-compliance with terms & conditions of TLA


Lauan Development Corp.



Suspended 5/86 due to non-compliance with terms and conditions of TLA






San Joaquin Lumber Mills



Cancelled May 1983


Dolores Timber Industries, Inc.



Merged with San Jose Timber in 1985


Universal Metal Industries, Inc.



Suspended 5/86 due to non-compliance with terms and conditions of TLA; cancelled in 1989




Visayan Forest Dev. Corp.



Suspended 5/86 due to non-compliance with terms and conditions of TLA




Looc Bay Timber Industries inc.



Suspended 5/86 due to non-compliance with terms and conditions of TLA




B & B Plywood & Veneer Inc.



Suspended 5/86 due to non-compliance with terms and conditions of TLA


Nicanor Salameda (Homonhon Island)



Application for renewal rejected 2/83


Western Palawan Timber Corp.



Cancelled 2/89 due to overcutting & operating without IAOP

In a summary of TLAs in the Philippines (Danguilan-Vitug) Samar Island would post the largest area granted to logging concessions.

Summary of TLAs


Number  of License

Total Area Covered (Hectares)

Annual Allowable Cut  based on DAO 12(Cu.m)









Samar Is.























42,000 (estimate)

Total excluding Samar island




Source : "Power from the Forest" by Marites Danguilan-Vitug

Accelerating the Deforestation Rate

The data would show that in a span of 52 years between 1900 and 1952, 120,000 hectares were cleared and the deforestation rate was estimated to be at 2,300 hectares a year. Between 1952 and 1978, a period spanning 26 years, Samar was stripped of 550,000 hectares or more than half a million hectares of its forests. This would average 21,000 hectares a year. This deforestation rate would further accelerate in the next decade when logging concessions were operating in the interior of Samar unabated, unchecked. In a period of only nine years, from 1978 to 1987, 470,000 hectares of forests were again cleared, bringing the total forested area in Samar close to a million, if more than a million hectares from 1900 to 1987. By 1987, the deforestation rate was 52,000 hectares a year or one hectare of forests per ten minutes.


Deforestation Rate

 1978 1987
52 years between 1900 and 1952, 120,000 hectares were cleared and the deforestation rate was estimated to be at 2,300 hectares a year. 26 years between 1952 and 1978, Samar island was stripped of 550,000 hectares or more than half a million hectares of its forests.
This would average 21,000 hectares a year.
In nine years, from 1978 to 1987, 470,000 hectares of forests were cleared, bringing the total deforested area in Samar island close to a million.


Deforestation Rate

The massive deforestation of Samar island would have continued unabated as PAVA an San Jose Timber Corp. had licenses to operate until year 2007 while Basey Wood Industries had a license up to 1995. If we did not have the logging moratorium in 1989, we would have lost all of our forests, we would have no forests to speak of.

1989 Mother Nature Wakes Us Up

The years of plunder of the forests of Samar island would take a serious toll in Samar island and Samareños. In early January 1989, several days of continuous rain, in Samar island, there was even no typhoon that time, resulted in heavy floodings in 36 towns across the three provinces in Samar island.


Logging Moratorium is imposed

news1The disaster provoked calls for an end to logging. The people realized that the widespread and rapid denudation of their forests directly caused the devastating floods. Indignant, they blamed the commercial logging firms.

Samareños in Manila and in Samar campaign vigorously to put a stop to the logging. DENR was pressured to declare a three-month moratorium on all commercial logging activities in Samar. At the end of the three-months, the people were still reeling from the disaster - hunger broke out in the remote areas of Samar, for the first time since the second world war. We wrote in 1989, "Where there was logging, there is now flooding. Where there is flooding, there is now hunger. And hunger is ravaging the land and its people like a silent storm that knows no end." (Food for Samar Campaign, Samar Alliance, 1989).

Samar island was in agony and the poor bore the brunt of the plunder of its forests. The result of deforestation would be irreparable and catastrophic that DENR was forced to extend, again, the logging moratorium, this time, indefinitely.
“Through the years, “ reports Criselda Yabes (“Boon or Ban?”, Saving the Earth, PCIJ) “Logging companies have made big money from the island’s forests but have left the people of Samar little except a legacy of death and destruction.”

What is Left: 1990 Forest Cover

The year following this catastrophe, in 1990, DENR bared the following statistics of our forest cover:

10,300 has. mossy forests, 7,300 has. in Samar

46,400 has. of old growth, 22,800 has. in Samar

279,400 has. of secondary growth, 126,900 has. in Samar

22,600 has. of mangroves

To be Continued…

Part II will be about our actions to save our forests entitled

“Racing Against Time to Save our Forests”

References :

Bautista, Geramlino M., The Logging Moratorium Policy in Nueva Vizcaya and Samar. 1993

Cabardo, Rosario N., “ Samar’s Last Rain Forests”, 1996.

Cramer, Stephen and Huff-Cramer, Erica, Samar : Development Issues and Analysis. 1992. UCCP, Quezon City.

Danguilan-Vitug, Marites, The Politics of Logging, Power from the Forests. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 1993.

Ecological Profile, Region 8. DENR-region8.

Tandaya Foundation, Inc., Final report of the Rapid Site Assessment of the Basey-Sohoton-Borongan Area, 1994.

Tandaya Foundation, Inc. , Saving Samar’s Last Rainforests : A Primer. 1996


Résumé of Charo Cabardo: Graduate, AB Journalism, University of the PhilippinesGraduate, Program in Development Management, Asian Institute of Management (AIM)

Formerly a political detainee under Marcos regime (detained without charges for four years; shared detention unit with husband, Jorge Cabardo,  Sen. Jose Diokno, Mr. Terry Adevoso [Secretary General of the Liberal Party], Mr. Eugenio Lopez II, Senator Serge Osmena)

Formerly Executive Director of An Tandaya Foundation, 1994 to 2000  (This NGO worked, among others, for the stoppage of the construction of the road from Borongan to Basey that would have destroyed the remaining old growth forests in South-eastern Samar; campaigned for the protection of Samar forests in 1995 which led to the establishment of the Forest Reserve (comprising of all the forests of Samar island) by Pres. Fidel Ramos; and participated in the drafting of the proposal for biodiversity conservation in Samar island which was funded by GEF and UNDP.)

Founding President, Samar Island Biodiversity Foundation, an alliance of more than 80 Non-government organizations and people's organization in Samar Island First Co-Project Manager, Samar Island Biodiversity Project (funded by the Global Environmental Facility and the United Nations Development Programme)

Editor and one of the authors, O, Catbalogan  (coffee table book on the history and culture of Catbalogan)

Editor, Samarnon edition of Ani 13, (first anthology of Samarnon literature)

Author, various historical articles on Samar.

Writer, various articles 


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Last Updated on Friday, 20 March 2009 16:34
Comments (1)
1 Wednesday, 18 March 2009 19:33
grabe!ang dami ng pumuputol ng puno.!
dapat tayong mgtanim puno!

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