Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who Is Burning Mount Kabuyao And Mount Santo Tomas In Tuba, Benguet?

For over a week now, several forest fires have ignited within Mount Kabuyao and Mount Santo Tomas in Tuba, Benguet. As I write this, the fires up there continue to rage and consume the vegetation in said mountains. It is of course a shame as the two mountains are among the areas near Baguio City that can still be considered wooded. In fact, a significant amount of the city's water supply (and Tuba's) come from the area.

The obvious question now is why are the mountains burning? Is it accidental? A cigarette butt left by a careless hiker maybe? Or is it intentional? It's no secret that the kaingin system of farming is still alive and well in the Cordilleras. So could the fires have been ignited by farmers looking to clear more space for additional vegetable plots?

Frank Cimatu, a Baguio-based journalist, thinks it's the latter. In a Facebook post, the Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent wrote, "These forest fires at Sto. Tomas are intentional, set by farmers so they can expand their farms. These farmers have been fencesitting on the cases here, waiting like vultures so they can denude and then poison the land. What is Tuba with their P25 environmental La Presa fee per person doing about this?"

Cimatu could be onto something. Summer has already started. This means rains will fall too far in between. It's the most perfect time for fires to do what they do best. There's a good chance that the fires in Kabuyao and Santo Tomas are accidental. However, it's worth mentioning here the fact that most forest fires are not accidental. This is especially true for mountainous regions whose main economy is agriculture-based.

The next obvious question is what are the government of Tuba and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) doing about these forest fires. We can only hope that they are doing something about it.

Just when the trees in Kabuyao and Santo Tomas were able to take a break after Baguio City Congressman Nicasio Aliping Jr. was charged by the justice department for violating Presidential Decree 705, the forest fires came along to gut them even more. It can be recalled that Aliping and three contractors were charged by employees of DENR and PENRO for cutting trees and excavating the earth in Santo Tomas without the necessary permits. In a 13-page resolution, Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe S. Pacamarra endorsed to the Ombudsman the filing of cases against Aliping and his cohorts.

Meanwhile, the fires in the mountains continue to gut what has remained of the forest reservations.
The raging fire in the mountains as seen from a nearby residential area. Image credit: Harry Tanoja.