This article is one of the winning works chosen from Youth as Keepers of the Forest, a writing workshop conducted in partnership with Edukasyon.ph for university students in Bukidnon.
I live in a suburban area of Malaybalay City, a neighborhood surrounded by hectares of forest managed by the Bukidnon Forest Incorporated (BFI). The nearby industrial tree plantation is a local attraction, but for my poverty-stricken family, it has served a different purpose: a place for illegal logging.
My dad, a construction worker, had to save what little money we had, so every time our hut needed repairs, we would poach timber from the forest instead of legally purchasing lumber. My uncles would also sell salong, a resinous and sappy type of firewood obtained by chopping down pine trees. And in desperate times, they would even cut big trees to turn them into furniture.
Throughout my childhood, I watched my family commodify the forest in order to meet our basic needs. The privileged can afford to appreciate the beauty of mother nature, but we, the poor, cannot afford to do so. We have no choice but to exploit the forest to stay alive, so we should be exempt from the law, right? Well, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources did not think so. Eventually, one of my uncles was caught by a forest ranger and was promptly sent to prison for violating Republic Act 3701, which prohibits forest destruction. Shortly after that, my family stopped their illegal activities.
It would take years before I truly understood what was wrong with what we were doing. Now I know that it was selfish and affected not only our family but the community at large. Because of siltation due to deforestation, the fishermen near our river suffered from the low catch. The timber merchants in my barangay had to lower their prices in order to compete with the cheaper but illegally obtained lumber. Mudslides became a serious threat in our area–lives were lost and farms were destroyed by flash floods. All of these consequences far outweighed poverty as my flimsy justification. I also realized that the strict enforcement of the law actually saved not just the forest but also my family. It motivated us to find better sources of income because, as it turned out, it was actually possible to live sustainably.
Eventually, my dad landed a stable job in the government. Our lifestyle changed and so did our attitude towards the environment. As a social worker, my dad now spends his time travelling across Bukidnon to educate teens about the environment and other relevant social issues. As for me, I do my best to use my writing to make the issues of forest conservation in our area heard.
I believe that everyone can change. Just look at me. From a family of illegal loggers, I am now an environmental advocate. And that is my confession.
About the Author:
Israelbelle Ferolino is a civil engineering student at Central Mindanao University. However, instead of learning math, he spends most of his time in graphic design, digital painting, and non-fiction writing. His work across multiple disciplines broadly reflects his advocacy for the sustainable use of the environment.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Forest Foundation Philippines. Furthermore, the Foundation assumes no liability or responsibility for any inaccurate or incomplete information presented in this article.