Press Release
March 2, 2010

Villar issues alarm on forest fires

Nacionalista Party (NP) standard bearer Manny Villar has raised the red alert against forest fires and called on local government units (LGUs) and national government agencies to immediately implement measures to prevent conflagrations that could wipe out millions of hectares of forestland all over the country.

"The dry season brought about by El Niño makes our forest areas susceptible to fires. They are now like tinderboxes that will light up with the smallest spark. We have to raise the red alert against forest fires now," Villar said.

"This is the time for government - at the local and national levels - to come up with a concerted effort to help prevent forest fires. We will not be able to prevent it totally, but we can minimize the incidence of fires breaking out if we work hand in hand," he added.

One in every three fires reported are forest or grassland fires. An average seven of these happen everyday.

Of the 7,876 fires put out by the Bureau of Fire Protection and other government offices in 2007, which was considered a "wet" year, 2,538 involved blazes in areas with vegetation.

BFP has no resources to fight forest fire as two-thirds of the country's 1,500 towns either lack fire trucks or do not have one. Compounding this shortage is that there is only one DENR ranger guard for every 4,000 hectares of forest.

Environmentalists have computed that on commercial lumber alone and not counting wildlife losses, the cost of one hectare of forest going up in smoke is P170,000.

Villar said LGUs will play a critical role in monitoring forest areas and mobilizing communities because the national government lacks necessary personnel like forest rangers to cover wide forest areas.

"What the national government should do, through the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and the Interior and Local Government and even the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), is to provide the necessary resources to LGUs like funding, data and technical expertise to help them perform their tasks," Villar explained.

"Massive forest fires can wipe out millions of hectares, most of which provide livelihood to local communities and sanctuary to wildlife, and contribute to global warming because of the carbon monoxide generated," he said.

The NP standard-bearer said deforestation already claims about 150,000 hectares a year due mostly to illegal logging and land conversion. Between 1990 and 2005, the country lost 32 percent of its forest cover, about three million hectares, Villar noted.

Reports indicated that huge forest areas are already being gobbled up by forest fires. In Quezon province, ill-equipped firefighters have been fighting a fire on top of Mt. Cristobal, a protected area.

"Under my administration, God-willing, we will have to augment the budget of the DENR for problems like this. Climate change will continue to cause events like forest fires and massive flooding. The key is to be prepared for anything. We need programs in place and agencies equipped and trained to deal with climate change repercussions," Villar said.

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