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Logging suspended in Philippines

Background: When Magellan, the first European to land in the Philippines, arrived in 1521, virtually the entire aarchipelago was covered in forest. By the end of the 20th century forest cover had been reduced to 18.6 %, of which only around 3% was old growth virgin forest.

Many other eco systems are dependent on these forests. The lack of forests has lead to flooding and a soil erosion rate of 1 billion cubic metres a year, damaging the prospects of both peasant farmers, and ecological regeneration. Coral reefs and mangrove swamps are also depleted by the resulting siltation of the rivers. Studies claim that 54% forest cover is needed to preserve these other eco systems.

Forests in the area also provide subsistence for aboriginal tribes, both by providing habitats for the tribespeople to hunt and by small-scale illegal logging by individuals which are then bought by major logging companies.

For more information see the Background to the Philippines page.

Logging suspended in Philippines

From BBC News Online

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has suspended logging and vowed punishment for law-breakers as the country reels from four deadly storms in two weeks.

Legal and illegal logging is blamed for worsening the impact of the storms, which have left 1,000 dead or missing.

Permits to fell trees across the nation will no longer be issued, pending a review of the environmental effect.

And illegal loggers would be punished like "terrorists and kidnappers", Mrs Arroyo said, visiting badly hit areas.

She also revoked existing licences in the worst-hit areas.

'Heinous criminals'

The Red Cross says about 800,000 people need help in the wake of the past fortnight's storms and aid agencies have launched an appeal for more than $2m for aid relief.

President Arroyo on Saturday flew by helicopter to visit residents and relief workers in three devastated towns, General Nakar, Infanta and Real.

She praised the rescue efforts before turning her fury on loggers.

"I'm cancelling all [logging] permits here and suspending issuance of all others," Mrs Arroyo said, reinforcing the view that widespread deforestation has left the Philippines more vulnerable to mudslides.

"We are determined to make those responsible for widespread death and destruction pay the price for their misdeeds, and we shall prosecute them the way we do terrorists, kidnappers, drug traffickers and other heinous criminals," Mrs Arroyo said.

She called on Congress to introduce stiffer penalties for "illegal loggers and their cohorts, including erring government officials and law enforcers".

Complex problem

Eight officials have already been sacked for failing to check illegal logging in their areas, the Manila Times newspaper reported on its website.

But experts say the problem is more complex than just cracking down on loggers as poverty drives many people to fell trees with little regard for the law.

Legal loggers are also responsible for much damage, campaigners say.

"There's hardly a difference between so-called illegal loggers and legal loggers," said Orlando Mercado, a former senator who tried and failed to pass bills outlawing logging in the 1990s.

"The only difference... is that the legal loggers have political clout and that's the reason they can get the timber licence agreement," he told the Reuters news agency.

The Philippines does have laws to restrict logging but the country's forest cover has fallen below 20% from more than 60% in the 1920s.