Sunday, December 12, 2004

Mighty Forest Ranger Taxi Driver

Evil illegal loggers have been in the news lately, mainly due to their being blamed as scapegoats for the rash of flooding during the last two typhoons that left hundreds, maybe thousands, dead in their wake and strewing devastation upon this blighted land. I'm not here to talk about whether the loggers are indeed to blame, or how it's silly for the government to try to implement a total log ban when they can't even implement a selective log ban, or how chances are everyone important will forget about this in, say a month tops, while the victims continue their struggle to recover even a fraction of their once-normal lives. No, these topics have already been covered to death in serious newspaper editorials and columns. And possible internet discussions in Pinoy-bloggerland, I don't know, I'm not particularly familiar with that scene.

No, as always, I prefer to attack this from a more personal angle. And like some of my more interesting stories, this one is about a taxi driver.

He was a bit old, and his first few attempts at conversation were annoying at best. Later, toward the end of the trip, we glimpsed one of the day's headlines on some tabloid. Something about the government wanting to implement a total log ban. He goes on to say that's an impossible thing, they'd never be able to implement it.

Turns out he worked for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for some fifteen-odd years. As a forest ranger. Wow.

Now of course, as someone who indulges often in the fantasy genre, my idea of 'Forest Rangers' is closely associated either Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, or someone who likes to stop bears from stealing picnic baskets. This guy leaned more towards the latter.

Based on his stories, it seems like the news articles detailing the lack of manpower at the DENR are accurate. He says forest rangers were often assigned to guard or patrol some forty hectares of land. Or maybe it was four hectares, I forget -- I had this conversation more than three days ago. In any case, I have no idea how large a hectare is anyway. But from his narratives it seemed like the area assigned to them was far too much for one man to cover. Add to that the fact that he and his co-rangers were often harassed by Communist rebels that are supposedly in bed with the illegal loggers, and life was really difficult for them back then. It was a much easier life to just while away your day slacking or goofing off, rather than risk your own life to try to catch some illegal loggers who would probably get off the hook easily anyway.

He told about treestampers. Or something like that. Basically, people whose job it is to mark trees to indicate which ones are okay for cutting by which company. Or something. Forgive me; I'm really hazy on the details, maybe because I'm sleepy. Anyway, apparently a lot of these treestampers have lifestyles far beyond their income. When the bribe money comes in, it's a race to mark trees, with no regard for the tree's age or species or location or whatnot.

I'm not sure what I have to say about this, I just thought the hearsay I got from him would be interesting to relate. I'm not exactly a radical environmentalist. As a friend of mine once said, "Trees? What have they ever done for me?" I'm a city dude, born and bred, so I seldom worry about such things, it's not really part of my thinking. And I don't really think I can judge people who live on a small government subsidy and have to do what they can to get a decent living. Hey, we're all just out to make some scratch, right? Except that the living some of these guys make may have cost countless lives and destruction of property. Sadly, I think this is just part of the general malaise that plagues our society. Resources are scarce, so the less fortunate among us are forged to scrounge around for whatever we can, the law and the environment be damned. Of course, it doesn't help that the rest of the country only gives a damn shortly after a tragedy happens. Will we ever learn?

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