MANILA – Romeo Aquino, tribal chieftain of the indigenous Dumagat people in Central Luzon, calls the mountains north of Manila his home. When I visited him recently, he told a story of rampant deforestation and illegal settlements — all on land that is, at least officially, tribal territory recognized by the government.
In the article, Facing the Forests, published this month in the magazine The Caravan, I report on how Romeo’s community is fighting deforestation and what it means for the global effort against climate change.
Here’s an excerpt:
The struggle of the Dumagats to protect their forest home exemplifies the challenges facing the ongoing global effort to slow the pace of deforestation. According to latest United Nations data, 1.6 billion people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods; many, like the Dumagats, are indigenous groups and poor communities on the margins of society.
Scientists estimate that deforestation—which destroys some 1 million hectares of forest in Southeast Asia each year—also accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse emissions. As a result, the fate of local communities like the Dumagats, fighting to preserve forests, has emerged as a key front in the struggle against climate change. The UN has designated 2011 the ‘International Year of the Forests’, and representatives from 147 nations, who attended the UN Forum on Forests in New York this February, pledged a “people-centric” approach to forest preservation, with an emphasis on poverty reduction.