Forestry sector discusses the challenges of COVID-19 at CFNRAA reunion

Amidst the restrictions of a face-to-face reunion, the UPLB CFNRAA or College of Forestry and Natural Resources Alumni Association virtually celebrated its 2021 Alumni Homecoming on Oct. 6 with the theme “Manggugubat: Handa sa Hamon ng Pandemya.” (Forester: Ready for the Challenges of the Pandemic)

The event commenced with a wreath laying ceremony at the CFNR cenotaph, to commemorate the alumni who have given their lives for the cause of forestry. 

The ceremony was led by Dr. Jose O. Sargento, CFNR alumnus and former director of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystem, together with CFNRAA officers and CFNR officials.

Forests and future proofing the world from a pandemic

An opening program was organized as a kick-off activity of the whole-day event. In his welcome remarks, For. Dexter Cabahug, Jr., CFNRAA president, emphasized that the 2021 Alumni Homecoming theme aptly described the need for the foresters’ preparedness and resiliency to respond to the challenges and threats caused by climate change, deforestation, destruction of biodiversity, and other environmental catastrophes.

He challenged the foresters to respond to these challenges with hope and a renewed sense of relevance on how the forestry profession can help prevent future pandemics and respond to environmental crises.

Chancellor Jose V. Camacho, Jr. commended CFNR for producing outstanding and brilliant forestry professionals, scholars, and public servants whose passion and dedication towards the study and preservation of the environment are unquestionable. 

Forests, Chancellor Camacho said, have an important role to future-proof the world and prevent another pandemic.  With the CFNR alumni holding important positions in the government and private sectors, more can be done to make the forestry sector more agile and resilient in the face of current and future crises, Chancellor Camacho said.

Need for intensified forest protection

The occasion was also graced by the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu.  In his message, Secretary Cimatu stressed that the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic is said to be zoonotic and urged the forestry sector for a more intensified protection of the forest, being the habitat of biodiversity; exert efforts to stop illegal trading of wildlife; and, eliminate, if not, reduce risky contacts between people and the wildlife. 

He acknowledged the close collaboration between the DENR and UPLB-CFNR for many decades, having a shared quest for sustainable development. Secretary Cimatu encouraged the CFNR alumni to join their crusade by leading activities towards educating the communities, organized groups, and individuals in the sustainable management of the environment and natural resources.  

Impact of the pandemic on forestry programs

One of the major highlights of the event was a technical forum, which served as a venue for sharing the impacts of the pandemic on the different stakeholders of the sector.

Representing the government sector, For. Nonito Tamayo, Department of Environment and Natural Resources or DENR regional director for Region 13, talked about the impacts of the pandemic on the implementation of forest management programs. 

These include, among others, the suspension of the transportation of all forest products and wildlife; decline in the log production of forest products; temporary closure of wood processing plants; and recurrence of illegal logging. 

On the positive note, the pandemic, according to him, opened some opportunities such as decentralization of permit issuances; deregulation of harvesting and transport of planted trees and tree derivatives; elevation of the anti-illegal logging task force to Environmental Law Enforcement and Promotion Services;  and efficient implementation of Streamlining and Process Improvement of Critical Services (SPECS). 

Impact of the pandemic on the private sector and livelihoods 

The impacts of the pandemic on the private sector were presented by For. Tommy T. Valdez, vice-president of San Roque Power Corporation, and national president of the Society of Filipino Foresters, Inc.  He discussed the growing uncertainty in the forestry private sector; business reduction forecast; and looming retrenchment of employees, among others.   

Finally, Ms. Nida A. Collado, vice-president of the National Federation of Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) People’s Organizations, articulated the pandemic’s effects on the livelihoods and CBFM activities of the Macatumbalen CBFM Association, a people’s organization based in San Vicente, Palawan. 

Among these were the delay in the processing and release of funds; reduction in the production of honey; difficulty in the processing of documents; limited forest monitoring activities brought about by lockdowns; and difficulty participating in online meetings because of interconnectivity challenges. 

Ms. Collado said that their organization is addressing these challenges by providing the needed cash and in-kind assistance to the members of the people’s organization;  ensuring  all members get vaccinated; and by helping one another.

Awarding of distinguished CFNR alumni

In his closing remarks, CFNR Dean Marlo D. Mendoza emphasized that while the pandemic has saddled all sectors with surmountable challenges, it has brought forward new opportunities for the forestry sector to flourish. He noted that the forestry sector is seen as among the vehicles for reviving the economy of the country.  It also has greater potentials as a bottom-up approach to development.  He urged his fellow alumni to capitalize on these potentials and further strengthen the forestry sector’s profile in the new normal. 

The 2021 Alumni Homecoming culminated with a business meeting to provide a venue to share the accomplishments of the CFNRAA, elect the new set of Board of Trustees, and recognize the career achievers and CFNRAA Distinguished Alumni. 

The recipients of the CFNRAA Distinguished Alumni Award were Dr. Roberto G. Visco (Forestry Education Category); Dr. Leni D. Camacho (Research Category); and Dr. Phuntsho Thinley (Public Service Category). 

In her concluding remarks, CFNR Associate Dean Analyn L. Codilan, expressed her gratitude to the CFNR alumni for joining a momentous event of the CFNRAA.  She recognized the CFNR Board of Trustees and the different working committees for their zeal in organizing the event, which she said is more challenging compared to a face-to-face celebration.  (LDLandicho, CFNR-CIMRC)

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