Of the Philippines’ total land area of 30 million hectares, some 15.8 million are tropical forests. Spread throughout the 7,107 islands of the archipelago, these are home to a recorded 556 species of birds, 180 mammals, and 293 of reptiles and amphibians, as well as a vast variety of trees, plants and flowers.
Scientists have confirmed that, in the aggregate, 67 percent of the aforementioned fauna and flora can be found nowhere else in the world. Every year, moreover, more new species are being discovered in the Philippines than in any other country.
But as the Philippines’ population continues to grow, so have its forests shrunk. In 1934, when the population was a mere 15 million, 17 million hectares were under forest cover. By 1960, the population had doubled and forests were down to only 10.4 million hectares. Since then, due largely to illegal logging and slash-and-burn farming and despite government and private sector efforts to curb them, the annual deforestation rate has been at 2 percent.
Today, the Philippines has over 74 million inhabitants, and the country’s wildlife are threatened, not just by a burgeoning population and mismanagement of environmental resources, but also by over-hunting of animal species for both commercial and subsistence use and widespread ignorance as to the larger, long-term benefits of biological resources to humans.
The manifest increasing fragility of its ecosystem has made it clear that the Philippines, while aggressively pursuing economic programs to compete with others in the region, must now steer toward environment-friendly policies and practices, especially in the tourism industry, which relies heavily on natural attractions.
Recognizing the country’s unique but still mostly untapped potentials for environmental tourism, in 1994 the Department of Tourism, or DOT, formulated the Code of Ethics for Philippine Ecotourism. The code enjoins all sectors concerned, among others, to assess and evaluate the environmental state of every potential site prior to development, especially taking into account the impact of development on the site; consider the cultural values and lifestyles of the local community before introducing tourism to minimize shock and degradation; conserve scarce resources like water and fuel; apply more rigorous waste reduction and pollution control measures; encourage a shift to indigenous biodegradable materials and, last but not least, refrain from and discourage poaching activities, collection of wild life and marine life, and the purchase of items with high cultural and historical value.
In the same year, the DOT and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources likewise set the criteria for designating an area as an ecotourism designation, to wit: it must be rich in natural and/or cultural attractions and conducive to adventure travel; has features that are both interesting and educational for visitors; is not yet affected by tourism on a mass or commercial scale; is not threatened by logging and similar heavy industries; and whose environment is already under preservation or rehabilitation.
Thence, in tune with recent global awakening, aided by mainstream media coverage of environmental issues, and adopting new approaches and strategies toward saving the planet for posterity, Philippine government agencies and the private sector have been working closely to focus broader attention on a source of great pride for the Filipino nation — the country’s abundant wealth of endemic species— and the precipitous rate at which these species are decreasing and disappearing.