09/29/2011 04:52 pm ET | Updated Nov 29, 2011

International Year of Forests: Day 215

In the halls of the communications department at the University of the Philippines, a student retraces her steps to read a banner of announcements. "Celebrating Forests for People" was the catchphrase to introduce a nationwide photography competition organized by the United Nations. The competition is part of the UN's educational outreach and global awareness on sustainable forestry. The purpose of the program springs from the UN General Assembly's proclamation of 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

IYF recognizes the role of forests on livelihood, wildlife, climate change and folklore. In a nation that ranks third in the top ten countries with the highest deforestation rates, the Philippines recently responded through policy initiatives and a call to a younger generation of Filipinos. In February, President Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Order No. 23, which promotes community-based forest management and mandates the creation of an anti-illegal logging taskforce and a national greening program.

Since the law's signing, its most salient point garnered high media attention and criticism from stakeholders in the logging industry. It is the nation's first executive order to declare a 2011-09-29-IMG_1047.jpgmoratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests. The order states that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is "prohibited from issuing and renewing logging contracts and tree cutting permits." The DENR is also responsible for closing wood processing plants and sawmills that fail to present documents that prove cut logs are from sustainable sources.

Although the International Year of Forests sparked political action and is engaging citizens worldwide, natural disasters and realities on the ground are fueling stronger public demand for resource management and regulation.

On the ground in the Caraga region, on the southern island of Mindanao, my mornings began with watching the news. It was early July and the rainy season was in full force. The headlines were of flashfloods and landsides in the neighboring province of Bukidnon. The news reports showed the heavy equipment quickly transported from the capital of Manila to the forested and mostly remote lands of Bukidnon. Rescue workers attempting to manually dig through mud and rock to reach victims seemed a recurring image.

The timeline of natural disasters in the Philippines is stamped in recent memory and ongoing recovery. In January alone, the Caraga Region, Leyte and Bicol suffered major damage to farmlands and infrastructure, while weeks of heavy rains displaced 660,000 people, according to the Official Gazette from the Office of the President of the Philippines.

As I write this in Manila, the devastation from Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 continues to cast fear whenever rain is relentless for more than four days. Ketsana's estimated damage of $1.09 billion is glimpsed in the dark, jagged watermarks along the third floor of most buildings in the Marikina district of Manila. Images of a city underwater, collapsed bridges and people clinging to power lines sustained months of reflection and dialogue on underdeveloped warning systems and minimal government response. Whether in the Caraga region or the nation's capital, the public is increasingly connecting the destruction of natural disasters with environmental degradation.

For policymakers, this year's green momentum reinforces the need for implementing regulations on profitable resource-based industries. The louder public outcry is informed by non-governmental organizations. The Haribon Foundation, a leading NGO for forest restoration and conservation, maintains a key role in resource management through community development and urgent political advocacy. Haribon was a principal author of The Forest Resources Bill (House Bill No. 3845), which is currently pending in Congress. Through community-level engagement, the bill aims to empower local governments in forest management. Haribon's educational campaigns and collaborations with other NGOs were instrumental in President Aquino's signing the Presidential Proclamation No. 125, which declared 2011 as the "National Year of Forests".

In her office at Haribon's headquarters in Quezon City, Chief Operating Officer Anabelle Plantilla spoke about the foundation's commitment to conservation and the importance of empowering each community. "In order for conservation to succeed," she said, "everybody has to make a behavioral change and sacrifice a few conveniences to help the environment."

The content of this article was originally published by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is an innovative award-winning non-profit journalism organization dedicated to supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less able to undertake. The Center focuses on under-reported topics, promoting high-quality international reporting and creating platforms that reach broad and diverse audiences.

Read more reporting from Coleen's project with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:
The Philippines: Surviving on Disappearing Natural Resources.