Under the cover of darkness, the pop-pop of a two-stroke motorcycle engine burdened with 400 pounds of illegal livelihood emerges from a muddy path. Rey Gesta, an Agusan del Sur native, is bringing his latest batch of cut logs from the mountains to a storage facility.
Gesta is a woodcutter and hauler in this remote, landlocked region of the Philippines. The jobs are temporary and rely on contractors who manage everything from the hard labor in the forest to the transportation of the timber to a processing or distribution plant.
Gesta transports the timber from a path cut into the upland forests to his contractor's small facility on a national highway. It is the first stop for the logs, which will await further processing from buyers.
Gesta works independently. For the last seven years, he has relied on a local contractor and fortune for work. Along with his fellow timber haulers, Gesta's workday begins at 5:00 a.m. and doesn't end until 10:00 p.m. According to local non-governmental organizations, loggers work late because the darkness offers anonymity. Transportation of timber at night is a necessity because the majority of the harvested logs lack permits.
The vehicle that Gesta uses to transport his logs along 14 miles of muddy paths to the main road is not a 12-wheeler truck or small car -- it is a motorcycle. In the West, they are popularly known as "dirt bikes" and are used for recreation and off-road racing. In Agusan del Sur, they haul timber. The method is quicker and cheaper than trucks, yet poses greater dangers for the driver.
Balancing about 200 pounds of timber on each side requires a keen sense of the road and seasoned driving skills. Gesta explains that the motorcycle's brakes may malfunction and that it is easy to lose control. The youngest drivers are just 15 years old, while boys as young as 10 are hired for the task of carrying and securing logs onto the motorcycles.
Haulers are paid by the amount of board feet transported to storage. The minimum pay for 200 board feet is 600 pesos, or about $14. In the past, 12-wheeler trucks dominated the transportation of logs. Now, motorcycles are emerging as a preferred method.
"Life is hard," Gesta says. "A person with a motorcycle came here a few years ago. He had a board of wood on the side of his motorcycle to transport logs. We copied him to make a living."
Originally published for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
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