This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (,,
Vol. IV, No. 46, December 19-25, 2004 


The U.S. Imperialist Role in the Destruction of the Sierra Madre Mountains

So much prominence has been given by the media regarding relief efforts of U.S. military forces after the deluge of November-December 2004 in Eastern Luzon.  As if we owe the U.S. a big debt of gratitude for their humanitarian efforts. But the truth is that the hidden hands of US Imperialism are filled with the blood of the victims and all those who suffered the results of the environmental degradation and imperialist plunder in the Philippines.

By the Philippine Peasant Support Network-USA
Posted by Bulatlat

So much prominence has been given by the media regarding relief efforts of US military forces after the deluge of November-December 2004 in Eastern Luzon.  As if we owe the United States a big debt of gratitude for their humanitarian efforts.

But the truth is that the hidden hands of US Imperialism are filled with the blood of the victims and all those who suffered the results of the environmental degradation and imperialist plunder in the Philippines.

Media outlets trumpet the huge US relief operations, involving two US navy vessels and several US Marine transport helicopters, supposedly bringing relief to millions of people affected by four storms that have left 1,800 people dead or missing.  The relief efforts of US military forces was praised for being instrumental in transporting food and water to the worst-hit and most inaccessible areas of Infanta, Real and General Nakar towns in Quezon despite the presence of NPA guerrillas.  But no word was said about the United States’ role in the cause of such a deluge.

In a news briefing with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, officials of the US task force said their team has so far delivered more than 100,000 tons of relief supplies and would distribute some 200,000 more. Ricciardone gloats that the US State Department appropriated $7 million for relief aid, while the US Red Cross contributed $500,000.

Brig. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said 650 US military personnel have been deployed at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City for the relief operations. Some 300 more are on board a US ship off the coast of Subic, Zambales. Ten US helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane were being used in the relief operations.

But the United States authorities were quiet on the involvement of the US authorities in abetting illegal logging and infrastructure building in Eastern Luzon, designed for counter-insurgency operations against the NPA. US hidden hand in the destruction of the Sierra Madre Mountains must be exposed.

Million Dollar Roads

At the height of the communist insurgency in Cagayan Valley from 1975-80’s, the United States Agency for International Development (US AID) funded several road projects to link the coastal areas of Isabela and Aurora to Cagayan Valley.

The proposed road network was supposed to be constructed from the town of Ilagan to the Coastal town of Maconacon and Divilican, Isabela and eventually to Palanan, Isabela. Another parallel road was supposed to be built from Dinapigue, Isabela to Delasag, Aurora to the other coastal towns of Baler, Aurora to Mauban, Quezon. These are the most devastated areas that were hit by the four consecutive storms. Sadly, they will still be the areas that will be devastated for years to come unless drastic steps are taken to stop legal or illegal logging.

The proposed road network also known as the Ilagan to Palanan road gained the moniker the “million dollars road” or “the million years road” because the construction and development of the construction was given to the construction firm of the Warlord Dy family who was then heavily investing in logging in the area and the nearby provinces. The governor of Isabela and the head of the Cagayan Valley Development Council (CVDC) was the despotic warlord, the Governor of Isabela - Faustino Dy Sr.

People knew then that the road would never be built and that the money for the project would be used for other purposes. And they were right. The money was used to build logging roads that the logging companies used to transport logs and equipment.

Thus, after more than ten years, in the 1990’s, the road project was abandoned.  The road that was built and presented to US AID officials was the Ilagan-Bintacan road.  This road leads to the cutting areas around the Divilacan forest. The only passable roads that were paved with stones were the road from Divilacan to Maconacon. The roads were built to handle the traffic of heavy equipment from the cutting area to the two sawmill towns. But the Ilagan to Bintacan road remained impassable.

The same thing happened to the road construction from Divilacan to Dinapigue road to Aurora. The road constructed was from the cutting areas in the forests to the coastal area where ships going to Japan or to Mauban, Quezon docked.  Mauban town is where logs were cut and processed to be shipped abroad or to be transported to Manila.

Thus, the US AID spent precious dollars for the destruction of the forest resources of Eastern Luzon for the benefit of big logging companies owned by despotic warlords in Luzon.

“Carabao Logging”

At the height of the US-Aquino regime’s “Total War” campaign against the insurgents in the Philippines, the US AID, working with the Cagayan Valley Development Council (CVDC), funded another counter insurgency program called the “Small and Medium Enterprises Development Projects (SMED).” The SMED focused on small-scale logging popularly known locally as the “carabao logging”. This system gave rise to the existence of “baby sawmills”.

“Baby Sawmills” were different from the big sawmills owned and operated by big logging corporations. Most of these baby sawmills used small portable sawmills imported from the United States and provided by US-AID-SMED   “Baby sawmills” were funded by SMED to process lumber processed by “carabao loggers”.

They processed lumber according to the specifications of local furniture makers or big sawmill operators in the major centers of the region or in Metro Manila. They replaced the traditional big sawmills that were encountering difficulties due to high costs of operations.

The SMED projects encouraged small entrepreneurs to invest in furniture making and “carabao logging”."Carabao logging” or “branches” (from the term branches being cut by small loggers) is very different from large scale logging.

Large scale logging or legal logging is a big time operation that involved tens or hundreds of hauling trucks, fleets of heavy equipment like bulldozers, graders, and ten-wheeler trucks called Peterbilts used by teams of tree cutters or cable loggers near the sea logging areas of Isabela and Aurora. The logging operations also involved companies of private security guards and battalions of army or local paramilitary auxiliaries called Special Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units or CAFGUs.

Special CAFGUs were paramilitary forces deployed in sawmills, logging areas and logging companies. They are different from the regular CAFGUs that are deployed in the barrios. The military trained and supervised them but it is the logging companies that paid them. They were not included in the government payroll but may be included in the military budget.  Their salaries were remitted to military officials.

“Carabao logging” on the other hand focused on log-over areas, secondary forests, cutting the small trees and even saplings and the stumps to be used for furniture and other wood products. It was called “Carabao logging” because carabaos were used to haul cut logs, stumps and branches instead of trucks.

Thousands of chainsaws were sold, leased or rented to peasants and to anyone wanting to make easy money out of carabao logging. This novel idea saved big loggers a lot of money.  They enlisted an army of carabao loggers to conduct a sort of “mopping-up” operations in the log-over areas in forests across Eastern and Western Luzon.

The SMED is also tied up to the US-Aquino regime’s “Balik-Loob Program” or the Rebel Returnees Program, which was continued by the succeeding Ramos regime. The SMED Project was offered as a livelihood project for NPA surrenderees. Even the military protected “carabao logging” and baby sawmills, owned by local bureaucrats, producing wood products for bigger sawmills and furniture dealers in the urban areas.

Millions of pesos poured into the project. By 1995, environmental activists were having a hard time explaining to the people the detrimental effects of  “carabao logging”. It was a good source of income for peasants who turned to this trade because of economic hardships.

The connivance of the military and the police was confirmed by a Provincial Board Member of Quezon province, Eladio Pasamba.  Pasamba revealed the existence of an illegal logging syndicate based in Mauban, Quezon to major national dailies. Pasamba exposed the open secret about the “Mauban Boys” who regularly haul logs from Northern Luzon passing through the Pacific Ocean.

The illegal cargo barges were always escorted by military or police forces. After the successive storms and the public outcry against all forms of logging, the DENR raided at least six sawmills in Mauban.  But Pasamba said, “ there are still a lot of sawmills and log ponds” in the area.  The NPA have earlier exposed the “Mauban Mafia” way back in 1992 when they started the logging ban in the Sierra Madre and Cordillera mountains.

The NGO’s, the NIPAS and the Token “Green Projects

The work of anti-logging advocates is made harder by anticommunist petty-bourgeois hustlers in “NGOs” cashing in on the issue of ecology. These hustlers pretend to criticize governments and big business up to a certain point.  But they toady up to them directly and to their conduit private funding agencies to beg for money for their imaginary or token ecology projects.

As if rubbing salt into pestering wounds, they declared some parts of Eastern Luzon, especially Palanan, Divilican up to the now devastated areas of Aurora to Real, Quezon as part of a” National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) project.”  But in these supposed protected areas both legal and illegal logging was rampant and the worst cataclysm occurred.

It just proved that their green projects and NIPAS are both token and imaginary!

Their declaration is a most absurd proposition made by these imperialist-funded "NGOs".  As part of NIPAs, the peasants and indigenous peoples are kept out of these areas.  As a result, extensive areas of the country are purportedly preserved as national parks under the pretext of maintaining biodiversity (as if humans are not part of the biosphere).

They get increasingly large amounts of funds from the World Bank, the "development" agencies of the imperialist states and the Philippine reactionary government. They celebrate the announcement of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) to channel more money to "NGOs" such as Plan International in Isabela.

In the end, the United States can no longer wash its dirty and bloodied hands for its complicity in the catastrophic effects of its counter-insurgency policies.  It abetted both legal and illegal logging resulting in the deaths of thousands of people and affected the lives of more than thirteen million people in the Philippines. Posted by Bulatlat

 © 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.