February 1, 2023

Environment personnel find it hard to help authorities prosecute those who are responsible for the burning of forests since they are not caught in the act, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Out of the 24 forest fires recorded since the start of the year in the Cordillera, Benguet has recorded the highest area affected by forest fires with 1,049.53 hectares with P2,720,502.25 in estimated damages.
Ten out of the 13 municipalities have recorded forest fires except Mankayan, Sablan, and Kapangan. These numbers are still adding up as evaluation and monitoring is ongoing.    
Benguet Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Edgardo Flor said the age-old kaingin system or the slash and burn practice to clear a certain portion of forest land for agricultural purposes contribute mostly to forest fires.  
“It boils down to kaingin. The fire happened near gardens so that’s our initial assessment was the fires were due to the conversion of lands from forest to agricultural purposes,” Flor said. 
Flor said Penro field personnel are currently assessing the possibility of filing cases especially in the burned areas near farmlands.
“We conduct interviews in the area but it’s very hard to prosecute them in court. We have filed cases previously but were dismissed because the court tells us that they were not caught in the act,” he said.
Also, he said no one is willing to give information regarding the incident which causes them to hit a blank wall. 
He said they need the help of the community and its leaders, saying the involvement of the community in crucial is preventing forest fires.
“The local leaders could ask the community to cease from slash and burn, because we cannot deprive them of their livelihood,” Flor said.
Penro also formed a fire brigade in every barangay, which capacitates the villages on forest fire suppression and to conduct information campaigns in the localities.
These local brigades, however, still has limited funds and equipment to effectively carry out their mission.
“So, when we encounter forest fires with huge magnitude, it is hard to suppress these fires,” Flor said.
Kabayan has the biggest area with 643.69 hectares of burnt forest including 191.54 hectares of National Greening Program areas and parts of the country’s identified protected forest areas.  
Other forest fire incidents were reported in Tuba, Bakun, Tublay, Bokod, Atok, Kibungan, La Trinidad, Buguias, and Itogon. – Ofelia C. Empian