The Northern Sierra Madre National Park (NSMNP), covering an area of 359,486ha, is among the largest protected natural parks in the Philippines and one of the 10 priority protected areas. It is habitat to a remarkable amount of endemic birds and mammals. Around 25,000 people live within the NSMNP, 1,800 of which belong to the indigenous Agta tribe, strongly depending on a healthy environment for their livelihood. Some settlements date back to over 300 years. Outside the park, around 1.5 million people depend on the hydrological services provided by the NSMNP .
Illegal as well as legal logging in NSMNP has been, since decades, a serious threat to forests and people. Commercial logging in the NSMNP exacerbated in the 1980s, and was partly stopped due to a logging ban under the Aquino administration (1986-1992) as well as due to heavy attacks from the New People’s Army (NPA) during the 1990s, claiming ‘revolutionary taxes’. Large-scale illegal logging has continued at least since the 1980’s logging boom, and was placed on the top of the political agenda in 2000, when President Estrada established an anti-organized crime commission to investigate illegal logging .
Illegal logging in NSMNP operates as a highly organized network, involving many different actors, such as financiers that advance cash for fuel and supply, local village officials supporting their activities, and small logging teams, who have their own illegal local “area-area” concessions system, sometimes marked with signposts. Forest guards are bribed by logging teams, as well as police and military checkpoints on the transport way to the urban centers. It was estimated that annual payments to officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in San Isabela amounted to 160,000 to 280,000 USD). DENR officials often downplay the scale of corruption, claiming the need to ‘humanize’ the law so that poor people can meet their needs. However, in fact large benefits of illegal logging are appropriated by themselves and mainly by an organized business network, alleged to be related to seven businessmen of Isabela province. They are located in the urban centers, registered as timber traders and plantation owners, which enables them to legalize illegal logs. Also here, apparent differences between the amount of furniture produced and legal wood sources are solved by corruption .
While some locals, particularly young, are attracted by the well paid illegal activities, many others do complain about the irreversible impacts. Large deforestation was related to increased floods and calamities, in particular in 2008, during which four typhoons claimed the lives of 100 people in Isabela and Cagayan province. Biodiversity loss is inevitable. Farmers complain that heavy trucks destroy access ways. Fish catches have declined due to erosion and river siltation, and indigenous worry about disturbed wildlife and degraded forest resources. Women report to be constantly harassed by illegal loggers, who spend much of the earned money on alcohol, tobacco and prostitution .
Resistance has taken several forms, starting with campaigns and street protests against illegal logging. A few legal cases were filed against logging middlemen; however they were either settled or dismissed, due to the deep political entrenchment of the network into local politics. In 2008, pressured by church and environmental groups, the governor of Isabela province set up the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force, partly motivated to avoid financing of the political opposition through illegal logging revenues. In the following years, more cases were filed, DENR officials were replaced and illegal equipment and supply, such as chainsaws and timber, was seized. However, anti-logging activists are facing strong repression. Among the likely motives of the killing of Mayor Francisco Talosig in 2009, a former forester from Maconacon, has been his strong stand against illegal logging .
As of 2015, illegal logging in the Northern Sierra Madre National Park continues to be a threat to communities and primary ecosystems .