The Land of Promise

By Katrina Velasco

As one of the world’s most biodiverse countries in terms of land and marine flora and fauna, the Philippines should put a premium on its natural environment. But with increasing levels of poverty and static, if not deteriorating quality of life we Filipinos have, our own survival and economic struggle has always overshadowed the need to conserve resources. The maps above aim to illustrate how forest cover might have decreased from 1987 to 2002 due to the stress from a shift in the country’s demography, particularly in Mindanao. There are other culprits like an increase in mining sites and activities but the emigration of the “northeners” to the fiercely-guarded island (thwarting Spanish and American colonialization attempts) gave way to slash-and-burn or kaingin farming towards the uplands. Mining permits tend to limit the land that can be exploited, whereas burning trees can be done with a flick of one’s wrist but very hard to contain.


The map duo starts off with a smaller scale one of the Philippines and shows data from ESSI and SSC. The country has 80 provinces and a regional map could allow us to zero in on the most stressed areas. The shapefiles I used were from the folders in our class activities, although if need be, there are free data readily available in the internet. Most of the statistics were from NSCB, NSO, ESSI and some independent publications. These were:

Eddie L. Quitoriano. Land, Foreign Aid and the Rural Poor in Mindanao. Overseas Aid and Agrarian Reform. September, 2009.

Emma Porio. Urban Transition, Poverty, and Development in the Philippines. Ateneo de Manila University. August, 2009Which was a draft but the statistics the Author used were from the NSO and NEDA’s Statistical Yearbooks)

ESSI’s Decline of the Philippine Forests

As my hoard of related literature grew, the trends seemed more evident. That even as the population and migration increases, so does poverty. Well, in international standards, it does. Increasing rates migration could only increase urbanization so much before the ‘90s. Urbanization decreased in all Mindanao regions, as shown in the map. It could not replace agriculture (small and large scale farming, plantations, haciendas) and other primary economic activities as the main source of income people in Mindanao.


Some of the statistics could be used readily, while some required minor calculations. A choropleth map is an excellent way to make maps with more than 1 variable or phenomenon to present because it serves like an informative backdrop. Then in the second map, the regions exhibited heterogeneity. Take for example CARAGA. Regionally, it is got the most kalbo, no matter what method of calculation used (natural breaks, equal interval, etc). But on the provincial level we can see that one only although two of its provinces lost comparatively smaller forest cover, and with Surigao de Norte even gaining some, Agusan del Norte’s losses alone made it the region with the most deforestation.

I took  a gamble in ‘reversing’ the use of the color green in the maps. At first it represented an increase in regions’ forest cover, and in the next, since we only wanted to examine Mindanao’s losses, I used it again, but with a different purpose. I can only hope that the public will read the legend to affirm the common connotation of all things green. But to me, at first glance, I can deduce that the polygons that are more yellow-toned denote deforestation, the greener ones indicate thicker, lusher vegetation. I did not wish for my maps to look like a Christmas tree but they do make me think of fruitcakes, in a good way. I added some graphs and facts to enrich and brief the map readers better.


We are novice cartographers, therefore I believe that we must primarily attempt to cater to the public. It is one way to know if we have learned enough to be meticulous in data gathering, assembly and analysis, and in chopping most of said data off to create the simplest, most informative maps that can educate the broad public spectrum.


Even with the struggle in data acquisition and accuracy, the maps were fun to make. I hope that these shed more light to Mindanao’s silent crisis. Some of the rarest species of plants and animals like the Philippine and monkey-eating eagles dwell in. And it can explain why some of the people I know from Mindanao speak Ilokano and Bisaya. I have a young friend who owns his mini-hacienda already because land there is sometimes sold TOO cheap- he got it for 5000Php per hectare, and its right along the National Road. There are so many issues that have to be prioritized more.


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