The Philippines, Pearl of the Orient Seas, is very rich
in natural resources. Filipinos are by nature creative
and intelligent. The richness of the environment is an
advantage for their livelihood.
Around 15 million hectares, or almost half of the
Philippines' total land area, are classified as
timberland. Most of the land here was densely forested
before the 1900s. However, the following century saw the
loss of half of Philippine forests. Statistics show that
deforestation claimed 204,000 hectares per year from
1950 to 1978. From 1989 to 1995, only 116,332 hectares
were vanishing annually. Environmentalist groups are
trying to protect Philippine forests, but a lot needs to
be done in the campaign for reforestation as well as the
fight against illegal logging.
Philippine forests produce timber for local consumption
and for export. Hardwood products coming from these
timbers are globally known for their distinct appearance
and high quality, which makes them appropriate as home
furnishings. Wooden furniture, such as tables and
chairs, are usually made of hardwood, popularly known as
Most Philippine forests are of the tropical rainforest
type. Besides extensive reserves of tropical evergreen
hardwoods, the country also has considerable areas of
pine in the mountainous regions of Northern Luzon.
With a coastal ecosystem stretching almost 20,000 km,
the Philippines is likely to become one of the earliest
victims of rising ocean temperatures and levels.
Centuries-old coral reefs are dying almost overnight,
and the destruction is being witnessed not only by
divers in remote spots. Regional marine science studies
estimated in the middle of 1999 that the Philippines'
magnificent underwater world would be gone by around
2100. Reports say that increased sea temperatures were
causing "mass coral bleaching events" in the world's
best coral reefs. Something has to be done to reduce
global warming caused by the burning of oil, coal, and
For smaller bodies of water, the Philippines has
extensive but small river systems and streams, which are
mostly depicted by the mountain ranges. The fluvial
system of Luzon is made up of (1) Rio Grande de Cagayan
and its tributaries (a stream that flows into a larger
body of water), which drain the Cagayan Valley; (2) the
Agno Grande which drains Benguet and the valleys of
Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Tarlac; (3) the Abra River
system, which receives its tributaries from the
Cordillera and drains Lepanto, Bontoc, and the Abra; and
(4) the Rio Grande de Pampanga and its tributaries,
which drain the fertile valfeys of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga,
Flora & Fauna
The Philippines is rich in flora and fauna. There is an
estimated two million species of plants and animals,
many of which are unique to the islands. For various
reasons, some kinds have been lost or endangered while
others were exploited for commercial purposes. By the
turn of the century, many species of plants and animals
decreased dramatically in number but some survived
through a natural process.
There is so much that the Philippines can offer to the
nature lover. Its tropical rainforests are among the
most species-rich ecosystems on earth. In fact,
substantial parts of the archipelago, both land and
underwater, remain unexplored. There are also many
virgin forests. The country is known for its dwarf and
pygmy species of many ecological families.
Unfortunately, a lot of these natural resources are
being destroyed at an alarming rate. Logging and mining,
illegal fishing (the use of dynamites), and the growing
population have a negative effect on ecology because of
increasing demand for diminishing food and livelihood
Due to its volcanic nature, Philippine soil is very
fertile. Abundant rain and sunshine, as well as the wide
range of habitats and elevations account for an
incredible variety of plant life in every category, from
mosses and lichens (including 1,000 species of fern) to
giant trees (about 3,000 species). Since neighboring
Indonesia and Malaysia have a similar climate, plants
found here are mainly of the type found in those
countries. However, Australian (e.g., eucalyptus) and
Sino-Himalayan types are also present in the
Philippines. About 60% of the 10,000 plant species grow
only in the archipelago. There are 54 species of bamboo
throughout the islands. Bamboo is a fast-growing woody
grass used for multiple purposes, mainly as furniture.
It can also be used to build houses, bridges, fences,
fish traps, wall matting, baskets, hats, and flutes.
Mangroves are found at sea level, bays and estuaries.
They form a fringe or what seems like a fence along the
sides of these bodies of water, a palms, commonly used
in the construction of native hats, also thrive in salty
water. Coconut palms are generally found below 30 meters
while at 300-1,000 meters, dense tropical rainforest
contains vines, ferns, orchids, and huge trees with
buttressed trunks. The dipterocarp - hardwoods, known
collectively as Philippine mahogany, can supply many
natural resource needs. Mahogany seed as an herb is
known to have healing properties.
Narra, the national tree of the Philippines, produces a
pretty yellow flower and is the source of hardwood for
many uses. The nipa palm, however, must be the
unofficial national tree. The traditional nipa hut comes
from the nipa palm, with the leaves serving as roof.
Many homes in the countrysides and in farms are made of
nipa. Today, the nipa hut can even be found in resorts
all over the country where it functions as a residential
and recreational place.
The national flower is sampaguita, which is white and
has a distinct fragrance. But the orchid also has a
claim to fame, with almost 1,000 stunning species,
including the waling-waling of Mindanao.
One crop unique to the Philippine is the pili nut,
although crop species such as tobacco and corn have
already been introduced. The delightful nut may be used
in the production of chocolate, ice cream, candies, and
even soap. It is harvested from May to October, around
Sorsogon and other provinces in the Bicol region. In
Mindanao, abaca is harvested in huge quantities. Called
the Manila hemp, it is mainly used to make ropes. This
island is also famous for its durian, a fruit with a
terrible smell but a heavenly taste. In the little
island of Guimaras, near Panay, the rich red soil has
produced some of the sweetest mangoes in the world.
FAUNA- LAND CREATURES Birds
The best-known Philippine member of the bird family is
the haribon or Philippine eagle, formerly called the
"monkey-eating eagle" (because it eats monkeys). This is
an endangered species; only about 100 are left in their
natural habitat of Mindanao. Farther south, the hornbill
of Sulu, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi is another amazing and
elusive mountain-dwelling bird. The Palawan peacock
pheasant is also a remarkable bird. A large game bird
with brilliant feathers in the male and long pointed
tail feathers, it nests on the ground and flies only
short distances. The males of this species have a
metallic blue crest, long white eyebrows and large
metallic blue or purple "eyes" on the tail. Pheasants
are native to Asia but are now established in many parts
of America and Europe. Unfortunately, they are also
nearing endangered levels.
Of the reptile family, South-East Asia travelers will be
most familiar with the gravity-defying,
mosquito-chomping gecko (anyone of a group of small
insect-eating lizards often having adhesive pads on the
feet for climbing) and its raspy "tap tap tap7' mating
call. More elusive scaled beasts include the sail-fin
dragon and the flying lizard discovered by Jose Rizal
while he was exiled in Dapitan on Mindanao, as well as a
wide variety of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes,
including pythons and sea snakes.
The country is said to be home to the sea cow or dugong
(also known locally as duyong), once found in great
numbers in Philippine waters but now rare. You're more
likely to spot dolphins, whales and, if your timing is
right, butanding (whale sharks) near Sorsogon in South
Luzon. The tourism industry in that province hopes that
these plankton-feeding gentle giants will continue their
habit of surfacing from around November to May each
There are about 25,000 species of insects found in the
Philippines. Among these are butterflies that come in a
wide array of colors. Some are sought-after by
collectors while others are merely for spectacle.
Palawan, Mindanao and Sulu are prime butterfly
territories with an estimated 800 species. A prominent
butterfly, Papilio trojano, is the largest of its kinJ
with an average wingspan of 18 centimeters. This black
and green butterfly can only be found in Palawan.
Moths, winged insects very much like butterflies, but
lacking knol at the ends of the antennae, having less
brightly colored wings, and flyii mostly at night, also
abound. The huge atlas moth has pale brown wings (with
black and gray markings) that extends 24 centimeters
wide. This insect is commonly found around the months of
February to June all over the islands.
The most popular beast of burden in the Philippines is
the carabao, a native water buffalo highly prized for
its vast power and patience as a plough-puller.
An authentic rainbow of species pours out of Philippine
waters ani| into aquariums around the world each year.
The Philippines' underwafc landscapes surpass the
terrestrial in beauty for inexpressively rich marinl
life. There are more than 500 sea species containing
variants of hard soft coral reefs. The seas support
about 2,400 species of fish. Individui and commercial
fishermen have caught tuna, mackerel, squid, curtlefisl
shrimp, lobster, crab, and a host of other marine
creatures. Some reei fishermen destroy marine life
through cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing just to
get a daily catch. Other fishes such as swordfish,
marlin, sailfish, sharks, eels and sea snakes can also
be found. There is also a multitude of small fishes in
various colors and sizes, most of them still unnamed.
The world's largest fish, the harmless whale shark,
known to reach approximately 20 meters in length, is
occasionally seen in Philippine waters. Meanwhile, the
world's smallest fish called dwarf pygmy (Pandaka
pvgmaea) is common. It usually inhabits the Malabon
River and the streams of Bulacan. In Lake Buhi, the
world's smallest commercial fish, tabios, is found.
However, that creature is nearing extinction.
Other forms of marine life, ranging from whales to
dolphins to jellyfish, sponges and starfishes, can be
found in Philippine waters.
Because of poisoning and dynamiting, there has been
widespread destruction of local fish populations and
ecosystems. Many of the fishes die from severe liver
damage within days of being transported. The use of
sodium cyanide - a chemical first introduced in the
Philippines in the 1960s to stun fish and now widely
used as an easy (and seemingly harmless) way to catch
large numbers of fish for both domestic ad foreign
markets - has greatly devastated marine life.
Pawikan (marine turtles) are found in Philippine waters.
The most common are the green sea turtle and hawksbill
although loggerhead, olive ridley, and leatherback can
also be found. The turtle's value as a food source,
combined with its commercial exploitation (stuffed
turtles and turtle-shell products are found in many
souvenir stores), have reduced their number. Thus, the
population of turtles has stepped into the endangered
The Philippine islands have been the source of rare
individual shell specimens that are attractive to
collectors. Shells are plentiful in eastern Samar,
Palawan, Sorsogon, Quezon and Sulu.
Shells are known for having a poisonous part. The live
cone shells have a dart at the narrow end. Touching and
mishandling it can be harmful. They also range in size,
from the tiny Picidium to the giant clam Tridacna &gas.
Over 1,000 species of land snails with lustrous shells,
and spiral patterns are found all over the country.
Tourists usually buy shells for souvenirs from local
vendors selling beautiful specimens retrieved by
fishermen. The buying and selling of shells affects the
Philippines' natural resource production
Since the Philippines is one of the world's richest
shellfish habitats, Filipinos have used shells in
jewelry and handicrafts. Kapis shells are the most
common that can be found and fashioned into lampshades,
chimes, and windowpanes. Old Spanish houses are
decorated with thin and transluct kapis shells.
Pearls are found within shells. According to research,
the largest pearl in existence was found in a giant clam
(a mollusk somewhat like an oyster, with a soft body and
a shell in two halves joined by a hinge) in Palawan in
1934. It measures 24 cm by 14 cm and weighs 6.4 kg. This
pearl is known as the "Pearl of Lao-tze" or "Pearl of
Diving for pearls is widely practiced by the Muslims in
Sulu and Southern Palawan. Pearls are also raised in
some parts of the country, such as the Davao Pearl Farm.
The priceless magnificence and lasting value of this
natural resource makes the Philippines truly worthy of
being called "Peai of the Orient Seas."
Preserving Our Resources
The Philippines realizes that in order to preserve its
precious natural heritage, a process of education,
combined with the proper legislation and enforcement, is
necessary. Legislation dealing with environmental issues
has been introduced. The government has established
national parks, recreation areas, and wildlife
sanctuaries throughout the country. Conservation
programs exist for the Philippine eagle, eastern sarus
crane, tamaraw, Philippine crocodile, dugong, marine
turtles, and some rare deer species. There is a growing
consciousness among people of the need to conserve
forests and marine life. A law banning log exportation
has been passed (unfortunately, the prohibited practice
continues secretly). In 1992 Palawan was cited as a
national treasure because its forests and sea life are
relatively well-preserved. A total ban on logging is now
being enforced all over Palawan.
The Philippine government has established national parks
to protect many species of plant, animal and sea life.
The project to preserve the Philippines' natural
resources officially started in 1992.
The N1PAP or National Integrated Protected Areas Program
aims to enlist the support of indigenous people living
in or around these protected
- Palanan Wilderness Area (North Luzon) The Philippines'
largest protected area making up 10% of the country's
remaining primary forests.
- Mt. Isarog National Park (Bicol) Isarog is the Bicol
region's second highest volcano at about 1,966 meters
above sea level.
- Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park. (Mindoro) The endangered
tamaraw is found here. Farmers encroaching upon the area
have caused a steady reduction in grasslands, which has
resulted in problems for the Mangyan people.
- Mt. Guiting-Guiting Natural Park (Romblon) The
spectacular slope of this mountainous forest has
nurtured and protected a world that would have long ago
been destroyed by human activities if not for its
isolation. Among the ancient teak trees of the park can
be found several bizarre species of fruit bats, large
monkeys, and more than 100 known bird species.
- Coron Island The Island boasts virgin forests and
stunning cliffs. The Tagbanua people, Coron's indigenous
residents, delight in the beauty of their native
- El Nido Marine Reserve Rich in beaches and wondrous
jagged cliffs, El Nido is one of the country's most
OTHER PROTECTED AREAS IN THE PHILIPPINES
- Mt. Pulog, Northern Luzon
- Hundred Islands, Northern Luzon
- Mt. Arayat, Central Luzon
- Mt. Mayon, Bicol
- Bulusan Volcano, Bicol
- Apo Reef, Mindoro
- St. Paul Subterranean, Palawan
- Turtle Island, Palawan
- Sohoton Natural Bridge, Samar
- Lake Danao, Western Leyte
- Lake Mahagnao Volcanic, Eastern Leyte
- Mt. Kanlaon Nature Park, Cebu
- Twin Lakes, Southern Negros
- Mt. Malindang, Northwestern Mindanao