Academic journal article Researchers World

Plunder of Paradise: The History of Forest Denudation of Masbate Island, the Philippines, 1870-1946

Academic journal article Researchers World

Plunder of Paradise: The History of Forest Denudation of Masbate Island, the Philippines, 1870-1946

Article excerpt


This study is an inquiry on the forest denudation of Masbate Island in the Philippines from the perspective of environmental history. Masbate was once likened to a paradise because of its pristine luxuriant forest that practically covered the whole island prior to colonization. This island had been the haven for various types of flora and fauna which are not endemic in other islands in Central Philippines.

In the course of history, however, Masbate's forest had been seriously denuded paving the way for the loss of its biodiversity. Extensive grassland (savanna) emerged after forest cover had been removed paving the way for the emergence of grazing industry which was monopolized by the elite population of the province.

The study argues that Masbate's forest denudation was perpetrated by the Spaniards and Americans who colonized Philippines. The loss of forest reserves in Masbate can be clearly attributed to the colonizers' insatiable appetite for wealth.

Keywords: Masbate Island, colonization, environmental history, forest denudation.


With the increasing number of human disasters brought by the natural calamities in the entire world, historians' inquiry of the past is now focused on the relationship between man and his environment. Until recently, deforestation has been the theme for study of forest history under the domain of environmental history. As the eleventh largest island in the Philippine archipelago, the study on Masbate's history specifically environmental history had not yet been given much attention by scholars. So far, there is only one scholar who had ventured into this study. Jan Bay -Petersen, an archaeologist, focused his investigation on the supposed loss of Masbate's forest wealth during prehistory. Us ing archaeological remains as bases, he concluded that the loss of Masbate's forest was largely due to the shifting cultivator's (kaingiros) forest overexploitation due to population growth. After this study was published in 1981, no other study related on forest history had been made in another period on Masbate's local history. This present study focuses on the history of Masbate's forest denudation from 1870 to 1946.The study argues that forest denudation in Masbate was the result of the Spanish and American colonizers' exploitation of forest wealth by legalizing the timber industry. This forest exploitation of the province became the major cause of a number of environmental -related problems that the province is facing today.


The province of Masbate is composed of three larger islands, namely, the main island of Masbate, Burias and Ticao. Included in these islands are sixty five (65) smaller islands which are considered dependent islands within its territorial jurisdiction. Burias and Ticao Islands lie west and north to the main island and are separated by the Masbate Pass. The province is located 25 miles southwest of the island of Luzon, about the same distance northeast of Panay and less than 20 miles northwest of Leyte Island (US Bureau of Insular Affairs, 1902). The main island of Masbate is mountainous and has a rugged topography. Compared to the rest of the Philippine islands, the elevation of Masbate Island had been considered "very narrow" (San Agustin, 1998). Its highland or cordillera systems had only a maximum elevation between 1,900 and 2, 300 feet below sea level (A Pronouncing Gazetteer, 1998).

There are two discontinuous mountain ranges in the main island of Masbate.These mountain ranges provide the physiographic frame for the province. The first one is the northeast-southwest section, the higher among the two and forms the long southeastern peninsular arm of the island facing Masbate Pass and down to the southernmost tip of the island facing Cebu and Leyte. This section of the island are dotted with towns located along the coasts, namely, the capital town of Masbate (Masbate City), Mobo, Uson, Dimasalang, Palanas, Cataingan, Pio V. …

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