Converting Illegally-Logged Timber into 146,000 School Desks in the Philippines

In the 20th century, the Philippines lost most of its thick forest cover to over logging. Recent administrations have implemented regulation, logging bans, and new policies that have reversed that trend, but the remaining forests are still under threat from illegal logging that is taking place.

When logs are illegally felled and transported to other countries, this denies local Philippines the benefit of their own good timber. Over the last few years, the Philippines has made great efforts to curb illegal logging. Aerial and water borne surveillance assist in determining where agents will make raids on suspicious activities, while road checkpoints target timber in transit. These activities have resulted in the confiscation of illegally-logged timber and the prosecution of those responsible.


Through these raids and checkpoint stops, approximately 66000 cubic meters (28.5 million bd. ft.) of high quality timber was confiscated from 2010 to 2014 alone.

Confiscated timber was stored throughout the Philippines, usually not far from where it had been intercepted, in order to serve as evidence during legal proceedings. Once the legal requirements were fulfilled, officials were faced with a dilemma – what to do with the massive stockpiles of high quality timber scattered throughout the island nation before the wood eventually deteriorated?

While many logs are caught before they are transported, the government keeps the logs outdoors, subject to rain and excess sunlight, causing the logs to rot until they are unsalvageable. Such a resource should not be wasted by the very process set up by the government to serve the people—and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) determined to find a way to use these logs for the Filipino community before they lost their purpose.

And this is not a problem only confined to the Philippines. As countries worldwide in Asia, Africa and South America fight back against deforestation and illegal logging, the problem of what to do with the confiscated timber is a pressing issue. The whole point of anti-illegal logging programs is to preserve our resource for the future. So what about the timber already cut and intercepted? As officials in the Philippines watched these beautiful timbers rotting, they came up with an idea that the rest of the world would do well to pay attention to.

At that time public schools across the Philippines lacked at least 2.5 million chairs. In 2010, the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA), Department of Education (DepEd), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and DENR proposed the P-Noy Bayanihan Project that government-confiscated logs could be used to build new furnishings for local schools.

The mission of DENR, TESDA, DepEd and PAGCOR was simple. They wanted to take the logs that had been confiscated, salvage them, mill them, and create school tables and chairs for local schools. They began by cutting the wood and sending it away to be refurbished, but eventually they were able to begin manufacturing the furniture themselves. It was a complete turnaround for the Filipino community. The Forest Products and Development Institute-Department of Science and Technology (FPRDI-DOST) was also tapped by DENR to convert confiscated logs into lumber and transported them to TESDA, Agusan del Sur. 


A collaborative project between DENR and FPRDI-DOST entitled: ‘Sawmilling of Ten Million Board Feet of Logs and Flitches in CARAGA for Use of DepEd in the Manufacture of School Desks and Chairs’ was implented. Ten million board feet is more than 23,000 cubic meters of wood! And this is just from the Caraga region of the Philippines – a fraction of the whole country.


“We were able to convert confiscated logs and flitches into lumber and fabricated school desks and chairs,” Dr. Eusebio shares. After testing the chairs, the team was surprised to find that the properties in their salvaged wood were almost the same as finer, healthier wood. “The DENR Regional Office in CARAGA donated some school chairs in CARAGA.” Other schools benefited as well.


But just how big of an impact did the project have on the environment? Consider this: the average 3,000 square-foot timber frame house takes around 15,000 board feet of timber to build. The project has already scaled that amount and cut nearly 4 million board feet of timber. With so much excess illegal wood, DENR and FPRDI-DOST have found a way to create a beneficial, economical, and rewarding purpose for the confiscated logs.


“Since 2011, more than 146,000 pieces of school furniture have been produced and 369 school buildings have been repaired using seized timber products.” 


Before the project began, Dr. Eusebio and the team had one saw mill. However, after the project was conceptualized, the team decided to buy five more units of Wood-Mizer portable sawmills. “If you use a regular chainsaw,” Eusebio shares, “you will lose 5 mm of wood because of the blade. But if you use the Wood-Mizer, you only lose 1 mm.”

Dr. Eusebio also recognized the efficiency of sawmills because they take up so little energy. In Kenya, the energy efficiency and minimal wastage of the Wood-Mizer machines impressed forestry officials so much that they banned new sawmillers from using any other kind of sawmill in their businesses. As reported in The Star, Kenya in April, 2016, the Kenyan Forestry Service issued new rules in order to more effectively combat illegal logging operations, by requiring licensed sawmillers to use thin-kerf sawmills only.

“In the new rules by KFS, saw millers licensed to cut trees in gazetted forests must use the Wood-Mizer machine as opposed to ordinary saws. KFS says the new machine produces more timber from a log than ordinary ones.”

The logs that are able to be salvaged from illegal logging confiscation are used to grow the woodworking factory and train people. The DENR now has ten Wood-Mizer sawmills and they have been deployed all over the vast country. They transport these sawmills to places where illegally-felled logs have been stored after confiscation.

Eusebio concludes. “I hope that the forest will once again become green, just like 50 years ago. If you look at the statistics, it’s very sad to learn that we have very few forested areas left. But now the number is going back up because of the National Greening Program.”

After six years of nonstop processing of illegally felled trees and production of something better for the economy and the environment, the National Greening Program and DENR were able to work and not only build thousands of chairs and tables, but also find a way to grow and manage the forests around them.


Future Impact for Other Countries

There are many countries trying to stop the process of illegal logging completely. But the Philippines found a unique, creative, and economical way to address the problem and solve it with a different method. Maybe we can gain a better perspective from DENR and FPRDI-DOST on how to better problem-solve in our own communities, and how to help our own environments through community outreach.


Important to remember though is that many illegal loggers are not large corporations – they’re simple farmers or villagers who do not have many opportunities to generate income. “A lot of illegal loggers are simple people who are mainly trying to feed their own children. Especially for our upland dwellers, wood is their source of income that allows their children to go to school.” shares Teodulfo Delgado, Engineer with the College of Forests & Natural Resources in Los Banos, Philippines. Hand-in-hand with enforcement of anti-illegal logging regulation needs to come provisions for better economic development.

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