The Philippines is at the brink of losing one of its most prized treasures: its forests.

Housing around 1,196 amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles and at least 8,931 known species of trees, ferns, and shrubs, Philippine forests own two-thirds of the planet’s biodiversity, supporting a vast range of flora and fauna.

Despite being hailed as one of the countries with the richest biodiversity in the world by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Philippines also has one of the fastest deforestation rates around the globe.

Annually, the Philippines loses 47,000 hectares of forest cover, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and unless reforestation begins, the country’s forests will disappear by 2036.

“Without strong partnerships among various stakeholders, the rate of deforestation will persist, creating major implications on our country’s environment, its inhabitants, wildlife, and by extension, to the Philippine ecotourism sector,” Forest Foundation Philippines Chairman Antonio La Viña said.

A struggling yet emerging ecotourism hub

Ecotourism mainly centers on travel to destinations where flora, fauna and cultural heritage are the primary attractions. It also generates economic opportunities for local communities. What sets it apart from nature-based tourism is that it involves interpretation and education on the conservation of these natural destinations.

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature claimed ecotourism was the fastest-growing sector in the global tourism industry.

Ecotourism has been a byword in the local tourism scene since the 1990s. Two decades later, the Philippines is being considered as an emerging ecotourism hub with its natural attractions.

Philippine tourism has seen a boost in the recent years, with both foreign and local travelers flocking to explore the country’s natural wonders, from its crystal clear waters to its dense jungles.

In 2018, the country has witnessed a 7.7-percent increase in international tourist arrivals. This equates to 7.1 million visitors during the previous year, according to the Department of Tourism.

Meanwhile, three in five Filipinos over the age of 15 have visited domestic tourist destinations, as per Household Survey on Domestic Visitors conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

These all account for 12.7 percent of the country’s economy.

As the Philippines skyrockets to popularity as a premier travel destination, the country cannot cope with both the local and international attention.

While there are laws and government programs establishing guidelines in ecotourism development across the archipelago, there is still room for improvement in preventing mass tourism and issues pertaining to environmental degradation.

Philippine ecotourism also faces a phenomenon called greenwashing, where ecotourism-branded sites veer away from the guiding principles of sustainable tourism. Nature-based or adventure travel claim to be ecotouristic ventures, although they do not put the environment as the primary concern or work with local stakeholders and cooperate with communities.

Destinations and legacies

“Because of this, Philippine forests, along with its other natural destinations, face the threat of hasty commercialization and permanent destruction. Thankfully, there are people, organizations and companies who are determined to conserve our forests and protect them for future generations,” Lavina said.

GCash, operated by Globe Fintech Innovations Inc. (Mynt), recently launched GCash for Good, its corporate social responsibility arm, where users can donate to various groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) with environmental advocacies.

Through this initiative, GCash is stepping up to combat deforestation by promoting generosity in its 20-million strong GCash user base.

“Our goal is to develop financial sustainability mechanisms that would fortify efforts for biodiversity conservation,” Mynt President Anthony Thomas said. “We also plan to proactively engage in campaigns that call for a ban on waste imports, waste incineration and most importantly, deforestation.”

According to a study by Global Trends in Giving, 54 percent of individuals prefer to donate online. In 2017, the total volume of donations grew to a strong 12.7 percent.

By spreading awareness to its users on how they can help alleviate the deforestation in the Philippines and by encouraging users to lean towards eco-friendly actions, GCash is working towards a greener Philippines.

Furthermore, with the protection of forests and the reduction of deforestation, GCash promotes socially responsible travel, personal growth, and environmental sustainability.

“Our shared goal is to foster a greater appreciation of our natural habitats. We want to address the problem of deforestation from its roots while minimizing the aspects of conventional tourism on nature and the integrity of local people,” Lavina said.

Through GCash for Good, the company offers insights about the impact of human beings on the environment for tourists and users alike.

“Each donation will be worth it. After all, restoring our forests will not only benefit us. It will also benefit future generations who wish to explore the forests the Philippines were blessed with. At the end of the day, it all comes full circle,” Thomas said.