For years, woodcarvers have made a good living from their artwork, especially those who produce religious figures which take pride of place in many a Philippine household.
However, a yearlong nationwide ban on logging is beginning to take its toll on sculptors
"We are worried that there might be nothing to work with anymore," said Wilfredo Tadeo Layug, a woodcarver from Betis in Pampanga province.
Layug, who carves religious figures, is the recipient of various awards, including the "Award in Ecclesiastical Art" and the "Presidential Medal of Merit" for his exceptional artistic achievements.
The images of the two Filipino saints, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod, the latter of which was mounted last month on the new altar in the crypt of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome, were carved by Layug.
He has been commissioned by churches and palaces in Europe, and bishops and clergy in the Philippines always like to have at least one Layug sculpture in their churches.
But with the blanket ban on logging, business is not looking good.
"I am a bit lucky in that I have a stockpile of woods. However, I know this won’t last a year or more," he said.
He plans to form an art guild with fellow artisans to petition the government to consider the plight of woodcarvers.
In the meantime, while he waits for the log ban to be lifted, Layug plants trees. “I plant trees, hoping to pay back nature for the many trees I have used in my work," he said.
Last year, President Benigno Aquino ordered a logging moratorium in a bid to save the country’s dwindling forests.
Aquino said illegal logging has already wrought considerable damage on people and the environment and that the Philippines is now ranked fourth among the “world’s top ten most threatened forest hotspots.”
Woodcarvers have appealed to the government to partially lift the ban in provinces like Laguna, Ifugao and Pampanga, where many people depend on woodcarving for their livelihoods.
Rey Lopez Nauyac, a woodcarver from Hungduan in Ifugao province, said he and others have suffered an alarming drop in income when the government implemented the ban.
He said the industry will die if the government goes ahead and prevents woodcarvers from selling their artwork outside the province.