A decade of environmental reporting
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
This June marks the decade of the environment page of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City. In June 2001, the page was launched in an attempt by the STAR to make environment reporting one of the centerpieces in print journalism. The inclusion of the environment page, every Monday, was a pioneering initiative, and probably the STAR was the first local newspaper in the Philippines that introduced it. The debut of the page was also in commemoration of Environment Month that time. June has been declared as Environment Month in the country, and June 5 is the World Environment Day. When Ninfa Leonardia and Carla Gomez, the STAR’s president and editor, respectively, invited me to contribute in the environment page, I did not give a second thought, bearing in mind that it was a good opportunity to further disseminate environmental messages to the general public, especially since the STAR is widely circulated in Negros Island. I was then the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park when the first issue of the environment page came out. Preparing weekly articles before required me to do a lot of research in coming out with a variety of subjects on the environment and natural resources until it became a part of my routine.
A decade has passed and the environment page still comes out every Monday. Although there were instances I missed my column, I am glad the STAR keeps maintaining the page, a concrete gesture of commitment to environmental protection. Some other papers followed in coming out with an environment section and I consider it as a growing recognition on the part of the media of the importance of environmental reporting. Manila-based Negrosanon, Desiree Segovia, managing partner of DS Pinoy Moringa Enterprises, a company that promotes organic product, said in her comment to my Facebook account that they are now organizing a green pen network with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for all college papers to have an environment page. One time a friend asked what motivates and inspires me to sustain a weekly column when in fact I am also full of engagements and my schedules are quite heavy, too. I responded that contributing to the STAR is my modest share to environmental advocacy, aside from making my presence felt in Negros, in as much that after my stint as PASu of MKNP I decided to relocate in Metro Manila due to career development and opportunities. In a comment also posted in my Facebook account, Judge Philadelfa Agraviador of the Regional Trial Court in Bacolod City said, “I am sure your and Dr. Alcala’s articles have impacted Negrenses’ mind set. I bet your green page is unique, meaning other local papers in the Philippines don’t have any”. Agraviador, who once served as our environmental prosecutor in Mount Kanla-on, is referring to Dr. Angel Alcala of the Silliman University who writes a column, too, with me on the environment page of STAR.
Environmental reporting is not easy though. It requires accurate presentation of scientific facts but must be
presented in such a way that it should be understood by many. One need not be a natural science expert to become an environmental reporter but must have a good grasp on the intricacies and broad range of topics covering the environment, from the atmosphere to the deepest level of the sea. It is necessary to have sufficient knowledge on numerous policies, regulations and governance aspects of environment and natural resources. This is particularly important because each natural resource in the Philippinesis also covered with a specific legislation. Similarly, there are also overlapping regulations and management modalities across different ecosystems, in the same way that each of our ecosystems is interconnected. Continuing exposure to various issues and sites with conservation values are also crucial in environmental reporting. This is entirely true in my case, because through the years while I have been contributing to the environment page of the STAR I have also been fully engaged in various environment and natural resources initiatives in the Philippines, ranging from coastal resources, biodiversity and protected areas, climate change, watershed, forestland use planning, governance, and spatial analysis, among others. These engagements provide solid background and keep me updated on numerous environmental topics, which I share to the public through the STAR.
Through the years of the STAR’s environment page, I received positive feedbacks on my published articles, a
number of which were used as references, cited in several publications, and posted in bulletin boards of some offices and schools. Of course there were also dissenting views but generally the reactions were favorable and encouraging. During the past 10 years, the page became my weekly journal, too, because I presented details of my environment work and the numerous conservation places I visited throughout the country. Although I really wanted to focus on local concerns, it is also necessary that we should learn from experiences of other areas, particularly good practices on environment and natural resources management. Getting to know other places is quite interesting, especially to those who love travels. I am quite privileged that the nature of my work involves visiting some of the most significant conservation sites, many of these are not so popular tourist destinations, and yet to be explored, like the amazing cave formation and the magnificent view and white beaches of smaller islands in Burdeos in the Polillo Group of Islands.
I featured in the STAR places as far as the Dinagat Island in Mindanao, the Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park in the highland of Kalinga province in Luzon, the remote Ulot River in Samar and Apo Reef and Mount Halcon in Mindoro. In fact, some places I introduced in the page have never been featured in national papers and televisions. Indeed, the STAR’s environment page had also chronicled my journey in the field of conservation, from the Office of the Protected Area Superintendent in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park to my engagement as consultant to conservation projects and currently to my organization, the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. What interests me while browsing over my past articles were the numerous topics on threatened species from frogs, lizards, birds, wild pigs, deer, to geckos. Even the lions were not spared from my subject in the environment page. I really like to write about species, especially the endemic ones, because information on their presence in a particular site, economic importance and conservation values are very limited. Usually only popular species, with some in fact are exotic species, are being highlighted in textbooks used in schools, making students unaware of what species are available in their localities. I also featured in the environment page species recently discovered and rediscovered by science, including those species that are already at the brink of extinction in the wild, like the Negros fruit dove.
To make the page really an educational one, I tried to include articles pertaining to policies on environment and natural resources. The Philippines is one country in the world that had so much environmental laws. Unfortunately many of these regulations remain only in paper. I did not only present what have been actually provided in these guidelines, but I make it a point to make my own comments and analysis based on various experiences in the implementation of these policies and how they are impacting to our natural environment. In particular, I already raised in my column the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the antiquated Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines and the need to revisit how the environmental impact assessment system is being implemented. The recent policy issue I criticized was the exception for tree cutting provided in the total logging ban proclamation issued by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.
Issues on environmental critically projects and their negative impacts were also among the topics I covered. In
particular, some of my articles have singled out the geothermal development at the buffer zone of Mount Kanla-on. I presented the destructions and the continuing threat posed by this energy project to our natural environment, including policy concerns in relation to the issuance of the MKNP Act. Similarly, issues on mining, timber poaching, wildlife hunting, kaingin and charcoal making, among others, were topics that have been extensively articulated by my articles during the past 10 years. It should also be noted that a good number of articles I prepared for the environment page mentioned the conservation initiatives by both government and non-government institutions. This is to highlight the importance of implementing conservation projects given the sad state of our environment. Every effort to prevent and curtail destructive environmental activities should therefore be pursued and my column at the Visayan Daily Star will hopefully contribute to the continuing awakening of the public on the importance of environmental protection and conservation.
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