BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Say KGB and one would immediately associate it with the defunct state security agency of the Soviet Union that was known for high-level espionage. The KGB is the acronym of Russia’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or the Committee for State Security. When I was appointed as the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island in 1995, I gave KGB another meaning – the Kanla-on Green Brigade, which until today, remains a vanguard in forest protection and law enforcement in one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.
Through the years, KGB members evolved not only as forest wardens, but also as mountain guides, porters, rescuers, and communicators, in addition to being involved in biodiversity monitoring. After my seven-year stint as the PASu of the MKNP in June 2002, I was provided with opportunities to visit and work in some other protected and conservation areas in the Philippines, until to date. As I progressed in these assignments, and while I would like to say that the KGB scheme has its own fallouts, limitations, trying moments, and even weaknesses, I am confident to claim, too, that, so far and after two decades, it is one of the most sustained mechanisms in forest protection in the country.
What are the necessary elements of this sustainability? Community participation and benefits, continuing education, and imparting values and commitment to local folk in biodiversity conservation are among the key factors why the KGB of MKNP survived the challenges in protected area management through time. This is what I truly call community unity and efforts in protecting the area they call home and where they also derive their livelihood and income.
How the KGB in MKNP started? One of the major concerns we faced when we organized the PASu Office of the MKNP in 1995 was the limitation of personnel and financial resources for forest protection in the entire protected area covering about 24,557 hectares. We thought then that MKNP personnel alone could hardly implement forest protection, and, therefore, we need to create strategies to involve local communities and other concerned groups and agencies. It was timely, because the World Bank-supported Conservation of Priority Protected Areas in the Philippines Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources included MKNP as one of 10 project sites in the country.
Combining the newly hired and seasoned staff of MKNP, with forester Edgardo Rostata as my deputy PASu, now a full-fledged Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Cadiz City, and in partnership with the Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development-Negros, we brainstormed how we should carry out biodiversity protection and law enforcement in MKNP. From the very start, my notion to make conservation efforts work was to involve communities in whatever undertakings.
With our team, I floated the idea of organizing community groups to become volunteers in biodiversity protection and law enforcement. There was hesitation on the part of some MKNP staff, because of the belief that communities will not get involve if they could not see any personal benefits and favor from that scheme. The security of those who will be involved was another consideration, including the possibility that they shall be alienated from community affairs. The other concern was how to proceed with organizing, especially with the logistical and financial requirements we need.
Amidst all these challenges, our team tried to dissect each issue and came out with possible options, and the first step was to intensify community awareness and education on the biodiversity significance of Mount Kanla-on. The formation of KGB started, not only on biodiversity awareness, but, more so, in inculcating deeper understanding and values on the importance of the MKNP to the lives of every community member. This was made possible by choosing clear and appropriate conservation messages and medium that created personal and emotional impacts to the target communication receivers. Effective communication strategies involved were direct interactions, dialogues, meetings, and immersion to communities.
The participation of nongovernment organization was another crucial element in the formation of KGB, and, through the support of the CPPAP, MUAD-Negros initiated social preparation, capacity building, and organizing the KGB in every barangay within the MKNP. Inter-phasing with the formation of KGBs, the MKNP park rangers were trained to assist in strengthening the organizations of different volunteers. Eventually, the park rangers became team leaders and they supervised the operations of KGB groups.
With the formation of KGBs, logistical and material support was secured from local government units, particularly the provincial government. In addition, instead of providing salaries or honorarium, the PASu Office and MUAD-Negros jointly sought livelihood projects, including reforestation projects, for KGBs. The KGBs further earned additional income from guiding and porter services in MKNP. They also became effective communication agents in the protected area, by conducting different information and education activities in communities.
Since protection and enforcements require skills and knowledge on legal matters, it was necessary to provide training on para-legal for KGBs. It was here when the PASu Office linked with the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office and NGOs with legal services to provide capacity building. It was very fortunate that then fiscal, and now judge, Philadelfa Agraviador, was the assigned prosecutor to handle environmental cases in Negros Occidental. She actively supported the KGBs with her legal technical assistance in capacity building, and in the filing and prosecuting of cases against suspected violators. From 1995 to 2002, the PASu Office has filed more than 40 cases involving illegal activities, leading to the conviction of at least 18 violators.
It is also necessary to highlight the important role of the PASu in maintaining the operations of KGBs. Since the time I was the PASu of the MKNP, from 1995 to 2002, and until now, the KGB scheme has already been integrated as a vital component of the protected area management. The MKNP management plan clearly articulated this scheme relative to the biodiversity protection and law enforcement strategy of the protected area.*
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