BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
On March 3, 2015, the Philippines joined the commemoration of the World Wildlife Day, which was declared during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in December 2013. The secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) is taking the lead in implementing the World Wildlife Day every 3rd day of March. The Philippines is a signatory to this convention, which is intended for the protection of threatened species of the world. This inter-government treaty also aimed to ensuring that the international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species survival in the wild.
The celebration of the World Wildlife Day is very important to the Philippines, because many of our endemic flora and fauna are already included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN – World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment Natural Resources. These species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction. The determination of threatened species is based on its population estimate in the wild and the degrees of threats facing its existence, among others.
Negros Island is of major concern when it comes to threatened faunal species. It has numerous endemic species that are already at the brink of extinction in the wild. For instance, the Negros fruit dove (Ptilinopus arcanus), discovered in Mount Kanla-on Natural Park from a single specimen in 1953, is already considered a lost species. It has never been recorded elsewhere after it was known to exist. The Birdlife International recommends thorough field survey of the Negros fruit dove in MKNP and other sites of Negros and Panay to determine if the species is still extant.
Another crucial species known only to occur in Negros, Panay, and Guimaras is the Rufous-headed hornbill
(Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), also known as Writhed-billed hornbill and Walden’s hornbill, which is suspected to be functionally extinct in the wild in Negros, according to IUCN, since it has never been recorded in the island for more than 10 years. However, in the survey conducted by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. last year, the species was rediscovered in Northern Negros Natural Park. The species remains as critically endangered in terms of its threat category.
The status of the Visayan warty pig (Suss cebifrons) did not improve through the years. From vulnerable, its threat category has been elevated to critically-endangered because dangers to its existence in the wild are still very high. The population of this species is now limited in Negros, Panay, and possibly in Ticao Island. It is already extinct in its former range in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate. The late William Oliver, a British biologist who devoted more than two decades of his life in conserving the Philippines’ endemic wildlife, described the Visayan warty pig as the most threatened species of pig in the whole world.
The Negros Naked-backed fruit bat or Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat (Dobsonia chapmani) was formerly declared extinct because it has never been recorded since 1964. This species was formerly known to occur only in Negros until it was discovered in Cebu in 2001 and was later on rediscovered in southern Negros Occidental in 2003. The species remains classified as critically endangered because its survival is still bleak, especially since the lowland forests in Negros, where this fruit bat is known to occur, are now very limited.
Several other endemic species found in Negros are already susceptible to extinction, because their population in the wild keeps on decreasing through the years, and they are not yet fully secured in the remaining habitats where they are currently surviving. The Negros bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba keayi), a lowland specialist bird, is another declared critically endangered species of Negros. It was earlier thought to be found only in Negros until its discovery in Panay in 1997. The survival of the Negros bleeding-heart requires the protection of the remaining lowland forests in Negros and Panay, and the rehabilitation of denuded areas to ensure that this colourful bird shall remain in the wild. Both Negros and Panay have already lost much of their lowland forests. Another contributing factor to the declining population of the Negros bleeding-heart is hunting, especially so that this particular bird is a ground-dwelling species. It is being hunted for food and as household pet.
The IUCN and the DENR have further declared numerous endemic species found in Negros as endangered species, which is the second highest level of threat assigned to a particular species that is not critically endangered but its survival in the wild is unlikely if the causal factors continue to exist. One of this species is the charismatic and beautiful Visayan spotter deer (Rusa alfredi), or Philippines spotted deer, that is only surviving in Negros and Panay, since it is already extinct in Cebu, Guimaras, and Masbate where the species was known to exist before. Massive hunting and habitat destruction are the two major causes why the Visayan spotted deer remains threatened to date.
Aside from critically endangered Negros naked-back fruit bat, another fruit bat found in Negros has also been declared as endangered species. The Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat (Nyctimene rabori), that can be found in Cebu and Sibuyan Island, too, is suspected to have less than 2,500 mature individuals in the wild, and threats to its existence, particularly deforestation and hunting, are still prevalent.
It is also interesting to note that Negros and Panay shared another species that could not be found elsewhere and it is a species of frog called the Negros forest frog. Although the population of this species in Panay has never been assessed in recent times, the Negros forest frog has been classified as endangered species, because threat to its survival is also high. The species has been known to occur in MKNP and in the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental.
Another kind of hornbill has been included in the list of threatened species, because its population in the wild is similarly declining. The Visayan tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini) is a Philippine endemic species that is known to occur in Negros, Panay, Guimaras, Masbate, and Ticao. In the 19th century, the Visayan tarictic hornbill has been reported to be widespread and common in areas where they have been recorded.
The Negros striped-babbler (Stachyris nigrorum), a species known to exist only in Mounts Talinis and Kanlaon in Negros, is another threatened species classified as endangered, although there was another report of its sighting in Mantikil, Siaton town in Negros Oriental. Just like other species of birds, the Negros striped-babbler requires immediate protection on its remaining natural habitats.
These are only some of the important species that may soon be declared extinct, once threats to their existence, especially deforestation and hunting, shall not be totally curtailed. It is therefore very important that efforts on habitat protection and restoration shall be further strengthened in Negros and elsewhere where these species are known to survive. EAG.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
I had the opportunity to visit the famous monkey sanctuary in Calatrava town in northern
Negros Occidental sometime last year and, indeed, it has potential for ecotourism if only proper conservation measures, especially in the management of animals, are applied. One bad example that is currently being tolerated is the feeding of monkeys so they would gather once visitors are in the area. There should be phase-out mechanisms for this practice, because the monkeys have started to be dependent on the food offered by the sanctuary’s caretakers and visitors.
Specifically located in Sitio Paitan, Barangay Paghumayan in Calatrava, the monkey sanctuary, also known as the wildlife sanctuary, covers almost 11 hectares of private land purchased by the municipal government for the purpose. It is located in a hilly portion, and where secondary forest patches of limestone forests are now growing in some of its portions and surrounding areas.
The protection of the forests and even the rehabilitation of denuded parts are very critical to maintain a healthy habitat for monkeys, and possibly to other available wildlife species in the area. It is necessary to establish a production site for the food supply of the monkeys. The municipal government has started to do this, but there is a need to expand and diversify the food sources of the monkeys. The production area should have a semblance of the site where the monkeys are securing their food naturally, and not through feeding. Eventually, the monkeys will be used to again getting their food requirements from the wild.
The other equally relevant measure that should be carried out is the modular tour and nature interpretation of the site. The monkeys in the sanctuary are already highly disturbed and they should be left in a place where they are comfortable. The current practice of calling the attention of animals to gather once visitors are in the site is another improper management of animals in the wild. There is an existing viewing deck at the sanctuary, which can be used to see the monkeys from afar. The management may provide binoculars to the visitors to see the monkeys where they are staying. In addition, it is important to develop a trail system and additional viewing areas where visitors can see the monkeys without directly interacting with them. This is also to avoid “person-wildlife” contaminating each other with possible illnesses or diseases.
The trail system shall be used then in modular and guided tours for visitors. It is a requirement, therefore, to organize and train local tour guides and they should be provided with sufficient information about monkeys and other wildlife species that may interest the visitors. As a wildlife sanctuary, the place should be devoted to the protection of the wildlife species, with limited opportunity for visitors program that should be specifically designed for conservation education and research. As such, picnic areas and cottages are not advisable since the visitors may opt to stay for a much longer period, and may bring their own food that would further attract the attention of monkeys. Viewing areas and trails system for guided tours are therefore sufficient amenities in the site. Fully secured toilets for visitors may be provided, too.
At this point, the sanctuary lacks nature interpretation program. There should be carefully-designed signage about the sanctuary and the monkeys. For instance, there are no warning signs along the road where the monkeys are also crossing. Vehicles should be advised to slow down and avoid the blowing of horns. The interpretation should also include the setting up of informative displays and other interesting presentations that would provide added attractions of the area. There are many possible things that can be done and I am sure it is not too late to make this place in Calatrava a world-class sanctuary of monkeys, where nature interpretation and education program is also given equal importance. EAG.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
After months of higher temperature last summer, we are now bracing, not only for the wet season, but for stormy weather, too. Very recently, typhoons were coming one after the other, affecting several regions of the country. Following storm signals Glenda and Henry, came Inday, and another one is coming. Weather forecasts claim that we are expecting three to four typhoons this August. It seems the description of “Living Dangerously on Earth” is no longer a farfetched scenario. It is already a reality that we have to contend with at present times. It may sounds alarming, but the thousands of death and billions of pesos in damages to properties in recent years, brought on by very strong typhoons in the Philippines, are very serious and alarming. In fact, the devastation wrought by super typhoon Yolanda last year is still very much visible today, because rehabilitation measures are still on going, to date.
We have been warned that extreme weather conditions are new normal of our times. Natural hazards, like typhoons, tsunamis and storm surges, are getting stronger, due to the deteriorating capacity of our natural ecosystems to withstand the changes occurring in our environment. Some damages we inflicted on Earth are already irreversible and beyond repair, such as the destruction of the ozone layer. Our ecosystems, like the forest, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs, among others, are already in bad state such that their ability to assist in mitigating the impacts of natural hazards and risks had similarly deteriorated.
The present scenario is very disadvantages to the Philippines due to our geographic location. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters has consistently ranked the Philippines in the top five most disaster-hit countries of the world. Our country lies in one of the most hazardous portions of the Earth. It is situated in an area where tropical cyclones are most active, and this is in the western rim of the Pacific Ocean.
The feature of the country, composing of numerous island ecosystems, makes many of our areas open to coast and vulnerable to wind, rain, tsunami and storm surges. The landmass of the Philippines is basically mountainous in nature, with steep slopes that are highly towering in lowlands and coastal areas. This condition further aggravates the risk of flooding and landslides. Our nation also lies in the so-called Ring of Fire, which makes us even more susceptible to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
While disaster risk and reduction management becomes one of the priority agenda of the government, it is very important that it should be associated with strong measures and approaches on environmental protection and natural resources conservation. For instance, how can we improve our disaster preparedness when we also allow the alteration of our natural ecosystems with mining and other resource extractive industries?
There is also a question on how serious is the government in protecting the remaining natural forests, as reports of forest destruction continue to surface. On the other hand, the National Greening Program, which is being considered as a flagship environment project of the current administration, has received numerous criticisms, because some of its reforestation initiatives have been inappropriately established. The solid waste management in many urban areas is still very poor. It should be noted that solid waste has been identified as one of the major causes of flooding in urban centers, especially in Metro Manila.
The climatic changes we experience today are not just a local reality, but also a global phenomenon. However, in our little own ways, as an individual, as a community, and as a nation, we can do something to mitigate and even just minimize the negative impacts of this so called climate change that is threatening our very existence.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The whole world commemorated the International Biodiversity Day last May 22. The United Nations General Assembly declared this event in 2000 to increase awareness and understanding on biological diversity and its associated issues and challenges.
This year’s celebration focused on the theme, “Island Biodiversity”, to coincide with the designation by the UN of 2014 as the International Year of Small Developing States. This is also to strengthen the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The theme is very relevant to the Philippines, because it is composed of numerous islands and islets, a good number of which are considered smaller islands, but yet, they contain unique ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna. Many of our small islands have exceptional and beautiful features that are worth protecting for recreational, educational and scientific activities, while at the same, sustaining whatever ecological and environmental services they offer to the people. However, there are also small islands that have been subjected to extensive development for tourism, logging and mining, thereby altering their natural landscape and seascape.
It is also important to note that many of our small islands harbor endemic species, meaning some species are only restricted to a particular island and could not be found elsewhere. For instance, Negros Island has numerous island endemic species, such as the Negros fruit dove, which is now suspected to be extinct, since it has never been recorded after its discovery in 1953 at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.
Although Cebu has suffered intensive deforestation, it is very important in terms of biodiversity, because it has Cebu flower picker, Cebu hawk owl, Cebu cinnamon tree and Cebu black shama, that are only known to occur in this island.
The Ilin Island in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is the only locality where the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat, has been recorded. Similarly, the Sulu bleeding heart pigeon is only restricted in Tawi-tawi, while Camiguin has also its own endemic species, such as the Camiguin hawk owl. The Calamianes in Palawan has several endemic species, the most popular of which is the Calamian deer. The island of Mindoro, although it is relatively a larger island, contains a variety of endemic species, like the Mindoro bleeding heart pigeon and the famous Tamaraw, which is considered as the largest mammal recorded in the country. Polillo Islands in Quezon province has several endemic sub-species of birds. The Dinagat cloud rat is only found in Dinagat Island in Mindanao.
The unique island endemism of the Philippines makes our country as one of the mega-diverse countries on biodiversity. However, most, if not all, of our island endemic species are already listed as threatened species in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The likely extinction of island endemic species may happen once the remaining habitats in the islands where they occur are further destroyed. It is therefore very necessary that the remaining natural habitats shall be protected and those degraded ones restored.*
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Protected Area Management Board, the site-based policy and administrative body of the Northern Negros Natural Park, should heed the recommendation of its Technical Working Group to order the demolition of illegal structures in the protected area, especially those that were constructed by private individuals, who have no right to stay in this biodiversity-important site.
The recommendation of the TWG came after it was tasked by the PAMB to assess and evaluate the different structures in the NNNP and to come out with possible courses of action.
It can be recalled that the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office has issued at least 89 cease-and-desist orders to private individuals, who have been found to have constructed vacation houses in the NNNP without prior permit from the PAMB. Since NNNP is a component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines, as provided for in Republic Act 7586, it is a requirement that the construction or maintenance of any kind of structure, fence or enclosures, and conducting business enterprise, require the issuance of appropriate permit from the PAMB.
The PAMB is not in the position to make any decision that are contrary to the NIPAS. The regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region VI, who acts as the chair of the management board, should make sure that the PAMB acts within its power and authority, and in conformity with appropriate laws, rules and regulations. The DENR Secretary has the power to overturn decisions rendered by the PAMB that are not appropriate in the management of protected areas, like the NNNP.
While it is true that NNNP is a protected area, it is not absolute that occupancy is not allowed. However, it is only allowed in the designated multiple use zone and restricted only to the so-called tenured migrants. Based on the revised implementing rules and regulations of the NIPAS Act, the household head shall be considered a tenured migrant if proven to have actually and continuously occupied a portion of the protected area five years before its designation under the NIPAS, and solely dependent therein for subsistence.
Tenured migrants should be organized to avail a land tenure privilege, known as the Protected Area Community Based Resource Agreement, which shall be awarded by the DENR upon the endorsement of the PAMB. The purpose of this arrangement is to control occupancy and create strong social fence. It is the responsibility of the beneficiaries of land tenure to ensure that no additional migrants will stay in the awarded sites.
Based on the initial evaluation by the DENR, the recipients of the CDOs are not actually tenured migrants, since all of them are residents of areas outside the NNNP and they are not subsistence persons.
Aside from violating the NIPAS once the PAMB allows the owners of these vacation houses to occupy portions of the NNNP, it shall become a precedent and others may also follow. If that is the scenario, the PAMB will be out of control and becomes an ineffective management body of the NNNP.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
SAN JOSE, Occidental Mindoro – In a workshop here organized by the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. for its Ilin and Ambulong Islands Forest Conservation Project, I was surprised at the revelation that the sugar industry in Negros has contributed to the depletion of an important endemic species of the country, the Philippine teak (Tectona philippinensis). It is only known to grow in Ilin and Ambulong islands in San Jose town, Occidental Mindoro, and in the towns of Lobo and San Juan in Batangas. Because of its restricted distribution and population depletion, the Philippine teak has already been declared as critically-endangered species by both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.
(The Philippine teak)
This means that the species is under protection and its exploitation is already prohibited. Unfortunately, some local communities are still utilizing this species because it is commercially viable, although they also attest that the population of the species in Ilin and Ambulong Islands is now getting limited.
While I was facilitating the workshop, which was designed to engage local stakeholders in the implementation of MBCFI’s conservation project in the two islands, I asked for the factors that contributed to the reduction of the species’ population in the two islands of San Jose. Some people, who have been living in Ilin and Ambulong for some time now, testified that bulk of Philippine teak and molave trees were cut and transported from the islands to Negros to supply the need for railways of trains, which were used then in transporting sugarcane from haciendas to sugar mills.
(The author during the workshop sponsored by MBCFI)
This species of tree is known for its hardwood quality. It is usually found in coastal to lowland limestone forest and tends to dominate the semi-deciduous forests, the IUCN said.
The IUCN recommended the implementation of a conservation program that would re-establish the stable natural population of T. philippinensis in its known habitat. It also suggested that a rapid assessment of the species and long-term ecological research shall be conducted, to determine the physical and biological characteristics of the habitat, coupled with a recovery and management program, public education, community consultation and resource stewardship and policy initiatives.
The MBCFI, with funding support from the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation Inc., and the Malampaya Ventures, is initiating a project to enhance the population of the Philippine teak in Ilin and Ambulong Islands. It also aims to establish woodlots to address the timber requirements of the local communities, and increase the awareness of local folks on the importance of the teak and other endemic species and their associated habitats.
Ilin Island, in particular, is the only known locality for the Ilin Bushy-tailed cloud rat, or the Hairy-tailed cloud rat (Crateromyspaulus). This species was once listed as critically endangered, but is now categorized as Data Deficient, because of its limited information. The IUCN said the species was only known from the holotype, that was reportedly purchased in Ilin Island. Several attempts to rediscover this cloud rat in the island failed.
(The author in Ilin Island)
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Office of the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park announced that booking for trekking in the area is already full from January to February.
Bookings to climb the summit of MKNP are only available in March and onwards. The MKNP’s Protected Area Management Board, the site-based policy-making body of one of the 13 protected areas in the Philippines as proclaimed by Congress, has declared January and February as low trekking season.
Under this condition, only a limited number of trekkers are allowed in a month.
MKNP is the pioneering protected area in the country that has crafted and implemented a mountaineering guideline. It was during my time as the park superintendent when the first mountaineering policy was approved in 1999, based on various considerations, such as the nature of MKNP as an active volcano, and trails leading to the summit are known as important wildlife habitat, among others.
In spite of the fact that the four-kilometer radius from the crater of the volcano is categorized as a permanent danger zone, and supposedly no human activities shall be allowed, the management did consider the potential of Mount Kanla-on for recreational purposes, like mountaineering. The summit of MKNP, at 2,435 meters above sea level, is the highest peak in central Philippines. MKNP is one of the most popular mountaineering destinations in the country.
There are four officially-designated mountaineering trails in Mount Kanla-on – the Wasay trail in Murcia, Guintubdan trail in Bago and La Carlota Cities, and Mananawin and Mapot trails in Canlaon City.
Under the existing guideline, only a maximum of 10 members are allowed in every expedition and only one expedition party per trail will be allowed in a given time. It is also mandatory that every expedition will have a compulsory guide for a ratio of one guide to five climbers. MKNP was also the first protected area in the Philippines that has developed its own guideline for the accreditation of porters and guides.
Mountaineering in MKNP is open in March to May, and October to December. Other months are low season for trekking in Mount Kanlaon, wherein only one expedition party is allowed in every trail per month. However, in the event that PAGASA declares weather disturbance, or the PHIVOLCS declares volcanic activity, MKNP will be closed automatically from mountaineering.
It is mandatory to secure a climbing permit from the Office of the Park Superintendent, and this shall be issued following submission of a booking form, mountaineer information sheet and notarized waiver of responsibility of the climbing party members, and payment of required fees. It is highly recommended that booking shall be made at least three months before the expedition schedule. No one is allowed to enter the park for mountaineering without the approved permit from the park superintendent.
Each expedition party is required to have climbing equipment, to include individual sleeping bags, tent, pressure stove for cooking and first aid kit. Only ready-to-cook foods are allowed in mountaineering. MKNP is also adopting a policy on “carry-in, carry-out policy”, that means that no garbage should be left in the area.* (This Article was also published in the Visayan Daily Star, 13 January 2014).
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Last 07 October marked my 50th journey on this planet we call Earth. Almost half of it has been purely devoted to the field of nature conservation and environmental protection. As I commemorated the half-century of my life’s journey, let me share some of the stories associated with my involvement in conservation work. There are so many things to tell about this journey, from hiking through rugged terrains in the jungles of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island, wading in the waters of unspoiled rivers in Samar Island Natural Park, to diving in deep and cool blue seawaters of Apo Reef Natural Park in Oriental Mindoro. Interestingly, the profession in conservation also provides me with the opportunity to see the wild numerous flora and fauna, several of which are already threatened from extinction in their respective habitats.
The work in conservation does not only bring one to the most fascinating and awesome places, but it also includes exposure to the badly state of the environment, including denuded forestlands, polluted rivers and even heavily damaged coastal and marine areas, among others. Working in conservation also means interacting with people of various cultures. Yes, we are all Filipinos but our culture is as diverse as our flora and fauna. Meeting various indigenous tribes in Mindanao, Mindoro and high lands of Luzon led me to further appreciate and advocate the rights of the IPs to their ancestral lands.
Through the years of my involvement in conservation, I encountered community members who are engaged in timber poaching,
kaingin, wildlife hunting and other resource-extractive practices. In several instances, however, it is very inspiring to witness how these individuals engaged in destructive activities transform to become responsible stewards of nature. Interaction with employees and officials of the different government institutions is another challenge in conservation work, especially in dealing with bureaucratic procedures and protocols. There are also local and international nongovernment organizations and funding agencies that are equally interesting to work with in environment and natural resources management.
My seven-year stint in the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park as a Protected Area Superintendent, from June 1995 to June 2002, was one of the most challenging and meaningful events in my journey in conservation. That was the time when I fully embraced what biodiversity means and how it is crucial in our survival as a people and as a nation. It provided me solid background on various facets of natural resources conservation and management, including disaster risk reduction and management. Although there were controversies in the declaration of MKNP as a protected area, with the slicing of 169 hectares of its original boundary for geothermal energy development, the fact remains that it is one of the 13 protected areas that has a site-specific congressional act, out of 240 candidate sites all throughout the country. In fact, if not for our internal and aggressive advocacy to the Congress, the geothermal development should have been more than 2,000 hectares.
We also pioneered the crafting and implementation of the first mountaineering guideline in the Philippines, with the assistance of
former provincial director Edwin Gatia of the Department of Tourism. The Protected Area Management Board of MKNP, at that time, was known to be one of the two most active in the Philippines. The numerous awards, that are still on display at the MKNP administration in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, are the testimonials on the momentum we have achieved in treading the path of protected area management.
My journey in the field of conservation involved numerous visits in the different protected areas in the country, from terrestrial, freshwater to marine ecosystems. Most, if not all, of these travels were related to conservation work, like providing technical assistance in protected area management planning, project implementation, assessment, monitoring and evaluation and as a resource person or facilitator in trainings, seminars and workshops. During these travels, I did not only meet persons working in the field of protected area management, but including ocular visit to scenic spots of some protected areas. On the process, I built a network of friends in different regions and learned new things and ideas.
While visiting some protected areas, I further realized that, indeed, the Philippines is gifted with numerous natural wonders. However, our natural and scenic areas are not yet secured, because they are facing numerous threats from various economic activities. A good number of protected areas in the country are already heavily occupied and this situation triggers proposals to slice certain boundaries of these PAs for possible land titling. This is particularly true in Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental and Naujan Lake National Park in Occidental Mindoro.
Protected areas are very rich in natural resources and some of these are being eyed for heavy industries, such as mining and energy development. It is also a sad reality that most of our protected areas are languishing from lack of personnel and funds, in spite of the fact that they contain numerous natural resources. The allocation from the national government is not sufficient to cover the effective conservation and protection of our protected areas.
I also understood that conservation measures are not solely restricted in protected area management. There are also other forms of conservation modality involving other key stakeholders. I spent a couple of years in Polillo Group of Islands in Quezon province in developing and implementing the pioneering concept of Local Conservation Areas, which the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now trying to introduce in other sites that are not protected areas. The LCA is a process of identifying biologically important sites and setting up a management regime involving local government units and other local stakeholders. This is anchored on the Local Government Code of the Philippines, which invokes the participation of LGUs in natural resources Management. As a result, about 10,000 hectares of biodiversity important sites were declared by LGUs as LCAs in five municipalities covering the Polillo island group. Subsequently, the LGUs are allocating regular funds for the protection of these LCAs.
The traditional methods in protecting our natural environment are also interesting. In Balbalasang Balbalan National Park in Kalinga province, the indigenous people are in the forefront in managing this protected area, because they consider it as a sacred place. Similarly, Mount Halcon and Mount Iglit-Baco in Mindoro are being claimed as ancestral domains of the Mangyans, while about two-third of Mount Apo Natural Park in Mindanao has been covered with Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles. The IPs in Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park and Mount Kalatungan Natural Park are also engaged in protection measures of these two of the most important protected areas in the Philippines.
The implementation of conservation initiatives is also very prevalent in nongovernment organizations. The Danjugan Island in my hometown in Brgy. Bulata, Cauayan is known as one of best-managed marine conservation sites. This has been made possible because of the initiatives of Philippine Reef and Rainforest Foundation. The Agap Bulusan, a local NGO in Bicol, is also managing the ecotourism in Bulusan Lake in Sorsogon province.
What I really appreciate during this long journey was the trust and confidence accorded to me by various institutions and individuals. I was given the opportunity to work with projects of some international institutions, like the World Bank, European Commission, United Nations Development Programme, Global Environment Facility, United States Agency for International Development and GIZ (Germany-based firm), among others. Most of these projects were coursed through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.
I also participated in projects supported by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, Philippine Tropical Forestry Conservation Foundation and Haribon Foundation. What I am also thankful was the privilege to get involve with several other NGOs, such as the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation and Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation.
These are only few of the things I could share in my more than two decades of journey in the field of conservation. Of course, there were also various challenges, but having the kind of work you really love to do, while at the same, advancing your personal advocacies, meeting a lot of people and visiting some of the awesome natural areas, I would say that that it was indeed so fulfilling periods of my life, and still counting, for more years.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
CAMPUESTUHAN, Talisay City – This upland village in Brgy. Cabatangan was little known until very recently when the name of the place became famous in Negros Occidental province in the Philippines, particularly in Bacolod City. In a way, a mountain resort in the area, that made its presence felt in social media, has contributed to the growing awareness about Campuestuhan, which is still part of the Northern Negros Natural Park, one of the three declared protected areas in the province. However, more than a tourist destination, Campuestuhan is one area in the Philippines where positive impacts of conservation initiatives are also very evident.
Just only about one hour and a half ride from Bacolod City, a peaceful village lying at the
foot slopes of NNNP can be found and where you hear inspiring stories on how communities have become conservation agents. The place, formerly called the Bacolod City Watershed and now Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed, also demonstrates how important the role of a nongovernment organization is in effecting changes in the lives of communities as well as in protecting and rehabilitating the forest.
The positive development in this part of the province did not come overnight because it took decades to finally see the fruit of hard labor in conservation work, primarily originated and orchestrated by the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc., in partnership with private and government institutions.
We visited this place to look into its potential as a demonstration site for biodiversity
friendly agriculture, under the “Biodiversity Partnership Project: Mainstreaming in Agricultural Landscape” of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources–Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau and the United Nations Development Programme–Global Environment Facility. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. and NFEFI are the two NGO partners for this project, which aims to establish partnerships among stakeholders in promoting agricultural practices that are compatible to the objectives of biodiversity conservation.
David Castor, one of the pioneering personnel of NFEFI, told our team the watershed was almost deforested in the 80s, especially when Negros Occidental was badly affected by the sugar industry crisis. Many lowland dwellers engaged in massive tree cutting and charcoal production in the area. Deforested sites were then converted into kaingins and more people settled in Campuestuhan for good.
One of those who migrated in Campuestuhan was the family of a person known to the community as Nanay Denia, former resident of Candoni in southern Negros Occidental. She confirmed the statement of Castor, and further said her husband was engaged in massive timber poaching just to survive at that time. As narrated by Nanay Denia, her family and other members of the community were hesitant in entertaining NFEFI when its personnel came over the area to talk about forest conservation. She said they looked at NFEFI as a threat to their livelihood and most of the residents were not interested in joining any activity of the foundation.
Castor claimed NFEFI was aware that this site is an important watershed and the
deforestation will greatly affect the water supply of Bacolod City. He said that NFEFI partnered with the Bacolod City Water District and, later on, with DENR and other institutions in implementing conservation awareness and education and community organizing to engage communities in non-destructive forest activities.
With the persistency and patience of NFEFI in community organizing, Nanay Denia and some other members of the community attended the activities spearheaded by the foundation although with so much reservations. The attendance of Nanay Denia in NFEFI activities was against to the wishes of her husband, who was still continuing illegal forest activities at that time.
Transforming communities from illegal and destructive forest users to conservation agents is no easy task. It took some time for the NFEFI to make one of the upland communities here to become responsive in forest protection. Efforts were not only concentrated on conservation awareness and education and community organizing, but more so on providing other means of livelihood for communities who are very much dependent to forest resources to survive.
In the Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed, communities, assisted by the NFEFI and the Bacolod City Water District, are already implementing agro-forestry technologies and integrated farming system. With assistance from other institutions, a rattan plantation has been established in secondary forest that is already getting to closed canopy forest. Similarly, giant bamboo stands grow along the planted trees in one reforestation site. These two areas clearly show that forest rehabilitation also comes with other plantations, such as rattan and bamboo, for production purposes.
With the increasing forest cover in the area, communities claimed the presence of wildlife is becoming a natural thing. However, with the awareness and appreciation of communities on the importance of wildlife, they are implementing measures to avoid conflict with wildlife, particularly wild pigs. As a strategy, communities established wire fences to prevent wild pigs from invading their farm lots. These wildlife pigs are the endemic Visayan warty pigs, which are already classified as critically endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. According to communities, hunting of wildlife has been totally eradicated in Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed although they claimed there are still isolated cases of illegal timber poaching.
Before, communities in this watershed need to go down a ravine, cross a river and climb another mountain to deliver their farm produce in the lowlands. NFEFI came out with an idea to set up a cable car that would facilitate the immediate transport and delivery of farmers’ products and this cable car is now operational. The community organization in the watershed has undergone numerous organizational concerns and leadership crisis, but its members are still determined to face the challenges, since they do not want that all their efforts will go in vain. The common resolve to protect the forest is the binding force of communities in identifying issues and coming out with acceptable solutions to strengthen their organization.
The natural environment in Upper Caliban-Imbang Watershed has a great potential for ecologically sensitive tourism. The lush forest in the area is a sight to behold and it keeps the place cool the whole day. Fogs usually occur anytime of the day and this makes the place ideal for camping. For bird enthusiasts, the watershed is an ideal site, because of numerous birds that are found in the area, some of which are endemic species. The potential of cable car for ecotourism is not also a remote possibility. The cable ride takes about 10 minutes, crossing a ravine of about 100 meters deep with the full view of verdant rainforest.
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