BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Beautiful photos of flowering trees at the foot slope of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island have spread online during the past weeks. Specifically found in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana in Negros Occidental, about two to three hours drive from Bacolod City, the blooming trees, with the imposing background of the Kanla-on Volcano, were photographed by several persons and they uploaded some photos in social media. The views are, indeed, marvelous as they really look like the Cherry blossoms, or Sakura trees, which are popular attractions in Japan. From then on, according to MKNP staff, the number of visitors increased at Calapnagan, where the administration center of the park is also located.
Alleged Palawan cherry blossoms
One article posted at www.choosephilippines.com claimed that residents in the area called these trees Palawan cherry blossoms. It caught my curiosity, because I was suspecting that the trees, with a mixture of pink, red, white, and yellow colored flowers, are not the Palawan cherry blossoms (Cassia javanica ssp. nodosa) that are recently known to me. The photo accompanying the said online article reminded me of similar pictures I took at the site almost two decades ago.
I requested one of the MKNP staff, Errol Gillang, to take close-up photos of the flowers, trunk, and leaves of the tree so I could consult some of my friends, who are botanists or with interests and working on botanical concerns, as to the exact identification of the species. After receiving several photos from my namesake, I shared them online, particularly Facebook, and responses to my post are interesting. Some friends pointed out the tree is similar to Palawan cherry, but a few suspected it as Salingbobog, known to science as Craveta religiosa, and one of our native species that can be found as well at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. Surprisingly, Gillang told me they found a plate in one of the trees that states it is Akle (Albizia acle), a species native in the country.
Antsoan and Pink shower trees
It was botanists Pat Malabrigo and Pieter Pelser of the UP Los Baños and University of Canterbury, respectively, who confirmed that the species is Cassia javanica ssp. javanica or Antsoan, which is a non-native species of the Philippines, or an exotic one. Malabrigo further asserted that the so-called Palawan cherry, known as Pink cassia or Java cassia, is not native to the Philippines although it bears Palawan as its popular name, simply because it is widespread in that province.
Gillang sent me additional set of photos of lovely pink-colored flowers of another tree he found in Sitio Pabrica, Brgy. Cabagna-an, La Castellana and within the MKNP, too. I similarly posted the photos on my Facebook account, and Pelser identified it as Cassia grandis, a species native to tropical America. The common English name of this tree is Pink shower, according to biologist Renee Paalan of the Silliman University.
My Facebook posts on the two flowering plants received numerous and varied reactions. Many of my friends were amused of the beautiful color and gorgeous look of flowers, and some requested information where to secure the seeds or seedlings of trees, while many expressed interest to visit the sites where the two species are found. On the other hand, several friends in the conservation community were alarmed to know the presence of these exotic species in the protected area, and they urged the planting of indigenous or native trees, while suggesting the eradication of non-native species, because they might affect the biodiversity of the MKNP.
Forester Edgardo Cueto, a Ph. D on forest resources management recommended for the conduct of risk analysis to determine the impacts of exotic species on the MKNP’s biodiversity. He said the introduction of exotic species might “entail the modification of entire ecosystems, including overgrowing and shading out native species, changing fire regimes, and modifying water and nutrient systems.” Cueto added the species hybridization and introgression and ultimately the invasive meltdown are possible consequences. The result of the assessment shall be used in the decision-making by either extirpate the species or let them be managed properly, Cueto said.
Other exotic species and reforestation
The Antsoan is not the only exotic plant found at the MKNP administration center, as there are also mahogany, gmelina, eucalyptus, and a particular species of teak (Tectona grandis), among others, although several native species are available at the site, too. These trees were planted in the 1960s to 80s as part of the reforestation project of the then Bureau of Forest Development, and later on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, forester Johnny Flores, who served as a manager of the project site at one point in time, said.
I could only assume that the planting of these exotic species in the area was done with noble intention of reforesting the site that was badly deforested prior to it, according to local folks. I think, the issue of exotic species in relation to biological diversity has never been considered seriously at that time. If my recollection is right, it was only in the mid 80s when the issue of biodiversity started to become popular and the advocacy for planting of native plant species emerged.
I could recall that the late forester Larry Cayayan, who was then the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer of Negros Occidental in early 1990s, once told me the reforestation at Calapnagan included the planting of flowering trees at the park’s boundary so there would be visible markers that will separate it from private lands. He opined that in a way these flowering trees would be an added attraction of the park.
Most likely, with the influenced of the government’s reforestation project, settlers, not only at Calapnagan but also in other barangays within Mount Kanla-on, planted trees, comprised mostly of exotic species, in their backyards and farm lots, while others established tree farms. While Mount Kanla-on was established as a national park in 1934, it has never been spared from settlements that became political units as barangays through the years.
Mount Kanla-on and NIPAS
Mount Kanla-on became an initial component of the National Integrated Protected Areas System with the enactment of Republic 7586 in 1992. The NIPAS Act transformed the national parks and other nature reserves to protected areas, and from then on, biodiversity conservation was the focused on the establishment and management of these sites. Prior to this, we were largely following the American-tailored national park system, as introduced by the American colonial regime in 1932. As one measure to protect the biodiversity, the DENR came out with a guideline prohibiting the introduction of exotic species in protected areas.
When I was the park superintendent of the MKNP, from 1995 to 2002, my staff and me were aware of the presence of these exotic species. We knew these flowering trees, but with all honesty, we were unsure at that time if this so called Palawan cherry is an exotic species, although we were more in suspicion that it is, indeed, a non-native tree. I did not take much interest over these trees, because some are planted in the disputed “private lands” within the MKNP. I reviewed the 1st management plan of the MKNP, but unfortunately it did not list and discuss exotic species.
Considerations and possible options
The Protected Area Management Board of the MKNP, when I was still the park superintendent, came out with a policy allowing the cutting of planted and exotic species in the area. The purpose of the guideline was to minimize pressure to remaining natural forests by allowing communities to utilize and benefit from their planted exotic trees. In every tree cut, a replacement of five native species was required. It was also a way to eradicate exotic species in the area. The policy did not include cutting of trees at the government’s reforestation sites, as there might be issues on audit regulations.
I was at the MKNP administration center last year, and I observed that it seems the number of these exotic trees did not increase. I noticed some mahogany trees are already invaded with vines and other plants, while several undergrowth species are noticeable. The interest of the local government of La Castellana to promote this area for tourism purposes is understandable and a good idea. In fact, in the original management plan of the MKNP, this site has been identified as ecotourism zone, because, aside from the remaining natural forests found in the area, it is here where one can have a good view of the towering Kanla-on Volcano, and it is ideal for picnic, camping, and other outdoor activities.
I am amendable to Cueto’s recommendation to conduct a study on exotic species and its impacts, not only at Calapnagan, but the entire MKNP so that appropriate conservation measures shall be adopted by the PAMB. MKNP is also gifted with numerous native flowering plants that can be propagated. The MKNP Act of 2001, or Republic Act 9154, prohibits the establishment and introduction of exotic species with allelopathic effect, or those detrimental to endemic species, or without prior PAMB permit.*
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
I visited several areas within the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental province recently to conduct rapid assessment on different livelihood activities that maybe considered as biodiversity friendly. These are income-generating endeavors that do not in any way create negative impacts to the environment, particularly on habitats and species. Actually, it is not easy to determine biodiversity friendly livelihood, because there are many parameters that have to be considered. Just the same, I did focus my assessment on livelihood that maybe compatible on the status of the NNNP as a protected area. The assessment was part of the activities of the Biodiversity Partnerships Project of the United Nations Development Program – Global Environment Facility and the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is being implemented in NNNP by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc.
One of the recognized potential livelihood initiatives that maybe carried in NNNP is related to ecotourism. When I say ecotourism, it means ecological tourism, a concept that has evolved through time as a form of tourism that is very sensitive to the fragility of ecosystems, and promotes conservation education, and community participation and benefits, among others. Ecotourism uses the natural environment as the main product and therefore it must be implemented in sites that possess unique features and characteristics, like NNNP and Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.
One of the sites, I visited is the famous Barangay Patag in Silay City, that has already established its reputation as one of the
major tourism destinations in Negros Occidental. The Silay City government has constructed some visitors’ facilities in the area. During summer thousands of people are visiting the place, while others use it as a jump off point for trekking in higher elevations, particularly in Mounts Mandalagan and Marapara. I am aware there are occupancy issues in Patag. Like in Salvador Benedicto town, another municipality within the NNNP, there are non-residents of Patag who have constructed and maintained vacation houses in the site. Patag is one the barangays within NNNP that is covered with the Integrated Social Forestry Program, which was devolved by the DENR to provincial government right after the enactment of the Local Government Code in early 1990s. Under this program, several residents of Patag availed the Certificate of Stewardship Contracts, giving them privilege to occupy and develop their respective areas for 25 years. Unfortunately, some CSC holders sold their claims to lowlanders, who are now maintaining vacation houses or fighting cock farms in Patag. These are issues that need to be addressed and resolved by the NNNP Protected Area Management Board, DENR, provincial government and the Silay City government. In spite of these challenges, it is interesting, that in Patag, community-based ecotourism has so much potential, and in fact it has started to evolve as an important enterprise, which may balance the requirements of communities for livelihood and the need to protect the natural features of the protected area.
At least five holders of the CSCs are now engaged in ecotourism services in Patag. They started to develop picnic and camping grounds and constructed vacation houses in areas covered by their CSCs. They also offer food and guiding services and some have constructed swimming pools. These CSC holders have never abandoned their claimed areas and they are also cultivating parts of their lots for agriculture. Admittedly, these community initiatives have no permits, since they started to develop their sites for tourism purposes prior to the declaration of NNNP under the National Integrated Protected Areas System. However, these community members may also qualify as tenured migrants of NNNP. While it is true that NNNP is a protected area, it is not absolute that occupancy is not allowed. Based on the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of the NIPAS, or Republic Act 7586, 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 shall be organized to avail of the Protected Area Community Based Resource Management Agreement from the DENR.
Community participation in ecotourism is a very good livelihood opportunity for occupants in the protected area. In fact, residents in Patag, who have started to venture on visitors’ services, are earning quite well, and they no longer engage in natural resources extractive activities. Although there are still many concerns in order to systematize and improve the ecotourism services in this part of the NNNP, Patag has a lot of potentials to become a major ecotourism destination in Negros Occidental. The promotion and development of ecotourism is very crucial so that non-residents of the NNNP shall be prevented from constructing vacation houses, resorts and related amenities in the protected area, like what is happening now in Salvador Benedicto and even in Patag. Communities, who are qualified as tenured migrants, should be organized and provided with necessary assistance to extend ecotourism services.
Salvador Benedicto could also be an ideal site for community-based ecotourism, because it has a lot of scenic sites and pristine natural environment. There are also residents of Salvador Benedicto, who are actually occupying portions of the NNNP. Instead of promoting the area for tourism development by non-residents, how about providing support and assistance to tenured migrants to become ecotourism service providers? By encouraging and supporting communities to develop their areas for ecotourism, they may tend to avoid selling their land claims in the area to outsiders. Once capacitated and provided with support system, communities would be encouraged to protect the natural environment of the NNNP.
It should be understood, however, that when we talk about ecotourism, we are referring to development that does not involve
destructive activities and should be sensitive to the fragility of ecosystems. In the event that infrastructures shall be constructed, they must be located in hazard-free sites, done without cutting of natural growing trees and with provision of soil and water conservation measures. Structures should not impair visual corridors and must blend with the natural environment, instead of becoming eyesores. It is also necessary to include conservation awareness and education in ecotourism development. Nature-based activities, such as guided bird watching, walking, trekking and camping, should be promoted, too.
The other potential site for ecotourism development in NNNP is Gawahon in Victorias City. The city government has already constructed some facilities, but they require improvement and maintenance. There are communities that can be tapped for ecotourism development in the area. Some community members in this part of NNNP are also engaged in wild honeybee collections. Although there are still legal issues on this kind of livelihood, it seems the collectors are engaged in sustainable harvesting, since they have been doing the collection for quite a time already.
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
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III will deliver his 3rd State of the Nation Address at the opening of Congress this afternoon. I am pretty sure the President will take note of Executive Order 79, which he signed two weeks ago. The EO is entitled “Institutionalizing and Implementing Reforms in the Philippine Mining Sector, Providing Policies and Guidelines to Ensure Environmental Protection and Responsible Mining in the Utilization of Mineral Resources”. The issuance of this new EO is in consonance with Republic Act 7492, commonly known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
The mining sector came out with a statement supporting the EO, while cause oriented groups lambasted it to support foreign and large scale mining industries in plundering our mineral resources. Some environmental advocates are critical on the EO, especially so that it affirms the continuity of existing mining operations. The main purposes by which the EO was formulated include the improvement of environmental mining standards and increase revenues to promote sustainable economic development and social growth, both at the national and local levels. From this provision of the EO, it is very clear that the Aquino administration is bending to pursue mining industry as one of the economic pillars of the country. How the so called environmental mining standards shall be implemented remains to be seen, given the lackluster performance of mining companies in keeping environmental protection measures. Most if not all mining operations in the country entail vegetation and landscape alteration.
The EO reiterates the closure of mining in areas specifically provided in the Mining Act, but it is worrying that it singled out the closure
of mining in protected areas “categorized and established” under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act or RA 7586. Under RA 7586, there are numerous initial components, comprising of “areas or islands in the country that have been proclaimed , designated or set aside, pursuant to a law, presidential decree, presidential proclamation or executive order as national park, game refuge, bird and wildlife sanctuary, wilderness area, strict nature reserve, watershed, mangrove reserve, fish sanctuary, natural and historical landmark, protected and managed landscape/seascape as well as identified virgin forest before the effectivity of the NIPAS Act”, that are not yet technically proclaimed and designated under the NIPAS as protected areas. Would this mean that the new EO will allow mining operations in those protected areas not yet proclaimed under the NIPAS? Most of these sites are included in the list of Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.
In addition, the EO disallows mining in prime agricultural lands, including areas covered by Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or RA 6657. Plantations and areas devoted to valuable crops, and strategic agricultural and fisheries developments zones, as well as fish refuge and sanctuaries, as declared by the Department of Agriculture, shall also be exempted from mining. It should be noted that there are fish refuge and sanctuaries declared by local government units under the current Fishery Code of the Philippines, and will these sites be opened to mining, too? EO 79 further identified tourism development sites as no-mining zones in the Philippines. However, these tourism sites shall specifically be provided in the National Tourism Development Plan. There are 78 sites in the country that have been included in NTDP covering the period from 2011 to 2016. These sites are presented in the table below.
List of Cluster Destinations and Tourism Development Areas
Tourism Development Areas
|NorthernPhilippines||NP-1: Batanes, CagayanCoast and Babuyan
|NP-1A: Batanes IslandNP-1B: Babuyan Island
NP-1C: Cagayan Coast
|NP-2: Laoag-Vigan||NP-2A: Laoag-PagudpudNP-2B: Vigan|
|NP-3: Sierra Madre
|NP3-A: Tuguegarao-TabukNP3-B: Ilagan & Isabela Coast
|NP-4: Cordillera||NP4-A: Central CordilleraNP4-B: Benguet-Baguio-Mt. Province
NP4-C: Nueva Vizcaya
|NP-5: Lingayen Gulf||NP5-A: La Union CoastNP5-B: Western Pangasinan Loop
NP5-C: East Pangasinan Circuit
NP5-D: Lingayen Coast & Islands
|NP-6: Central Luzon||NP6-A: Subic-Clark-Tarlac CorridorNP6-B: Nueva Ecija
NP6-E: Zambales Coast
NP6-F: Bataan Coast and Inland
|NP-7: Metro Manila andCALABARZON||NP7-A: Metro Manila & EnvironsNP7-B: Nasugbu-Looc-Ternate-
NP7-C: Laguna de Bay
NP7-D: Batangas Peninsula
NP7-E; Quezon Coast & Islands
|CentralPhilippines||CP-1: Bicol||CP1-A: Camarines & CatanduanesCP1-B: Albay-Sorsogon-Masbate|
|CP2-A: Marinduque IslandCP2-B: Romblon Island
CP2-C: Puerto Galera
CP2-D: Southwest Mindoro Coast
|CP-3: Palawan||CP3-A: San Vicente-El Nido-TaytayCP3-B: Puerto Princesa
CP3-C: Southern Palawan
CP3-D: Busuanga-Coron-Culion Islands
|CP-4: Western Visayas||CP4-A: Metro Iloilo-GuimarasCP4-B: Bacolod-Silay
CP4-C: Boracay Island-Northern
The EO also provides that other critical areas and island ecosystems are closed to mining, which shall be determined by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This provision is quite vague because basically most of the islands in the Philippines are categorized as island ecosystems and critical areas using forest cover and threatened species as main indicators.
The new presidential directive on mining declares a moratorium in the issuance of new mining permits, but honors and affirms the operations of the prior approved mining tenements. Existing mining operations shall be subjected to review and evaluation as to their compliance with environmental standards, laws and regulations. A multi-sectoral team, to be led by DENR, shall undertake the review of the performance of existing mining operations.
In declaring a moratorium for new mining permits, the EO cited the need for a new legislation pertaining to the rationalization of the existing mining revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms, which I guess the President will present to the Congress this afternoon as part of his priority legislative agenda. Aquino is so clever that he puts the burden now to the Congress in deciding the fate of new mining permits in the Philippines. On a positive note, however, this development gives the Congress the opportunity to review not only the mining revenue schemes but the totality of the Mining Act, especially so there are several pending bills in Congress related to mining. Some sectors are even demanding for the scrapping of the existing Mining Act. How the review process at the Congress will proceed is something that we should keenly watch. But what will happen if the Congress will not consider the proposed mining measure of the President?
One of the controversial provisions of EO 79 is on ordinances issued by local government units on mining. Numerous LGUs issued ordinances and resolutions declaring mining ban on their respective territorial jurisdictions. According to Albay Governor Joey Salceda, one of the allies of the President who is taking a contrary position on mining, at least 40 provinces have passed ordinances that ban, restrict and regulate mining, especially on large-scale mining operations.
Section 12 of the new mining EO directed the Department of the Interior and Local Governments and LGUs to ensure consistency and conformity in exercising their powers and functions to the “regulations, decisions and policies already promulgated and taken by the national government relating to the conservation, management, development, and proper utilization of the State’s mineral resources, particularly RA 7942 and its implementing rules and regulations, while recognizing the need for social acceptance of proposed mining projects and activities”. The EO further specifies that “LGUs shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdiction that are consistent with national laws and regulations”.
While there is no question as to the supremacy of national laws over local ordinances, this is not merely the main consideration in undermining the position of LGUs against mining. It is important to note that no less than the 1987 Philippine Constitution requires the participation of local governments in maintaining ecological balance in their respective localities. If the LGUs have scientific facts and direct experience on the adverse impacts of mining to the ecology, then passing an ordinance against mining to ensure general welfare and safety of their constituents is a valid exercise. Of course, lawyers will have the most brilliant arguments relative to this, but it is also very necessary that we should consider the social acceptability clause of various regulations, such as the Environmental Impact Assessment System and the Local Government Code.
It seems the newly launched campaign slogan of the Department of Tourism, it’s more fun in the Philippines, is so far attaining one of its objectives in maximizing social media as a communication vehicle to popularize it. Just a few minutes after it was publicly released, it became a byword in Facebook and a worldwide trending topic in Twitter. Although not long enough and while many were talking about the launching, it was discovered, also in social media, that the slogan is not actually new, since exactly the same slogan was used by Switzerland on its tourism promotion in the 1950’s. In spite the discovery of such similarity, the DOT campaign is now in snowball with social media users posting a lot of photos why it is indeed more fun in the Philippines.
Of course, the slogan did not come with all amusing reactions, but personally I am taking it positively, because it can be used not only in promoting the spectacular natural and cultural attractions, but including the amazing biological diversity of the country, as well. This new campaign of DOT is also capitalizing the generally friendly and fun-loving nature of most Filipinos. I am hoping this new tourism campaign will likewise feature our numerous species of flora and fauna, many of which cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
Just try to imagine – the Philippines has two-third of the Earth’s biological diversity, comprising of at least 70 to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species, according to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The country is considered as a paradise to more than 50,000 recorded species, and many more unknown and undiscovered species. More than half of these recorded species are endemic to the Philippines.
Our nation is ranked 5th in the number of plant species and maintains five percent of the world’s floral resources. The PAWB further reported the endemic species in the country is relatively high with at least 25 genera of plants and 49% of terrestrial wildlife. The report of PAWB claimed the country is ranked 4th in terms of the number of endemic birds, while there are about 121 endemic species of fish. We are also known as one the most important centers for amphibian and reptilian diversity in Southeast Asia, the PAWB reported. This is precisely the reason why the Philippines is considered as one of mega-diverse countries of the world. It is indeed more fun in the Philippines to discover these assorted life forms usually found in equally beautiful and scenic habitats that similarly await discovery.
Popularizing the different endemic species shall be aimed in gaining more global conservation support, especially so that many of our endemic species are already classified as threatened species – meaning their population is getting limited and a good number is already at the brink of extinction in the wild. One of the products that maybe explored is the bird watching since we have plenty of colorful endemic birds. While the DOT has already launched a campaign for bird watching in the Philippines, we need to further maximize the potential of the country for this activity. We are in the best position to engage in this kind of tourism product because many of our islands are possessing island endemic birds.
However, once we embrace in an all out campaign for our endemic species, it is also necessary to strengthen our protection mechanisms because there are unscrupulous and uncaring business persons who are engaged in illegal wildlife trading. Some of our endemic species are targeted for trading due to their reported food and medicinal values, while there are also species used for other commercial purposes, like clothing, bags, shoes and other accessories. The other important consideration in promoting our endemic species is to ensure the implementation of a much responsible tourism activity that would not in any way disturb the species and their habitats. Tourism related activities involving species should be designed carefully to promote and implement biodiversity conservation and not just for fun.
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.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The prominent statue of a lion in the scenic upland municipality of Don Salvador Benedicto in Negros Occidental province is now
getting the attention of visitors and passersby in the area. It is becoming a popular landmark where visitors drop to pose for souvenir photos. Many photographs taken in the statue are posted in social media, particularly the Facebook. Reportedly, the structure is within the 500-square meter-park and community center constructed by the Bacolod City Host Lions Club, in partnership with the Kaohsiung Port Lions Club in Taiwan and the Ichon Lions Club in South Korea. The 10-foot statue of a lion symbolizes the logo of the Lions Club International. While the intention of the three Lions Clubs is very noble in providing a community center, which is intended for medical missions, livelihood trainings, club retreats, and other projects for the residents of Don Salvador Benedicto, I can’t help but to ask why erect such a huge and high up figure of an exotic species in an environment where nature is on its best? There is no question that the Lions Club is entitled to be recognized for its good intention, through placing of its official logo at the site, but it should have been done with utmost sensitivity to the natural features of Don Salvador Benedicto, being part of the Northern Negros Natural Park.
Some people may find the statue very interesting, but for me it is inappropriate to the otherwise beautiful and picturesque landscape of the area, especially so that its backdrop is the equally scenic NNNP, where numerous endemic species of the Philippines and Negros, in particular, are also found. I am not against lions because they are fascinating animals, threatened in their habitats, and need protection too, but it is to my opinion that their host countries will be responsible in promoting them, in the same way that we shall patronize our very own species. When I posted online the photos of this statue, they draw several reactions some of which are hilarious. Lawyer Eli Gatanela of Bacolod City, upon noticing the photos, he commented, “The statue does not blend too well with the scenery. It is a kind of mismatch to the wonderful view of the verdant hills”. US-based Negrosanon and former tourism officer of the Department of Tourism in Negros Occidental also said, “This statue of a lion has absolutely nothing to do with neither environment nor conservation. It is a promotion of sort, whether it is becoming an eyesore, and destroys the background sceneries”. Gatia further opined that if the purpose of that structure is to capture more tourists to Don Salvador Benedicto, he thinks it is a bit way off because DSB will sell itself even without it. Conservationist Josef Sagemuller of Bacolod City even made a joke out of it by describing the statue as the newly discovered and highly endangered “Lion-Bulldog” because its appearance, according to him, seems to look like a combination of a lion and a bulldog. Journalist and mass communication professor Alen del Carmen commented, “The park will be a nicer one minus the growling animal”.
The Northern Negros Natural Park is host to numerous endemic species of the Philippines. Some species recorded in the area are in
fact endemic only in Negros Island and in the West Visayas Bio-Geographic Zone. Endemic species, as defined in the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act or Republic Act 9147, are species or sub-species that naturally occur and found only within the specific areas in the Philippines. It is therefore comical to see a prominent statue of an exotic species in NNNP. Exotic species are those species or sub-species that do not naturally occur in the country, like Lions. The faunal study of wildlife biologist Sol Pedregosa Hospodarsky, in 2009, attested to the biodiversity importance of NNNP, which is also included as one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines, as declared by the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, along with several international and other local institutions. Hospodarsky’s findings confirmed and validated earlier studies of the NNNP’s high endemic values, in spite that a large part of the protected area is already converted into other purposes, particularly permanent agriculture and settlement.
The survey, which was primarily supported by the Rufford Small Grants, Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, and other conservation institutions, has recorded a total of 90 bird species, 37 of which have been noted as endemic, with 57 endemic sub-species. Six threatened species were listed in the study sites, according to Hospodarsky, three of these are categorized as endangered, namely, the Visayan tarictic hornbill, White-throated jungle flycatcher, and the Flame-templed babbler. Two other bird species, the Visayan flowerpecker and the White-winged cuckoo-shrike, classified as vulnerable under the threatened species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union, are further recorded in NNNP, including the near-threatened Philippine needletail. NNNP has a total of 144 bird species recorded to date, while Negros Island has about 247 recorded bird species. The study results show that 58.3% of birds listed in Negros Island is found in NNNP. The same study of Hospodarsky claimed that there were eight bat species netted in NNNP, and five of these species are endemic. These species include the Philippine pygmy fruit bat, Harpy fruit bat, Philippine tube-nosed fruit bat, Musky fruit bat, and Philippine forest roundleaf bat. A thick-thumbed pipistrelle (Glischropus tylopus), which was captured during the survey, is a new record for Negros Island. The study findings bring a total of 55 mammals listed in the island of Negros, and 30 of these recorded species are found in NNNP, Hospodarsky added. It is interesting to note that almost 33% of the 55 mammal species found in Negros are endemic, while NNNP has 37% endemicity among the 30 mammalian species recorded in the protected area.
According to Hospodarsky, there are 11 endemic amphibian species listed in Negros, of which seven are Philippine endemic, three are Negros-Panay endemic, and one Negros endemic. Amazingly, out of these 11 endemic amphibian species, eight are recorded in NNNP. Similarly, 18 species of reptiles were recorded in NNNP, out of the 38 endemic reptile species listed for Negros Island. The endemicity of reptiles in Negros Island is quite biologically interesting because 33 are Philippine endemic, two are Negros-Panay endemic and three others are endemic only in Negros. With the numerous endemic species found in NNNP, we need not to construct statues of exotic species in prominent areas. What’s more important, however, is the protection of NNNP from destructive activities because statues of our endemic species are unnecessary if only they are secured in their habitats and we can see them freely in the wild.
BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO
BULUSAN VOLCANO NATURAL PARK… Some claims that this protected area is the “Little Switzerland” of
the Bicol Region seems not so far from certainty. Having been to Switzerland sometime in the past, I could relate pretty well to what local folks say about this lovely place, located about 680 kilometers south of Metro Manila. The cool, serene, and refreshing natural features of the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park are somehow comparable to the scenic countryside of Switzerland, although the main divergence is the type of vegetation. The tropical forest of the BVNP is much more diverse in terms of composition than what the Swiss people have.
One of the major attractions of the park, which borders five municipalities in Sorsogon province in Bicol, is the tranquil Bulusan Lake, a name derived from its host municipality. The lake’s fascinating features are truly reflections of masterpieces place into one by the nature’s marvelous handiwork. The lush forest surrounding the lake is so awesome and breathtaking, while the broad daylight provides a mystical shadow effect of the greeneries to the clear water. This spectacular scenery will surely remind anyone of the marvelous creations that need to be protected for everyone to appreciate, enjoy, and cherish for a life time.
Lake Bulusan is a very good place to relax from the hassles of urban life, and where one can enjoy a leisurely walk in a carefully designed trail surrounding the lake and beneath the green canopies. The forest encircling the lake is still in a pristine state with various dipterocarp trees adorned by numerous floral species that look like a hanging garden. For bird enthusiasts, Lake Bulusan is a place worth looking into. Kayaking is another refreshing outdoor activity in the lake. Interestingly, the lake is currently managed by volunteers from Aggrupation of Advocates for Environmental Protection or locally known as the Agap-Bulusan.
The BVNP pride itself with several other gifts of nature, like springs, rivers, hot springs, and waterfalls that are now getting the attention of local and foreign tourists alike. It is an imposing landmark in Sorsogon, towering at an altitude of 1,565 meters above sea level, which makes this protected area as one of the mountaineering destinations in the Philippines.
However, in spite of the tranquility usually displayed by the Bulusan Volcano, it may also unleash its mighty
force since it is one of the most active volcanoes in the country. The volcano has four craters and exhibited a number of eruptions over the last few years. Volcanologists labeled it as a composite volcano inside a caldera that was formed more than 40,000 years before the present.
Together with four other hired specialists of the Resources, Environment and Economics Center for Studies, we conducted a rapid site assessment to this protected area commissioned by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment. The assessment involved the physical, biological, social, cultural, economics, and governance conditions of the BVNP.
Our study showed that the forest in this protected area is an important habitat of numerous endemic species of plants, such as the Forestia philippinensis, Pinanga insignis, Areca camarinensis, Mussaenda phillipica and two newly discovered species, Schefflina bulusanicum and Pronephrium bulusanicum. Rare and threatened species can also be found in BVNP, such as the Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys), the ground orchid (Phojus tankervillea), and Tindalo (Afzelia rhomboidea). The mountain agoho (Casuarina rumphiana), which is known to have a very limited distribution in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, inhabits this protected area.
Similarly, the fauna features of the BVNP are showing high species endemism, estimated at 43% of all the species surveyed during the RSA. Four of these species are known as high conservation priorities because they are already classified as threatened species, like the Golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatos), the Southern Luzon giant cloud rat (Phloeomys cumingii), the Philippine warty pig (Sus philippensis) and the Luzon Tarictic hornbill (Penelopides manillae).
PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan — It took almost 10 years before I had the opportunity to again visit this city, which through the years, has remained vibrant with tourism as its major economic activity. Located 306 nautical miles southwest of Manila, Puerto Princesa maintains its reputation as the most desired ecotourism destination in the Philippines, with numerous tourism packages waiting for visitors who wish to explore the forest, coastal and marine environment of this city, known also for its gentle and friendly residents. Due to its pristine natural environment, Puerto Princesa and Palawan in general have made waves in the international tourism market in spite of global economic recessions during the past years.
The Philippines News Agency reported that the visitor arrivals in Puerto Princesa City last year has increased by 18 percent with foreign tourists growing faster at 23 percent, while domestic visitors surged by 17 percent. In the third quarter of 2009 alone, influx of tourists to this city posted a 34 percent growth, the highest registered among all destinations in the Philippines during the period, the report added. Tourism activities in this city continue to fuel the local economy and Puerto Princesa showcases an example that more than the direct consumptive values of our natural resources, there are other more appealing incentives if only we leave our environment intact and keep its purely natural state.
At the city proper alone, there are numerous attractions that a day would not be enough
to explore. One of the must-see destinations is the crocodile farm that has emerged as the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center. Originally, the center was designed only for captive breeding of crocodile species, but later on accommodated a good number of endemic species, which provided additional attractions to many visitors. The population of the captive-bred saltwater crocodiles has increased dramatically through the years and it is by this reason that the center already engages in commercial trading of this species.
Not so far from downtown Puerto Princesa, there’s the Iwahig Prison and Penal Colony, which may sound unbecoming and unappealing for tourism. But authorities of Puerto Princesa really make use of what they have and maximized the presence of inmates for the production of souvenir and novelty items, such that the prison camp is an attraction by itself. But for nature enthusiasts, the Iwahig Prison and Penal Colony is an interesting site because the main prison camp is surrounded with lush forests and where numerous species of wildlife await discovery. In fact, a designated birding site was already established at the penal colony. To make the prison camp even more attractive, a picnic area was constructed along the river and where a refreshing natural swimming pool is available. This amenity is very popular as a weekend destination of residents.
The tourism potential of Palawan is heavily boosted by the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Natural Park, known as the longest navigable underground river and probably the most beautiful subterranean river in the world measuring about 8.2 kilometers. The river winds through a breathtaking cave completely adorned with stalagmites and stalactites in varied sizes and shapes. This natural park has been inscribed as a World Heritage site and a finalist in the search for the Seven Wonders of the World. There are many other natural attractions that can be explored in Palawan. Pristine and white sand beaches are curving the coastlines of almost all islands and islets in the province. The protection of the coastal and marine environment in this part of the country is gaining economic momentum and truly reflects that we need not convert natural environment to give way to some other unsustainable and destructive economic activities. (This article also appeared at the Visayan Daily Star, 11 January 2010 issue, Bacolod City)*
- Some concerns on the reopening of Mount Apo for mountaineering
- Flowering trees in Mount Kanla-on gaining public attention
- Green and open spaces for Bacolod
- Climate change nightmares – RollingStone
- Energy exploration and development in protected areas
- Commendable collective efforts: Putting off grassfires in Mt. Kanla-on
- Closing a mountain for mountaineering: The story of Mt. Kanla-on
- The KGB of Mount Kanla-on
- Negros species vulnerable to extinction
- The monkey sanctuary in Calatrava, Negros Occ.
- Conservation matters to His Holiness
- 2014 in review
- Biodiversity Conservation
- Climate Change
- Coastal and Marine Ecosystems
- Conservation Events
- Conservation Initiatives
- Deforestation and Degradation
- Forest Ecosystem
- Fresh Water Ecosystems
- Genetically Modified Organisms
- Indigenous People
- Mt. Kanla-on
- Nature Interpretation
- Protected Areas
- Renewable Energy
- Risk Reduction and Management
- Species Conservation
- Toxic Chemicals
- Wildlife Species