BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Several protected areas in the Philippines are now confronted with proposals for the exploration and development of energy resources. The Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental is one of these PAs being eyed for geothermal survey. Other PAs known to me that have similar energy issues with the NNNP are the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro and the Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon. Although not officially listed as a PA but recognized as a key biodiversity area, Mt. Talinis, or Cuernos De Negros, is another site proposed for the expansion of a geothermal project in Negros Oriental.
These energy proposals in PAs are actually not new, since geothermal projects already exist in the Mt. Kanla-on and Mt. Apo Natural Parks in Negros and Mindanao, respectively. However, circumstances on how these projects entered in the two PAs were different from the current status of the NNNP and all other declared natural parks and strict nature reserves, which are already placed under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, or Republic Act 7586.
I’ve learned from Provincial Environment and Management Office personnel of Negros Occidental that the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corp. has presented its proposed geo-scientific study to the NNNP Technical Working Group. The EDC has similarly sought endorsement for this proposed study from different local government units in the province. The EDC has an existing geothermal service contract with the Department of Energy covering Mount Mandalagan, a thickly forested mountain range that accounts for a large part of the NNNP. Reportedly, about 20 megawatts of geothermal energy can be sourced out from the site, but it is only an initial estimate based on available information. This is probably the reason why it is necessary for the EDC to conduct further study in NNNP.
This proposed study, once implemented, would not in anyway entail damages to the environment and biodiversity of the NNNP. A geo-scientific study does not involve use of heavy equipment, landscape alteration, cutting of trees, wildlife displacement, and other disturbances. Moreover, geothermal is a renewable resource and clean energy source that may be able to substitute non-renewable and dirty sources of power.
It should be understood, however, that the NNNP is a declared PA. Several provisions of
the NIPAS Act require serious considerations before any decision is made on the EDC proposal. Aside from legal concerns that maybe subjected to numerous interpretations, we need to discern and evaluate, too, the very purpose of establishing a PA, and how valuable it is in terms of biological diversity, ecosystem services, and other crucial and long-term benefits it offers to the environment and people.
It is not a question of choosing between “the devil and the deep blue sea”, or “the good and the bad”, just like these sayings usually imply once we are pressed with difficult choices and decisions. This is a matter of exploring more viable options and alternatives so we can both address the maintenance of ecological balance for our survival and common good, and the pressing requirements of renewable energy sources that will not destroy our natural environment.
It is very vital to take into account ecological concerns, especially in areas where natural ecosystems are already badly impaired and require immediate rehabilitation. Negros, for instance, had lost most of its natural forests, and where a good number of endemic species of flora and fauna is highly threatened, some of which are restricted only to this newly declared region of the Philippines.
In my opinion and understanding, having been provided with the opportunity to work in several PAs for the past two decades, and to participate in some deliberations and consultations on the proposed NIPAS Act, before it was enacted into law in June 1992, it is the intention of RA 7586 to spare PAs categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park from energy study or survey, exploration, and utilization. The energy development in PAs was one of the contentious issues taken up during the drafting and consultations of the proposed NIPAS Act almost three decades ago.
NIPAS Act energy provisions
Framers and authors of the NIPAS Act provided adequate measures to safeguard declared natural parks and strict nature reserves from energy exploration and utilization, as they included a specific prohibition on energy surveys in these sites. Section 14 of the NIPAS Act articulates, “Consistent with the policies declared in Section 2, hereof, protected areas, except strict nature reserves and natural parks, may be subjected to exploration only for the purpose of gathering information on energy resources and only if such activity is carried out with the least damage to surrounding areas”.
The same section of the NIPAS Act further states, “Surveys shall be conducted only in accordance with a program approved by the DENR, and the result of such surveys shall me made available to the public and submitted to the President for recommendation to Congress. Any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS areas shall be allowed only through a law passed by Congress”. These two last sentences of section 15 of RA 7586 seemingly refer to protected areas that are not categorized as a strict nature reserve or natural park. The NIPAS Act offers other PA categories where energy exploration may be allowed.
Section 15 underscored the policy declaration set forth in Section 2, which claims, “It is the policy of the state to secure for the Filipino people of present and future generations the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals through the establishment of a comprehensive system of integrated protected areas within the classification of national park as provided in the Constitution”.
The policy declaration acknowledges the profound impacts of human activities to all components of the natural environment, citing the effects of increasing population, resource exploitation, and industrial advancement, while clearly recognizing “the critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural biological and physical diversities of the environment, notably on areas with biologically unique features to sustain human life and development, as well as plant and animal life”.
NIPAS Act intention
With these enunciations of RA 7586, it is clear that surveys for energy should not be allowed in natural parks. Some may claim that a geo-scientific study is different from exploration. If I will make a reference to what I’ve learned from various presentations of the EDC, it is true, because exploration, in the parlance of energy companies, involves locating energy reserves and drilling. However, “exploration”, as being referred to in the NIPAS Act, means the gathering of information on energy resources. I am wondering if the proposed geo-scientific study of the EDC will not entail generating data on energy resources in the NNNP. Given the existing geothermal service contract of the EDC with the DOE covering Mt. Mandalagan, the proposed study presumably would include survey on geothermal resources in the area.
Regardless of the associated provision of RA 7586 granting authority to Congress to pass a
law for any exploitation and utilization of energy resources found within the NIPAS sites, it is doubtful how the lawmaking processes will proceed if prior gathering of detailed information on the potential energy resources at the targeted natural park or strict nature reserve has never been allowed. It is precisely the motivation why the NIPAS Act prohibits gathering of information on energy resources in natural parks and strict nature reserves, because it aims to protect these areas for the ultimate goal of “securing for the Filipino people the perpetual existence of all native plants and animals,” and not for any form of energy exploration and development, either it is renewable or not, or with least damage to the environment.
Mounts Apo and Kanla-on
One may further ask why geothermal utilization was allowed then in Mt. Apo and later on in Mt. Kanla-on (then spelled Canlaon)? When the geothermal reservation was sliced from the Mt. Apo National Park in 1992, it was only a few months before the NIPAS Act was enacted. On the other hand, Mt. Kanla-on was not yet declared as a natural park when the former government-controlled Philippine National Oil Corporation-EDC proposed its geothermal project in the area. In fact, it was the main reason why the PNOC-EDC insisted and worked hard for the exclusion of its proposed geothermal site from the proclamation of the MKNP in 1998.
Presidential Proclamation 895 declared the former Northern Negros Forest Reserve as a protected area under the category of a natural park, and it is now called the NNNP. The NNNP has an estimated land area of about 80,454.50 hectares, covering Mounts Marapara, Canlandog, Silay, and Mandalagan in the northern part of Negros Occidental. It is being managed in accordance with the NIPAS Act, as mandated by its proclamation.
Extractive resource uses are not allowed in natural parks, and supposedly, they are being maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational, and recreational purposes. The biological and ecological values are important factors for the NNNP’s designation as a natural park.
The PA has the largest remaining intact forests in Negros Island, and where limited and yet biologically diverse lowland forests still exist. It is habitat to numerous endemic species, and accounts for several ecosystems that provide various ecological services, such as watershed and carbon sink. It helps mitigate the impacts of natural hazards and risks, like heavy flooding, landslides, and soil erosion, among others. Its potential for nature-based tourism could not be understated, because it has several scenic and beautiful attractions.
Geothermal development impacts
The valuation and accounting of the NNNP’s ecological services may likely outweigh the benefits from 20 megawatts of geothermal energy that may be generated from this area. Geothermal is a clean source of energy, but its development entails adverse impacts to the environment. In Mounts Kanla-on and Apo, geothermal development involved forest clearing, since specific sites where geothermal can be sourced out were forested. Access roads, which connected the different drilling pads, were constructed to tap the geothermal energy. Clearing was further done in every one-hectare drilling pad and plant site.
The consequence of forest clearing is the loss of vegetation comprising not only of trees, but other native floral species and organisms, too. Once forest is cleared, it will dislocate faunal species that used to inhabit there, and further add threats to the endangered wildlife in surrounding areas. It will affect the source of our water, since the forest and its immediate environs are natural water reservoirs. Geothermal development will ultimately alter and modify nature designed and created landscapes.
Other major issues
The NNNP is already facing numerous issues. More than half of its area is now heavy with permanent settlement and agriculture, community centers, and infrastructures, to name a few. There are pending proposals to exclude certain parts of the PA for declaration as alienable and disposable lands, and relocation site for rebel returnees. Several private vacation houses and resorts were constructed in the area without permits. These challenges have yet to be resolved, and here comes the proposal on geothermal energy. Do we want to maintain the NNNP as a PA, or do we want to disestablish it for other purposes? The disestablishment of the NNNP as a PA is still an option, if we don’t care enough for the remaining gifts and wonders of nature found in NNNP, and the associated benefits they offer to present and future generations.
How about the pressing needs of energy today and in the future? Shall we continue relying on fossilized and other non-renewable energy sources? Are there no other viable renewable energy resources, except geothermal? Arlene Infante, an entrepreneur who is privy on energy issues, has only this to say, “ Our solar farms are sprouting like mushrooms, and we don’t need to compromise our last remaining forests and water source.”
Lawyer Eli Gatanila, a realtor who also follows energy development in Negros Occidental, provided me with a list of solar energy projects in the province, and they are quite promising. Based on the list, there are already four operational solar power plants with a combined capacity of 261.6 megawatts in Negros Occ., while two others, with a total capacity estimate of 80 megawatts, are under construction. Can we not rely on these power sources? I am sure there are pros and cons between geothermal and solar energies, but one good thing in solar power plant was no forest clearing has been done on its development in Negros Occidental.EAG*
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
Say KGB and one would immediately associate it with the defunct state security agency of the Soviet Union that was known for high-level espionage. The KGB is the acronym of Russia’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or the Committee for State Security. When I was appointed as the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island in 1995, I gave KGB another meaning – the Kanla-on Green Brigade, which until today, remains a vanguard in forest protection and law enforcement in one of the Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.
Through the years, KGB members evolved not only as forest wardens, but also as mountain guides, porters, rescuers, and communicators, in addition to being involved in biodiversity monitoring. After my seven-year stint as the PASu of the MKNP in June 2002, I was provided with opportunities to visit and work in some other protected and conservation areas in the Philippines, until to date. As I progressed in these assignments, and while I would like to say that the KGB scheme has its own fallouts, limitations, trying moments, and even weaknesses, I am confident to claim, too, that, so far and after two decades, it is one of the most sustained mechanisms in forest protection in the country.
What are the necessary elements of this sustainability? Community participation and benefits, continuing education, and imparting values and commitment to local folk in biodiversity conservation are among the key factors why the KGB of MKNP survived the challenges in protected area management through time. This is what I truly call community unity and efforts in protecting the area they call home and where they also derive their livelihood and income.
How the KGB in MKNP started? One of the major concerns we faced when we organized the PASu Office of the MKNP in 1995 was the limitation of personnel and financial resources for forest protection in the entire protected area covering about 24,557 hectares. We thought then that MKNP personnel alone could hardly implement forest protection, and, therefore, we need to create strategies to involve local communities and other concerned groups and agencies. It was timely, because the World Bank-supported Conservation of Priority Protected Areas in the Philippines Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources included MKNP as one of 10 project sites in the country.
Combining the newly hired and seasoned staff of MKNP, with forester Edgardo Rostata as my deputy PASu, now a full-fledged Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Cadiz City, and in partnership with the Multi-Sectoral Alliance for Development-Negros, we brainstormed how we should carry out biodiversity protection and law enforcement in MKNP. From the very start, my notion to make conservation efforts work was to involve communities in whatever undertakings.
With our team, I floated the idea of organizing community groups to become volunteers in biodiversity protection and law enforcement. There was hesitation on the part of some MKNP staff, because of the belief that communities will not get involve if they could not see any personal benefits and favor from that scheme. The security of those who will be involved was another consideration, including the possibility that they shall be alienated from community affairs. The other concern was how to proceed with organizing, especially with the logistical and financial requirements we need.
Amidst all these challenges, our team tried to dissect each issue and came out with possible options, and the first step was to intensify community awareness and education on the biodiversity significance of Mount Kanla-on. The formation of KGB started, not only on biodiversity awareness, but, more so, in inculcating deeper understanding and values on the importance of the MKNP to the lives of every community member. This was made possible by choosing clear and appropriate conservation messages and medium that created personal and emotional impacts to the target communication receivers. Effective communication strategies involved were direct interactions, dialogues, meetings, and immersion to communities.
The participation of nongovernment organization was another crucial element in the formation of KGB, and, through the support of the CPPAP, MUAD-Negros initiated social preparation, capacity building, and organizing the KGB in every barangay within the MKNP. Inter-phasing with the formation of KGBs, the MKNP park rangers were trained to assist in strengthening the organizations of different volunteers. Eventually, the park rangers became team leaders and they supervised the operations of KGB groups.
With the formation of KGBs, logistical and material support was secured from local government units, particularly the provincial government. In addition, instead of providing salaries or honorarium, the PASu Office and MUAD-Negros jointly sought livelihood projects, including reforestation projects, for KGBs. The KGBs further earned additional income from guiding and porter services in MKNP. They also became effective communication agents in the protected area, by conducting different information and education activities in communities.
Since protection and enforcements require skills and knowledge on legal matters, it was necessary to provide training on para-legal for KGBs. It was here when the PASu Office linked with the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office and NGOs with legal services to provide capacity building. It was very fortunate that then fiscal, and now judge, Philadelfa Agraviador, was the assigned prosecutor to handle environmental cases in Negros Occidental. She actively supported the KGBs with her legal technical assistance in capacity building, and in the filing and prosecuting of cases against suspected violators. From 1995 to 2002, the PASu Office has filed more than 40 cases involving illegal activities, leading to the conviction of at least 18 violators.
It is also necessary to highlight the important role of the PASu in maintaining the operations of KGBs. Since the time I was the PASu of the MKNP, from 1995 to 2002, and until now, the KGB scheme has already been integrated as a vital component of the protected area management. The MKNP management plan clearly articulated this scheme relative to the biodiversity protection and law enforcement strategy of the protected area.*
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 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
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
A few days ago, I received a letter from Regional Executive Director Adeluisa Siapno of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VI. The letter was in reaction to my article about the death of Mat Sarcino, personnel of Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, who was gunned down by two motorcyle-riding persons at the MKNP Administration Center in Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Biak-na-Bato, La Castellana, on 29 October. The shooting incident happened after MKNP personnel apprehended volumes of illegally-sourced forest products. Cecil Cañada, MKNP Protected Area Superintendent, said the incident was intended to intimidate and harass them from pursuing aggressive forest protection in Mount Kanla-on. Reports claim that illegal forest activities are getting rampant, including transporting of charcoal with no valid permit and authority. A truckload of charcoal seized by MKNP forest rangers is allegedly owned by a policeman.
In his letter, Siapno said the DENR is closely coordinating with concerned agencies to address the issue in MKNP. She added that the Philippine National Police and the provincial government of Negros Occidental are already taking actions to ensure that the killing of Sarcino shall be investigated and suspects are prosecuted. The incident in MKNP was not the first shooting involving forest rangers in Negros Occidental. Cadiz City Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Andre Untal, also informed me that, earlier this year, Oscar Magbunua, a forest ranger of Victoria City, was shot dead in broad daylight at the city’s public plaza. The case was also associated with forest protection being initiated in the Northern Negros Natural Park. Magbanua’s case remains unsolved, Untal claimed.
It is assuring that the DENR and other concerned agencies are taking actions on these reported killings, but I hope these should be done by fastest means, especially so that the lives of forest rangers are still at risk. If the suspected killers of Sarcino and Magbanua remain free, they may continue to harass those who will prevent their illegal forest operations. It would also mean the continuing destruction of the remaining forest since the forest rangers may no longer implement forest protection measures as they are further endangering their lives. It is quite unfortunate that persons working for the protection of threatened species and habitats are becoming endangered, too. It is, therefore, rightly to say now that Negros Occidental is home of threatened endemic species, habitats and forest rangers. While the two killings that occurred in the province might be isolated cases, these are no joke since lives were lost. These incidents showed that working for environmental protection is a dangerous kind of job.
Several cases of harassments, intimidations and killings involving persons who were opposed projects that may cause ecological damages have been documented in various parts of the Philippines, particularly related to illegal logging. Usually, the victims are government employees and members of nongovernment organizations involved in environmental protection and natural resources conservation. The incumbent Regional Executive Director of DENR Region VI is a very straight forward person, and I am confident that she will take every effort to solve the case of Sarcino. Given her background in human resources development at the DENR, I am also aware that she is passionate and committed to the safety and welfare of her personnel. I used to work before with RED Siapno when she was assigned as the Regional Technical Director, also in Region VI, and I also witnessed how she effectively delivered concrete results.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is now embarking in what may be considered as an ambitious and yet a very significant step in further promoting biodiversity conservation in the Philippines. This time, PAWB is not only eyeing on protected areas but also attempting to integrate and mainstream biodiversity concerns in agricultural landscapes through its project dubbed as “Biodiversity Partnerships Project: Mainstreaming in Local Agricultural Landscapes”, or shortly known as BPP. This initiative is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility covering a six-year period.
One of the key concerns in the Philippines’ biodiversity conservation is the conversion to agriculture of important terrestrial habitats, particularly the forest ecosystems. Through time, agricultural development has expanded in classified forestlands and declared national parks and other forest reserves. Today, the national park model seems no longer feasible because of the presence of settlement and associated development in formerly proclaimed national parks. As a concept, national park is only intended for recreational and scientific purposes, and should be free from other human activities, like settlement, agriculture and industrial activities.
The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586 introduced a radical framework from the traditional national park system to a more flexible management regime in protected areas. It introduced land tenure security for the so called tenured migrants and may allow other activities that are within the scope of the management plan of a particular PA. And this is where the BPP is relevant in promoting biodiversity friendly livelihood activities in agricultural areas within and adjacent to the different PAs.
Many of our agricultural practices are detrimental to the conservation of our biological diversity. One destructive agriculture form is the slash-and-burn-farming, which does not only wipe out the land vegetative cover but is also affecting the soil fertility. Some upland farmers are engaged in the production of high valued crops that are dependent on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, which are not only harmful to wildlife but also to our health and the environment, in general. Many exotic agricultural species invaded our biodiversity sites and in some instances they are becoming invasive species. This is particularly true in mono-cropping system of agriculture that has contributed to the vanishing of economically productive native varieties. In most cases, agricultural development has no provisions on soil and water conservation measures.
Since BPP involves agriculture, the DENR is partnering with the Department of Agriculture in developing policies and tools in mainstreaming biodiversity in agriculture. The task includes providing specific definitions, criteria and standards on what is biodiversity friendly agriculture in the real sense. These guidelines, once formulated at the national level, shall be piloted in eight demonstration sites in the Philippines, which include the Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental.
The BPP will be working with local government units to ensure that local development planning considers the integration of biodiversity conservation in agriculture and other development initiatives. It will promote mainstreaming of biodiversity in the comprehensive land use plan and other short and long-term development plans of LGUs in eight demonstration sites. The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc and the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation, Inc are the NGO partners of DENR-PAWB in implementing the BPP in NNNP.
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
In what could be a welcoming development in Negros Occidental is the report of the Provincial Environment and Management Office claiming that the forest cover of the province is already increasing. Although the report claims there is a need for actual ground validation, it states that Negros Occidental’s forest cover has increased from 4.7% (37,780 has) in 1987 to 9.4% (74,870.70 has) in 2011. For 24 years, the increased forest cover was estimated at 37,090.70 hectares. This is still relatively low compared with areas requiring immediate rehabilitation, but somehow a very good and positive indicator of forest renewal.
Negros Occidental is one the provinces in the Philippines that has been greatly affected with massive deforestation. Out of the 792,607 hectares total land area of the province, roughly 31.82% or 252,221.38 hectares is classified as timberland or forestland, while the remaining 68.18% or 540,385.63 hectares is considered as alienable and disposable (A&D) land. However, it is unfortunate that much of the Negros Occidental’s timberlands are already converted into other land uses, particularly agriculture, settlement and even industrial sites. The remaining forest cover in the province can only be found in Northern Negros and Mount Kanla-on Natural Parks and some remaining forests patches in southern Negros Occidental.
The deforestation history in the province is closely associated with commercial and large scale logging, which was considered as one of the lucrative business industries in the past, not only in Negros Occidental but in the entire country, too. Available records show that during 1890, basically the entire province was heavily forested until such time that logging companies started operating in different areas of Negros Occidental. One of the biggest logging companies in the world, the Insular Lumber Corporation, locally known as ILCO, started its operations in the northern part of the province in the early 1900s and later on transferred in the south. It was estimated that about 40,000 hectares of natural forest was cleared in 1949 and massive deforestation continued until in 70’s to 80’s. Logging did not even spare Mount Kanla-on and Northern Negros Forest although they were long declared as reserves.
The conversion of timberlands into other land uses was made easier because of the geophysical state of Negros Occidental. Much of the province’s land area is known as lowland with gentle and moderate slopes. As such, a large track of Negros Occidental’s timberland is now permanently use for agricultural development. Since forestland could not be alienated, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has crafted instruments allowing certain uses of timberlands through various stewardship contracts. However, some timberlands in the province are also open access and are still subject to other uses.
The statistics released by the PEMO did not specify the type of forest cover that has increased, but even so, this is an interesting development. I would like to assume that part of that is the regenerated logged over or the so called natural regeneration areas. This is particularly true in certain sites in NNNP and MKNP, which through time the forest has naturally regenerated because of protection measures that were implemented. Earlier, the PEMO also reported that the NNNP forest cover has increased. I would like to believe, too, that the reforestation efforts may have contributed in the increasing forest cover of Negros Occidental, because we have seen a lot of these initiatives from both government and non-government institutions in recent times. However, it is also possible that the reported additional forest in the province includes industrial tree plantations, which are for production purposes.
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- 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