Errol Abada Gatumbato

Energy exploration and development in protected areas

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.

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The NNNP accounts the largest remaining natural forest in Negros Island*

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.

 

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Bulusan Volcano Natural Park in Sorsogon is another protected area facing geothermal energy concern*

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Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro is also being eyed for geothermal energy development*

Geo-scientific study

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.

Important considerations

It should be understood, however, that the NNNP is a declared PA. Several provisions of

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NNNP is a declared protected area under the NIPAS*

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

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The critically endangered Negros bleeding-heart pigeon exists in the NNNP. PBCFI Photo*

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.

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A buffer zone for geothermal energy development was included in the declaration of the MKNP as protected area*

NNNP declaration

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.

Energy requirements

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*

August 10, 2016 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Ecosystems, Energy Development, Forest Ecosystem, Mt. Kanla-on, Protected Areas, Renewable Energy, Species Conservation, Uncategorized, Watershed | Leave a comment

The national greening program

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The author at the community-managed nursery in Polillo, Quezon. This initiative is supported by the Institute of Social Order*

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources intends to plant 1.5 billion trees covering at least 1.5 million hectares all throughout the country in the next six years beginning this 2011, a target which is quite ambitious given the limited financial resources poured by the national government on forest rehabilitation related measures. Moreover, the DENR has yet to show more concrete and success stories in as much that several foreign assisted reforestation initiatives, like the Asian Development Bank funded contract reforestation project, did not prosper very well. But just the same, let us give benefit of the doubt to this pronouncement contained in recently issued Memorandum Circular 2011-01 by Acting DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. DENR MC 2011-01 is the implementing guideline of the national greening program, which was launched by virtue of Executive Order 26 approved by President Benigno S. Aquino III. The DENR is tasked to lead the program implementation that also seeks to involve other government institutions and non-government organizations in massive greening activities, particularly in highly deforested areas in the different regions of the Philippines. “The guidelines were crafted in such manner as to ensure that all greening activities, whether by the government, local government units or by the private sector, will contribute to the objectives of the program, like poverty reduction, food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation”, Paje disclosed in a press release.

The use of native species for forest rehabilitation is encouraged*

The target of the DENR will cover about 100,000 hectares this year and it will be increased to 250,000 by 2012 until the targeted reforestation of 1.5 million hectares of the national greening program shall be achieved during the term of President Aquino. According to Paje, the reforestation target for this year will include 60,000 hectares within the community-managed forestlands, 20,000 hectares in protected areas, and another 20,000 in ancestral domains. Other areas specified in EO 26, such as civil and military reservations, urban areas identified by local governments, river and stream banks, and abandoned mining sites, shall similarly be placed under the national greening program. In implementing the greening program, not only tree species but also fruit-bearing trees shall be planted in consonance with the government’s thrust for food security. Dipterocarp and other premium and indigenous species shall be used as planting materials. However, exotic species, such as mahogany, gmelina, bagras, acacia and rubber, may also be planted. Although MC 2011-01 did not specifically provides the objective of exotic tree species plantation, is it probably intended for production purposes.  Bamboos and mangrove species shall also be tapped as reforestation crops, particularly in river banks and coastal areas, to control soil erosion and as buffer against wave action.

While this recent development seems very encouraging, it is quite puzzling how this shall actually be implemented because the DENR has inadequate financial and human resources to carry out this massive greening program. If the DENR shall allocate a conservative of Php 10,000 for every hectare, it needs some Php 15 billion in the next six years to implement the 1.5 million hectares greening program or roughly Php 2.5 billion a year. This is a very conservative estimate because in the past the DENR has even allocated about Php 15,000 to Php 20,000 for every hectare of a reforestation project. To note that the 2011 budget of DENR is only about Php 9 billion, the greening program target seems a challenging task to implement unless additional funding support shall be provided. As a strategy, the DENR may involve private and non-government sectors to participate in the national greening program and seek funding assistance from international development institutions. However, a meaningful reforestation plan should be crafted carefully with implementation strategies that are appropriate and effective in areas identified for reforestation purposes. Sustainability mechanisms are necessary because many reforestation projects failed, especially so if local communities are not directly involved.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem, Watershed | 9 Comments

Philippines’ forest, the world’s 4th most threatened forest

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Conservation International declared recently the forest of the Philippines as the world’s 4th most threatened forest. This pronouncement serves as another grim reminder on the sad ecological state of our country.  Unlike the phenomenal suicide case of former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Angelo Reyes, that captured the whole country’s attention, the CI announcement did not bother many of us in spite its relevance, since it involves our very own ecological security as a nation.  Reyes, who was also the former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, took his own life last week amidst allegations of his involvement in the anomalous transactions in the AFP.

While emotions and grief are pouring on the so called “honorable suicide” of Reyes, as described by some of his former colleagues at the AFP, our remaining forest awaits us not to weep and mourn, but to take drastic and immediate actions in arresting its additional degradation, just like the need to protect the furthering erosion of the integrity of the “People Power” we introduced globally 25 years ago. According to CI, the Philippines had lost almost 93% of its original forest, and I hope it is not the same percentage of Filipinos who started to be disillusioned on what is currently happening in our society.

The Negros fruit dove*

Our remaining forest, in addition as a source of timber, food and, other forest resources, is also an important habitat to diverse and exceptionally rich flora and fauna many of which are found nowhere else in this Earth. Scientific facts claim that the Philippines has at least 169 species of birds, 115 land mammals, 214 reptiles and amphibians, and a good number of flora that are totally classified as endemic in this country.  Some species are even restricted only to a particular island, like the Negros fruit dove in Negros, the Cebu Cinnamon tree and Cebu flowerpecker in Cebu and the Tamaraw in Mindoro, to name a few. The figures on endemic species are relatively astonishing given the relatively smaller size of the Philippines compared with other countries. Much of these species are forest dependents and their survival entirely depends on how we protect and rehabilitate the already threatened forest habitats. Many of our endemic species are already in the verge of extinction in the wild.

The forest is also an ecosystem that provides numerous ecological services and functions. The intact and extensive forests help

The Cebu black shama. Photo by Godofredo Jakusalem*

 mitigate the impacts of natural disasters brought by heavy rains, like flooding, landslides, soil erosion, sedimentation, and siltation, among others. The forest further plays a crucial role in maintaining water cycles, including its vital importance in mitigating the impacts of the changing climatic conditions. The deterioration of the forest is viewed as one significant contributing factor in what is popularly known now as the climate change phenomenon. The forest is also important in the promotion of nature-based tourism. In response to the critical state of our forest, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III issued early this month a logging moratorium in the natural and residual forests all throughout the country, as provided in Executive Order No. 23. The EO prohibits the DENR in issuing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests and it created the anti-logging task force.

Although EO 23 is viewed as a concrete gesture and recognition on the need to protect the remaining forest, I have reservations on the exemptions it provides for tree cutting in natural and residual forests for purposes of road construction and site preparation in establishing tree plantation. These exemptions may be used by loggers to request a permit from DENR for industrial tree plantation. As we commemorate the International Year of the Forest this 2011, as declared by the United Nations, it is very necessary that we shall emphasize the relevance of our forest ecosystem as a life-support system, more than the short-term economic benefits derived from it.  The forests are known as renewable resources, but the way the Philippines has exploited the forest resources, either through legal or illegal means, was much beyond the capacity of the forest ecosystem to naturally regenerate, while forest restorations are yet to be maximized. We need to look and implement meaningful ways and means to effectively protect and rehabilitate our forests, which are still under pressures from numerous anthropogenic disturbances, in the same way that we seek the truth behind the demise of Reyes.

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Watershed | Leave a comment

The pitfalls of the logging ban EO

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

True to his words, President Benigno S. Aquino III issued last week Executive Order No. 23, relative to logging issues in the Philippines. I believe EO 23 is one of the rightful recognitions on the profound impacts of the changing climatic conditions and the importance of ecological services and functions offered by the forest ecosystems, more than the short-term economic benefits from the massive exploitation of forest resources.  The critical condition of the Philippines’ forests, which unfortunately have been recently described by Conservation International as the world’s 4th most threatened forests, requires concrete and bold steps, although I hope it is not yet too late for the country.

I am particularly emphasizing that EO 23 refers to logging-related concerns because I found inconsistencies and pitfalls on how it was actually crafted in relation to its main intent of imposing a logging ban throughout the nation. The Executive Order offers some promising provisions, but there are disturbing circumstances and questionable sections associated with this supposedly a milestone policy declaration of the Aquino administration.

Last February 3, I browsed the website of the Official Gazette and immediately noticed the posted title of EO 23 was “Declaring a Moratorium on the Cutting and Harvesting of Trees in National and Residual Forests and Creating Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force”.  When I further scrutinized the EO, I discovered several sentences stating that cutting and harvesting of trees in “national and residual forests” are indeed prohibited.  I wondered then why the term “national” was used when referring to a forest. With the advent of social media, I posted my observation as a status in my Facebook account with a link to the Official Gazette’s website.  The following day, Rina Bernabe of Conservation International called my attention, pointing out that the website of the Official Gazette has already corrected all the “national forest” to “natural forest” in EO 23. Such development makes me speculate on what really the exact words provided in the signed EO.

For some of us the term may not be that important at all, but for an executive order, I think, every term used is very relevant because it will be subjected with numerous interpretations, particularly when it comes to technical matters.  For more than two decades of my involvement in environment and natural resources management, both in government and non-government institutions, I am not aware that there is a classified “national forest” in the Philippines, although in some other countries it is used to describe a forest under the management of a national government.  Obviously, with the corrections made in the Official Gazette’s website, the intention of EO 23 is to impose a logging moratorium in “natural and residual forests”, which refer to forests that have evolved naturally.  I could only wish the EO 23 signed by the President was accurately worded, otherwise, there is no point of issuing a regulation for a non-existing matter, like “national forest”. Much more, I would like to be optimistic that it was just an encoding error on the part of responsible personnel in the Official Gazette because legal questions may come out against the said EO.

The second important issue in EO 23 I found ironical is in Section 2.2 that states, “The DENR is likewise prohibited from issuing/renewing tree cutting permits in all natural and residual forests nationwide, except for clearing of road right of way by the DPWH, site preparation for tree plantations, silvicultural treatment and similar activities, provided that all logs derived from the said cutting permits shall be turned over to the DENR for proper disposal”. The exemption on tree cutting and harvesting in natural and residual forests for road clearing and construction is very alarming because there are in fact existing issues of forest destruction due to road projects of government and some private corporations.  It is just like saying the government is allowing itself to wipe out natural forests for purposes of road development while imposing a total log ban.

I don’t find it logical, too, that permits for tree cutting maybe issued for site preparation of the so called “tree plantation”. Do we need to cut natural-growing trees to plant more trees? I am not sure what the intention of this provision is, but I am apprehensive that it will be used particularly for industrial tree plantation purposes.  Most of the Timber License Agreements before are now converted into Industrial Forest Management Agreements.  The IFMA is a production sharing agreement between the DENR and qualified applicants, usually wood producers, granting the latter with exclusive right to develop, manage, protect, and utilize a specified forestland primarily intended for industrial tree plantation.

I am afraid the exemption on cutting naturally-growing trees provided by EO 23 shall be invoked by IFMA holders for their industrial tree plantation, which in a way, would become another logging in a different form. In the same manner, other forestland tenure instruments, such as Socialized Forest Management Agreements and even Community Based Forest Management Agreements, may take the opportunity of the EO’s exemption in requesting permits with the DENR in cutting naturally-growing trees for purposes of tree plantation. These exemptions defeat the very objective and essence of Executive Order 23 to impose a total log ban in the Philippines.

February 7, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservation Initiatives, Deforestation and Degradation, Ecosystems, Forest Ecosystem, Watershed | 1 Comment

Is there a need for EDC to encroach further in MKNP?

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

Forest clearing of the geothermal energy development project in Mount Kanla-on*

The pronouncement of the Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corporation to temporarily shut down its geothermal operations at the buffer zone of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Occidental had confirmed earlier speculations that it is not doing well in sourcing out geothermal energy from the area.  Reportedly, the EDC is only generating about six megawatt of geothermal energy, which is far below from its earlier target of generating about 40 megawatt. The EDC (formerly the Philippine National Oil Corporation-Energy Development Corporation) lobbied for the exclusion of 169 hectares from the original boundary of the MKNP to become a buffer zone for its geothermal development.  In numerous public consultations several years back, the EDC had justified its encroachment to the protected area as the only way to generate 40 megawatt of geothermal energy.

It is quite astounding that after investing a huge amount of money and inflicting environmental destruction and damages to the

To give way for geothermal energy development*

natural conditions of the area where it currently operates, the EDC will conduct technical evaluation as to the viability of its operations at the buffer zone of MKNP. The EDC forged technical agreements with experts from the United States and New Zealand to conduct the evaluation in the next nine months. This development creates doubts as to the purpose and intent of this technical evaluation since it should have been carried out before. Is this another bold step of the EDC in justifying its further encroachment to the MKNP?

I can’t help but to make my own assumption because of the fact that the original proposal of the then PNOC-EDC was to slice about 1,850 hectares from the original boundary of MKNP.  However, the proposal was later on reduced to 1,437 hectares because portions of the proposed area is within the strict protection zone, as indicated in the initial protected area plan of MKNP, which was also approved by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1005 in 1998.  During the legislative processes for the final declaration of Mount Kanla-on as a protected area through congressional approval, the EDC was forced to reduce its proposed area to 169 hectares.   It was a sort of a compromise deal since EDC was claiming that out of the proposed area only about 100 hectares will be used actually for geothermal development.  The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the House of Representatives then required the EDC to conduct delineation survey for the area it actually needs so that the approval of the proposed bill for MKNP will clearly indicate the geothermal development site.

Landscape alteration in Mount Kanla-on*

While geothermal is a clean energy, its development usually incurs landscape alteration and habitat destruction. The EDC has already cleared about 29 hectares of natural forest at the buffer zone of MKNP. The cleared forest was part of the natural habitat of various species of flora and fauna some of which are already declared as threatened species.  The EDC has been required to conduct a detailed study on the floral and faunal composition of the area subject of its operations. The findings of the study had confirmed the presence of threatened endemic species, including the discovery of the equally threatened Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower.

This is not the first time that this geothermal project in Mount Kanla-on stirred speculations. Amidst protest actions and vehement objections from environmental groups on the approval of RA 9154 in 2001, local newspapers and radio stations in Bacolod City bannered a story on September 6, 2001 that the PNOC-EDC will no longer enter MKNP for geothermal energy development, and will instead concentrate its operations outside the protected area. Then PNOC-EDC chairperson Sergio Apostol made such pronouncement.

The Expansion of energy development at the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park necessitates the enactment of another law by the Congress, as provided in Republic Act 9154.  This provision of the MKNP Act is patterned after the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or RA 7586, which similarly prohibits energy development in a protected area without congressional approval. If the EDC shall be allowed to encroach further in MKNP it would again result to additional forest clearing, biodiversity and habitat loss, and landscape alteration since the upper portions where it operates now are still heavily forested. However, I am not certain when EDC expands its current operations require a new Environmental Impact Assessment because its Environmental Clearance Certificate is already covering the entire area it proposed earlier.

The issue of geothermal development in Mount Kanla-on has been dragging for almost two decades now.  Several groups are still opposing it primarily due to forest destruction and other related concerns associated with geothermal energy development.  There is still a pending case in court questioning the legality of RA 9154. I am not sure if this pending court case would affect the filing of another bill for the expansion of the EDC operations in Mount Kanla-on.

It is quite unfortunate that Mount Kanla-on is the subject of this controversy. Geothermal is a clean energy but its development is at the expense of our biological diversity. It should be noted that Mount Kanla-on is one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas, an important endemic bird area, and one of the 18 centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. It is also included in the Alliance for Zero Extinction due to a good number of endemic threatened species present in the protected area that are already in the brink of extinction in the wild. In fact numerous endemic species are also found in the area where the EDC is now operating. The protection of the remaining forests of MKNP is of paramount importance to the survival of the different endemic species and maintenance of the watershed and other ecological services.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Forest Ecosystem, Protected Areas, Renewable Energy, Watershed | 2 Comments

Additional protected areas proposed for declaration

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Northern Negros Natural Park in Negros Occidental*

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources through its Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau is proposing to the Congress for the declaration of additional 17 protected areas in the Philippines.  Two of these proposed protected areas, the Northern Negros Natural Park and Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, are in Western Visayas Region.

The final declaration of a protected area, under the Philippines’ National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 or Republic Act 7586, is through the passage of an act by the Congress. However, after almost two decades since the NIPAS Act was passed only 12 of the more than 200 candidate sites all throughout the country has been declared by Congress as protected areas. Two of these Congress-declared protected areas are in Negros, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park and the Sagay Marine Reserve.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje disclosed that the declarations of these

The Ulot River of the Samar Island Natural Park*

 protected areas are necessary in ensuring the conservation of the Philippines’ amazing biodiversity.  Protected area is a major management tool and strategy adopted by various countries, including the Philippines, to promote biodiversity conservation. As a requirement, protected areas should have legal declarations. As such, the Congress is mandated to declare protected areas in the Philippines.

As a process, each proposed protected area shall be subjected to a suitability assessment to determine its conformity on biodiversity requirements. The area should contain unique ecosystems and habitat types that inhabit endemic species of flora and fauna. The other consideration for the declaration of a protected area is the ecosystems services it offers, like watershed values, carbon sequestration potentials, soil and water conservation, and mitigation measures on natural disaster impacts, among others.

The Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island is one of the 12 Congress Declared Protected Areas in the Philippines. DENR Photo*

Aside from scientific criteria, the proposal to declare a protected area shall also include social acceptability, which means public consultations and hearings are necessary. Reviews at local, regional and national levels shall be undertaken before the DENR endorses the declaration of a protected area to the President. After the issuance of a Presidential Proclamation, the Congress shall deliberate and enact a specific law for the final declaration of a protected area. Those areas that have been declared as national parks, forests reserves, and the likes before RA 7586 was enacted are the NIPAS initial components and are similarly required to undergo the processes for new declarations.

It should be noted that protected area is considered as a highest form of conservation modality because it has a lot of restrictions and regulations.  It should receive a highest standard of protection measure from any form of destructive activities. However, many of our protected areas here in the Philippines are facing numerous anthropogenic disturbances, particularly human encroachment, land use conversion, timber and wildlife poaching, and agricultural and industrial development, to name a few. Moreover, protected areas are still languishing from lack of adequate budget and personnel for their effective management. Historically, the protected area management is the least priority of the national government in terms of budget allocation annually. Not even the Congress-declared protected areas are now receiving enough funds for their management, while many of the NIPAS initial components have no management systems in place.

Some critiques say that the protected area system in the Philippines has been inadequately

Protection of threatened species is one management objective of protected areas*

 implemented hence the need to amend the NIPAS Act. However, the NIPAS Act is a legislation process code and it can be amended through the site-specific protected area declaration by the Congress.  With this in mind, proponents of the proposed protected area declaration should look into the most appropriate measures for the subject area even if it requires the amendment of the NIPAS Act.

The 17 proposed protected areas are Siargao Islands Protected Land and Seascape, Mout Hilong-Hilong Range, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Samar Island Natural Park, Apo Reef Natural Park, Malampaya Sound Protected Land and Seascape, El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area, Turtle Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Bataan National Park, Casecnan Protected Landscape, Aurora Integrated Protected Area, Mount Guiting-Guiting Natural Park, Tagub-Kampalili Range Protected Landscape, Mount Balatukan Range, Buug Natural Biotic Area, Northwest Panay Peninsula National Park, and Northern Negros Natural Park.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Watershed | 4 Comments

Aid Foundation’s ram pump makes it at the BBC World Challenge

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The official entry of the Aid Foundation to the BCC World Challenge is recognized through this photo*

The hydraulic ram pump project of the Aid Foundation in Negros Occidental is now getting international prominence and recognition with its inclusion as one of the 12 finalists in the 2010 World Challenge Completion. Now on its 6th year, this competition, hosted by the BBC World News and Newsweek, in cooperation with Shell, is aimed in finding projects or small businesses around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at grassroots levels. The World Challenge is also about championing and rewarding projects and businesses, which really make a difference. The entry of Aid Foundation in this competition is titled “The Only Way is Up”, which clearly describes the ram pump technology.

According to Aid Foundation, “the hydraulic ram pump is a device that pumps water up to high

The ram pump technology*

 elevation through the use of energy contained in falling water passing through it”. Although it is already an old technology, the huge potentials of the ram pump have never been maximized because old models are hard to acquire and some with inferior quality.  Through the innovation of Aid Foundation, a perfect model was developed and installed in 170 villages across the Philippines.

The development of this technology was motivated by Aid Foundation’s realization that water is a vital need for drinking and irrigation in upland communities. However, Aid is not only focusing on technology installation but it also mainstreams community development activities, such as capacity building, formation of water associations, and watershed rehabilitation, in areas where the ram pump shall be installed. Approximately, more than 50,000 people have already benefitted from the technology, the Aid claimed on its nomination paper in the World Challenge.

Watershed development is integrated with the ram pump installation*

Through the years, the nine different sizes of ram pumps developed by Aid has captured the interest of both government and non-government institutions and has been taken into international levels through technology transfer with other countries, such as Holland, France, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Peru, Malaysia, Japan, Nepal, and USA. In Afghanistan, the technology has been fully transferred and where the model is now being produced and installed. The growing demand of the technology has further encouraged the Aid Foundation in developing bigger sizes of ram pumps for irrigation purposes.

To compete with the market, the Aid has developed a working miniature model of its technology, which is being used in promotional activities here and abroad.  A Techno Park, featuring the various ram pump models, is also installed at the office of Aid Foundation in Bacolod City. This initiative has already gained local and international awards, like the Ashden Awards, Energy Globe and recognition from former US President Bill Clinton.

The World Challenge is an online voting competition at http://www.theworldchallenge.co.uk.  The voting shall run from September 27 to November 12 this year, while the winner and two runners up shall be announced in an awarding ceremony in the Netherlands, which shall also be broadcasted in BBC on December 4, 2010.  The profiles of the winners shall also appear in the December 21, 2010 issue of the Newsweek.

Competing with Aid Foundation in the World Challenge is the other entry from the Philippines known as the “Growth Cycle”. The Growth Cycle is about the invention of a bamboo bicycle frame by high-end bicycle designer Craig Calfee. The bike is now available in the Philippines and it is now being considered for export in Europe and USA.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Fresh Water Ecosystems, Watershed | 20 Comments

Negros, a conservation hotspot

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

 It is quite encouraging that no less than the provincial government of Negros Occidental, under Governor Alfredo

The threatened Negros bleeding-heart pigeon*

 Marañon Jr., has emphasized the need to protect the already threatened environment of the province, which is being considered as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the Philippines. The European Commission has provided funding support, amounting to P22.4 million, to further boost the conservation initiatives of the provincial government.

The EC fund shall be provided with P3.9 million by the provincial government to implement a two-year project entitled “Effective Natural Resources Governance through Inter-Local Government Alliances”. As the project title clearly implies, this effort is geared toward enhancing the capacity of the different multisectoral groups in delivering conservation outcomes in the different cities and municipalities of the province.

As reported in this paper last week, these alliances include the management of the Northern Negros Natural Park,

The Northern Negros Natural Park*

Northern Negros Aquatic Resources Management and Advisory Council, Central Negros Council for Coastal Resources and Development (LGUs from Bago to Binalbagan, the Kabankalan, Himamaylan, Ilog-Integrated Coastal Management Council, and the Southern Negros Coastal Development Council) towns of Cauayan and Hinoba-an along with Sipalay City).

The support of the EC for this project is very crucial to ensure that local governing bodies are provided with necessary capacity to implement concrete measures in protecting the environment, particularly the forest, coastal, and marine ecosystems.  Just like the terrestrial natural forest of Negros Occidental that is barely four percent of the province’s total land area, the mangrove forest left is only limited to a few thousands hectares or less. In general, the coral reef in Negros Occidental is in bad state and confined also in a limited space.

The degradation of the different ecosystems of Negros Occidental is already alarming with a good number of endemic

Illegally sourced forest products in southern Negros Occidental*

 species, especially the forest-dependent species, included in the list of threatened species. The protection of the remaining forests, particularly the Northern Negros Natural Park, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park and the forest patches in southern Negros Occidental, is crucial to the survival of these globally important species.  It is therefore important that effective protection measures are carried out to ensure the survival of these species, some of which are only available in Negros and nowhere else in the world.

Similarly, the protection of the coastal and marine ecosystems is not only necessary to maintain ecological balance, but including the sustainability of the fishery production and food security.  Through the years, fishery production has declined because of the wanton destruction of mangroves and coral reefs, which serve as important spawning grounds of numerous and commercially important species.

On the other hand, the forest degradation in Negros Occidental is so severe such that forest rehabilitation and restoration efforts have to be intensified not only for the purpose of protecting threatened species but in ensuring the continuous freshwater supply. Many of the critical watersheds of the province are in serious state of denudation and the declining water supply has been felt in several areas, especially during summer. However, forest rehabilitation should make sure that the tree plantations being established have a semblance of what is really a natural forest by planting diverse endemic species.  Some tree plantations are not really meant to renew the real forest because they involve planting of exotic species, like gmelina, mahogany, and eucalyptus, which according to experts are not actually watershed appropriate species.  

The pronouncement of Marañon that the provincial government under his stewardship will prioritize even more environmental protection is encouraging and many are hoping that illegal activities in forest, coastal, and marine ecosystems, which are still rampant in several areas, shall be dealt accordingly. (This article also appeared in the August 02, 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)*

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Coastal and Marine Ecosystems, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Fresh Water Ecosystems, Governance, Protected Areas, Species Conservation, Watershed | Leave a comment

Threatened habitats and species in southern Negros Occidental

BY: ERROL ABADA GATUMBATO

Participants of the training workshop on biodiversity and watershed management in Cantomanyog Peace Zone organized by the Paghiliusa sa Paghidaet Negros and facilitated by the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation*

CANDONI, Negros Occidental – It’s been a decade since I last visited this upland municipality of Negros Occidental. My recent trip to Candoni was made possible through the invitation of Lulu Tison of the Paghiliusa sa Paghidaet Negros to our group, the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., to conduct a training on biodiversity and watershed management. The training was held at the Cantomanyog Peace Zone with participants coming from the different partner organizations of the PsPN in southern Negros Occidental.

Aside from the training, I was also interested to going to Candoni because of information that several Negros endemic species are still thriving in the remaining forest patches bordering this town, Cauayan, Sipalay, and Hinobaan. These forest fragments are now attracting the attention of conservation communities because of the rediscovery of the Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat, also known as the “Dobsonia chapmani”, in a remote village of Sipalay.

The “Dobsonia chapmani”, also called as Negros Naked-backed

The Philippine Bare-backed fruit bat was once thought as an extinct species of Negros Occidental until it was rediscovered in 2003. Photo by Paul Heideman*

 fruit bat, was considered extinct in Negros Island because it has never been recorded since 1963 until it was rediscovered in 2003 by the group of Dr. Ely Alcala of Silliman University. This mysterious species was earlier thought to be a Negros endemic species, until it was recorded in Cebu by the group of biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan in 2001. Both the IUCN-World Conservation Union and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have declared Dobsonia chapmani as critically endangered, because its population declined to about 80 percent over three generations (15-20 years). 

It is not a remote possibility that Dobsonia chapmani may also inhabit nearby areas where it was rediscovered in 2003, especially in the vicinity of Candoni. During our discussion at the training on threatened species, we relayed the information about the Dobsonia chapmani to the participants and they claimed that there are indeed several bat colonies in the uplands of Candoni, Sipalay, Cauayan and Hinobaan. However, the training participants are not familiar with the kind of bat species available in their localities and are not even fully aware of the conservation values of fruit bats, which they call as “Kabog”.

During the training, the unfamiliarity of participants on the importance of Negros Island in terms of biological diversity was quite revealing. When our training team, composed of Paguntalan, Wildlife Zoologist Mimie Ledesma, Biologist Rai Gomez, Veterinarian Joanne Justo, and Forester Ace Santocildes of the DENR, presented photos on the different endemic species of Negros, the participants were in agreement in saying that some are still available in the remaining forests in southern Negros Occidental, particularly the equally critically endangered Philippine spotted deer, Visayan warty pig and Negros bleeding heart Pigeon, among others. The training participants, however, attested that the spotted deer and warty pig are now getting scarce since these animals were heavily hunted for food in the past.  Occasionally, there are still traders of wildlife meat in the area, a number of training participants claimed.

While hunting could be a factor for the endangerment of several Negros endemic species, the most visible factor is the

The remaining forest patches in southern Negros Occidental may still contain threatened endemic species*

 severe denudation of southern Negros Occidental’s timberlands, and the patches of the remaining forest in the area are not yet secured from destructive resource use practices. These areas in the south have been subjected to extensive commercial logging in the past, and logged over areas were further converted into permanent agricultural and settlement sites. In spite that the remaining forests in southern part of Negros Occidental are already fragmented, their conservation importance should not be understated because of their features as limestone forests, which are quite unique and host to numerous flora and fauna.

Unfortunately, the continuing slash and burn farming and rampant charcoal production are posing serious threats to the remaining forest in southern Negros Occidental. Moreover, upland residents in these areas are still heavily relying on the remaining forest for domestic timber and fuel wood requirements in the absence of legal and legitimate sources. When our group was in this municipality, members of the Philippine National Police apprehended a vehicle loaded with mixed of kamagong and narra lumber, both are banned and threatened species.

The author (1st from right) with other members of the training team, (from left to right): Biologist Rai Gomez, Wildlife Zoologist Mimie Ledesma, Biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan and Veterinarian Joanne Justo*

The protection of the remaining forests and the rehabilitation of denuded areas in the south of Negros Occidental are not only necessary for the survival of threatened species but including the continuing provision of freshwater to upland and downstream communities. It is on this account that the different partner organizations of the PsPN are volunteering to engage in watershed protection and rehabilitation because they are now experiencing scarcity of freshwater, especially during summer.

However, forest protection and rehabilitation measures are not enough once issues related to forest-dependent livelihoods are left unattended. It is therefore necessary that both local and national government agencies have to consider a holistic approach in addressing the realities of environmental degradation in the uplands of southern Negros Occidental. (This article also appeared in the July 19, 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)

July 26, 2010 Posted by | Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Species Conservation, Watershed | 3 Comments

PNOY’s environment challenge

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The protection of the remaining forest of the Philippines remains a key environment challenge to the Aquino Administration*

It is almost two weeks now since President Benigno Simeon “Nonoy” Aquino III took his oath of office as the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines.  I was one of the millions all over the world who watched his historic inauguration in television, and intensely listened on his inaugural speech, waiting for him to include environment and natural resources management as one of his priority concerns. I found his speech very sincere, meaningful, simple, and interesting but I am quite dismayed that he did not mention specifically anything on environment. But just the same, I am giving Aquino, who prefers to be called PNoy, the benefit of the doubt that what he meant by good governance will include good governance on environment and natural resources management.

The speculation that PNoy will retain Horacio Ramos as the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not materialize. Several conservation organizations raised opposition to the retention of Ramos as the DENR Secretary because of the perception that he is biased for the mining industry, considering that he was formerly the director of the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau. A day before his inauguration, PNoy named Ramon Paje as the new DENR chief. Paje holds a career position of undersecretary in the regular list of DENR personnel.

The designation of Paje is believed to be temporary in nature, as there are reports that  defeated senatorial aspirant, Neric Acosta,

The forestry code of the Philippines was enacted when logging was still a major source of the government's revenue, which is no longer relevant today*

 will take over the environment portfolio after the one-year ban for the appointment in government posts of candidates who were not successful during the last elections.  Paje is the first professional forester who was appointed as the DENR Secretary after the EDSA People’s Revolution in 1986. Some are also skeptical about Paje because he did not show anything spectacular in addressing various environmental issues while serving as the DENR Undersecretary.

What remains to be a major challenge to the Aquino administration is the effective implementation of the existing environment and natural resources laws and regulations. It should be noted that the Philippines is probably one of the countries in the world with numerous laws on environment, and yet the current situation doesn’t show positive indicators that these rules are properly implemented. The atmosphere down to the lowest level of our terrestrial seas is covered with regulations but unfortunately we continue to witness how the state of our environment has deteriorated through the years.

The foremost concern that needs to be attended is the protection of the remaining natural forest, which is barely a million hectares left throughout the country, when in fact more than 21% of the Philippines’ estimated 300,000 square-kilometer land area is supposedly classified as timberland.  The remaining forests are still largely threatened by logging, slash-and-burn farming, and conversion into other land uses. In a recent media interview, Paje admitted that illegal logging is still happening, specifically in Isabela, Cagayan and Aurora provinces, but one may think why this is not, being addressed and why are perpetrators not prosecuted.

One weakness in forest management is the continuing reliance to Presidential Decree 705 as the main forestry policy framework, which was enacted during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos in the 70’s. This forest policy was framed when logging was still a prime source of the government’s revenue but it is no longer relevant today. Efforts to amend PD 705 failed because of the intensive lobbying of the logging and other wood-based industries.

Rehabilitation of denuded timberlands is another important concern on ecological governance*

There are two major schools of thought on forest management: the imposition of a total commercial logging ban or the selective logging ban through promotion of the so called sustainable forest management, both have never been seriously considered in the previous Congresses. The protection of the remaining forest is of paramount importance and PNoy needs to demonstrate his political will by addressing the inadequacies in forest protection measures and prioritizing a responsible forest legislation, which I hope he will present in his forthcoming State of the Nation Address during the opening of the 15th Congress of the Philippines.

Similarly, the rehabilitation of denuded timberlands awaits appropriate actions. The government has ventured into massive reforestation in the past, with funding support from loans in various international financial institutions, such as the Asian Development Bank, but it did not show any promising result. The rehabilitation of denuded timberlands is compulsory because they are part of larger watersheds, which play critical roles in ensuring our water security. PNoy, therefore, should make a clear policy statement on forest rehabilitation because aside from watershed it is also important in mitigating the impacts of natural calamities.

Equally important is the implementation of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts as an important component of ecological governance. Polluted water bodies and emissions beyond the allowable standards are ordinary sights, especially in major urban centers, that require immediate actions if we want to ensure our ecological survival. Issues and concerns on environment are so enormous and most of these cases rely on how the associated regulations are enforced and complied. Just like how the new President emphasized the “Wang-Wang” thing, the local and international conservation communities await him to declare his uncompromising stance against environment abuse and destruction. (This article was also published in the 12 July 2010 issue of the Visayan Daily Star in Bacolod City, Philippines)*

July 13, 2010 Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem, Governance, Watershed | 1 Comment