Archive for category Department of Environment and Natural Resources

KGVs: New Breed of Environment Warriors

Chances are, if you visit the Cinchona Forest Reserve of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, located at Barangay Kaatuan, Lantapan, Bukidnon, you’ll meet Emeliano Justiniano or Blackie.  He has many stories to tell, including the time he observed, together with National Geographic photographers, a pair of Philippine Eagle and their youngs or the time he visited the Sierra Madre to find eagle nests.

More than just a jolly guide, Blackie plays a big role.  Together with his fellow Kitanglad Guard Volunteers or KGVs, they are tasked to protect a heritage, not just of our country, but of the world.

The KGVs are volunteer lumads or indigenous people who are tasked to help protect the recently declared ASEAN Heritage Park, Mt. Kitanglad and the country’s national bird, the Philippine Eagle.

Now numbering 344, their primary concern is to guard the remaining forest and implement policies on the ground.  Park Superintendent Felix Mirasol proudly tells recent Mt. Kitanglad visitors from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity and some members of the media that the KGVs were instrumental in trimming down park violations from 80 trees per month in 1997 to 15 trees in 2005.

Aside from Mt. Kitanglad, the KGVs also look after the Philippine Eagle.

The Philippine Eagle faces two major threats to their survival.  First is the deforestation and the second is hunting.

“The Philippine Eagle is not safe even in protected areas.  They are vulnerable to shooting and hunting” according to Biologist Jayson Ibanez, Philippine Eagle Foundation Research and Conservation Director.

The first bird released in Mt. Kitanglad, Kagsabua, suffered a sad faith.  “Kagsabua,” a Bukidnon word for unity is a rehabilitated Philippine Eagle rescued by the KGVs in 2006.   A hunter shot and injured him.  He was brought to the Philippine Eagle Foundation for medical help.  He was released back to the wild in 2008, only to be shot again and made into a bird soup.

At the Cinchona Forest Reserve, there are about 12 volunteers according to the Kaatuan KGV Chief Mr. Jacinto Cambari.  One of them is Blackie, who also lives at the Cinchona Forest Reserve park.

Cinchona Forest Reserve was first established in 1929 to produce the Cinchona bark for anti-malaria drugs.  It has a total land area of 1,994 hectares with 147 tree species.  240 hectares are virgin forest, 1,707 hectares manmade and 37 hectares of mossy forest.

Based on the forest cover, the Philippine Eagle Foundation believes that there is a minimum of four nesting pairs of Philippine Eagle here.  They have already confirmed three breeding pairs.    The hunt is on now among KGVs to find the fourth pair.

As the name implies, the KGVs are volunteers who only receive honorarium for the service they provide, so the hard work really stems from the commitment to save the environment from further degradation.

Incoming Governor Alex Calingasan however promised to double or triple the honorarium being received by the KGVs if they plant more indigenous species.  Further incentives await them at the end of the year for trees that flourished.

KGVs undergo a ritual performed by the elders before they become members.  They work under the Protected Areas Management Board or PAMB, a multi-sectoral body chaired by DENR with representation from the local government units, non-governmental or civic organizations, people’s organizations, indigenous peoples through their Council of Elders and national government agencies.

The KGV was originally formed in 1982 in response to a forest fire that hit the mountain range.  It was reactivated in 1993 by the PAMB.

The mountain range they are tasked to protect, Mt. Kitanglad is the 28th and the third ASEAN Heritage Park in the country, after Mt. Apo and Mt. Iglit Baco.  It is one of the few remaining rainforests in the country, hosting high floral and fauna diversity, with 168 bird, 185 trees, 63 mammal species.  These include the Philippine eagle, rafflesia and the Bukidnon Woodcock.

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Protecting an ASEAN Heritage

In 2008, members of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) filed a resolution requesting Mt. Kitanglad to be a member of the ASEAN Heritage Park.  In 2009, Mt. Kitanglad Range becomes the 28th and the third in the country, after Mt. Apo and Mt. Iglit Baco, to be declared an ASEAN Heritage Park.

This year, 2010, as the world celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity, the world shifts its attention to the province of Bukidnon as it looks at how they protect, not just the country’s, but the world’s heritage.   As part of the celebration, members of the media were invited on a three-day exposure trip by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB).

Mt. Kitanglad is one of the few remaining rainforests in the country, hosting high floral and fauna diversity, with 168 bird, 185 trees, 63 mammal species.  These include the Philippine eagle, rafflesia and the Bukidnon Woodcock.

Protectors of an ASEAN Heritage

Mt. Kitanglad range covers 47,240 hectares in the province of Bukidnon, including parts of the municipalities of Baungon, Talakag, Lantapan, Impasugong, Sumilao, Libono, Manolo Fortich and the the city of Malaybalay.

Protecting the park falls under the turf of the PAMB, a multi-sectoral body chaired by DENR with representation from the local government units, non-governmental or civic organizations, people’s organizations, indigenous peoples through their Council of Elders and national government agencies.  Implementing the plans and policies is the Protected Area Superintendent Office (PASU).

Mt. Kitanglad’s PAMB is one of the country’s most efficient, having the commitment of its members, including LGU heads. This comes from a sheer determination and dedication to protect the environment and the park they are very proud of.

Former Governor and Current Vice Governor Jose Ma. Zubiri shared to attendees of the media tour how investors would come in with ecotourism projects that involve carving the mountains and putting up golf courses and condominiums.   “The moment we do that, our province will be flooded and we do not want to take the risk,” says Vice-Governor Zubiri.

Governor Zubiri is also firm in his belief against mining.  He exclaims “There is no such thing as big mining and protecting the environment.”    Only small-scale mining are allowed in the province, like the 20 hectares land given to select lumad or indigenous people family, gravel and sand, and lime.

The movement to protect the environment, through PAMB’s efforts, trickles down to every member of the community.

Ang mga puno’t halaman
ay kabiyak ng ating gunita. 
Sa paglipas ng panahon, bakit kailangan ding lumisan? (The trees and the plants are all part of our memories.  As time pass, why do they also have to go?)

These are part of the lyrics of the song “Kanlungan” once popularized as a television ad jingle for a fast food chain.  This song by Buklod and Noel Cabangon embodies the sentiments of most environmentalists and the songs the communities sing during anti-mining campaign.

Mt. Kitanglad is also the home of the lumads and the wellspring of their tradition.  The mountain range is regarded as their ancestral domain.  There are three main indigenous communities – the Tala-andig, Higa-onon and the Bukidnon tribes.

Some of the lumads are also entrusted to protect Mt. Kitanglad.  Several lumads volunteered to handle their land’s protection through the KGV or the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers.  Now numbering 344, their primary concern is to protect the remaining forest and implement policies on the ground.

The KGVs were instrumental in trimming down park violations from 80 trees per month in 1997 to 15 trees in 2005.

Protecting another World Heritage

The park’s most famous resident is perhaps the Philippine eagle.

Having the Philippine eagle is an indication of Mt. Kitanglad’s healthy environment. One of the park’s attractions is the nesting site found at the Cinchona Forest Reserve, which sits at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad.  Cinchona is located at the northwestern part of Barangay Kaatuan in Lantapan.

According to biologist Jayson Ibanez of Philippine Eagle Foundation Research and Conservation Director, Mt. Kitanglad is a flagship site for test releases of Philippine eagles.

4 Philippine eagles were already released in Mt. Kitanglad, with one deemed successful.  Unfortunately, the three others didn’t share the lucky faith as “Kalabugao.”

Mr. Ibanez relates that the Philippine eagle is not safe even in protected areas, as it is very vulnerable to shooting and hunting.  Of the four birds released in Mt. Kitanglad, 2 were shot.  An education program is currently ongoing to prevent the killing of eagles

Another threat of the Philippine eagle survival is deforestation.

The Mt. Kitanglad Agri-Ecological Techno-Demo Center (MKAETDC) located at Brgy. Imbayao, Malaybalay City, not only showcase upland improved farming system but also sets another facet on the protection of Mt. Kitanglad.

MKAETDC is being managed in Brgy. Chairman Benjamin Maputi Sr. or Mang Ben.  Trained by the DENR to protect Mr. Kitanglad, the center is instrumental in curving kaingin and other illegal activities.  MKAETDC also has a 6 hectare eco-park filled with endemic trees, which is the source of the seedlings for the rainforestation of Mt. Kitanglad.

As the old Native American Proverb goes “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”  The protectors of Mt. Kitanglad owe it to the children of the world to protect this ASEANand world heritage.

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Biodiversity Conservation at the Heart of the Green Wave

Mid morning was bright and shiny that day, not only because the sun was out but also because of a step taken by hundreds to produce a ray of hope for our future.

Carrying with them little placards that carry their names and the message “added this tree as a friend,” supporters of the call to save Mother Earth flocked to Tagaytay Highlands for a tree-planting event that marked the International Day for Biodiversity.

The activity, accredited as a project under the global Green Wave campaign of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), is part of this destination’s campaign to further “green” Tagaytay Highlands already abundant natural surroundings, earning for them the recognition “Friend of Biodivesity.”

One Tree at a Time

According to the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, the tree-planting event is an opportune time to spread the message of value of biodiversity in our lives.

Just as a lot have been lost already, a lot can still be done to sustain our existence.  The “Green Wave” campaign is a call for unity and action for a biodiverse future.  The multi-year tree planting campaign was launched in 2008 to lead up to this year’s celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity.

According to Mr. Rodrigo U. Fuentes, ACB Executive Director, “the effort to plant one tree at a time will go a long way in conserving our environment. By planting trees, they will help lessen the impact of climate change.  An average tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year and an acre of tree can take in a cumulative figure.  Trees can indeed make a difference in emissions and may be able to slow the impact of global warming.  Trees’ roots also prevent soil erosion.  They will also provide Tagaytay Highlands’ various species of birds and insects a new home.  More important, they will pass on an important legacy to future generations.”

According to Tagaytay HIghlands President Mr. Willy Ocier, the 200 additional hundred fruit bearing trees planted by the participants is an addition to the already 150,000 trees planted or 15% of the company’s vision to plant one million trees in 50 years inside the complex.  The company has been conducting a series of tree-planting activities for 16 years.   Beyond the one million trees, the company looks into other greening efforts like the use of sustainable energy sources and further partnership with ACB, particularly in managing Tagaytay Highlands’ winged residents, which includes several species of birds and bats.

Spreading the Message of Biodiversity

Promoting biodiversity conservation is such an enormous task that needs to be shared by many.  Sharing the load of information dissemination is SM Supermalls, which entered into an agreement with ACB through SM Shopping Center Management Corporation President Annie Garcia.

As part of the celebration of the International Year of Biodiversity, one of Southeast Asia’s largest chains of malls exhibited the winning entries from the ASEAN-wide photo contest “Zooming in on Biodiversity” in 2009.  Apart from the exhibit held from April to June, ACB also held screenings of its various documentaries on biodiversity, distribute educational materials, and hosted interactive activities like mini-forums, raffles, and games.

Biodiversity calls for more attention

While tree-planting is becoming popular these days, biodiversity is still not getting the recognition it deserves.  Despite being surrounded by it, many people still do not know what biodiversity is and why is it important, according to ACB.

“The food that nourishes us comes from plant and animal resources.  The medicine that we take when we are sick is derived from medicinal plants.  Millions of people have jobs as farmers, fishermen, foresters, and tourist guides because of biodiversity.  Pharmaceutical, food, agriculture, and cosmetic companies thrive because of nature’s wealth. 

Only a small fraction of Southeast Asia’s over 500 million people know what biodiversity means.  There is a dearth of information materials on biodiversity, resulting in low public awareness of the values of biodiversity and conservation. Resources for conservation are limited, often translating into lack of information, education, and communication materials.” adds Mr. Rodrigo.

The International Year of Biodiversity was declared by United Nations precisely to address that.  The goal is to raise public awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of its loss.

The world celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) with the theme “Biodiversity is life.  Biodiversity is our life.”

A Celebration of Life

The International Year of Biodiversity is a celebration of life.  The celebration of life happens with everybody heeding the call to do something for the environment, not just by planting trees but by other things like spreading awareness on the importance of biodiversity, conserving resources, recycling, saving on water and electricity and doing clean ups.

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DENR geohazard to induce fresh interest in geology as career

With 73 out of 79 Philippine provinces fully assessed, work is near completion by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau  (DENR-MGB) for its project on Philippine geohazard mapping.

Soon a master file for the entire Philippine archipelago which identifies areas that are prone to geological hazards such as landslides, floods, tsunamis will be available for practical use at the local government level and for Philippine businesses as well as citizens in general.

As the Geohazard Mapping and Assessment Project identifies disaster-prone areas in the country, it also helps chart a future with renewed national interest in geology as a science and as a career.

Soon, new work opportunities for geology enthusiasts and other scientists with focus on the environment will necessarily spring forth with the consequent need for people to understand the implications of this map.

With one of the world’s longest coastlines and archipelagic features, the Philippines is naturally prone to geological hazards. Coastal areas are especially prone to coastal erosion, storm surges and sea level rise.

Under the Geohazard Mapping and Assessment Program, coastal areas spanning 2, 385 kilometers and 160 municipalities were surveyed.

The DENR and MGB believe that identifying such areas will reduce the loss of lives and properties brought about by natural disasters. DENR Secretary Horatio Ramos explained that the program was designed not just to anticipate disasters but to also to help people adapt to the geologic effects of climate change. Ramos said that climate change has also affected the severity and frequency of natural disasters.

“In recent years, many have suffered losing their property and loved ones because of sudden landslides and floods. Suffering that could have been avoided if people had been warned earlier,” emphasized Ramos.

The program utilizes remote sensing studies to identify features that could indicate unstable areas or impending physical events. These remote sensing studies use air photographs, LandSat and Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS). Radar images are used as well.

Data is also gathered through field surveys by MGB’s geologists. These are stored, processed and managed under a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) platform. Information based on geographic location can be captured, stored and retrieved using the GIS platform. GIS can also be used for displaying information in form of layers of digital maps.

The digital version of the Geohazard Maps once completed, will be similar to the satellite imagery provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The map will contain various layers of images outlining the Philippines’ topographical, geological as well as coastal features.

Ramos said, “With the information becoming accessible, people will find out for themselves, with the help of experts and scientists, whether or not they are in affected areas and whether they need to adapt to these geographic features to avert disastrous results.:

Time is truly of the essence in disaster management. MGB has been given up to mid 2010 deadline to complete the digital versions of the maps.

MGB has successfully assessed 1, 486 municipalities and cities out of a total of 1, 618 (91.2 percent). According to MGB Chief Edwin G. Domingo, aside from having assessed 73 out of 79 Philippine provinces, the bureau has also digitized 47 percent of the assessed output.

“Some provinces have not yet been assessed either due to unstable peace and situation or difficult terrain,” Domingo said. He said areas still up for completion are provinces of the  Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Sulu, portions of Samar and Negros Occidental; provinces whose geohazard assessment’s have yet to be completed.

With geohazard maps, LGUs are more equipped to help their constituents prepare for possible disasters. Information gleaned from the maps will be incorporated into the LGU’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP).

DENR and MGB are also working with various government agencies through the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) in identifying possible relocation areas for affected families.

To educate citizens on geohazards, municipality and city-wide workshops on the results of the program will be held.  Information materials will also be distributed in schools, barangay halls and other public places.

Knowing whether or not home and other properties stand on a disaster-prone area can save people a lot of money and heartache. DENR believes that with proper use of information and planning, tragedies can be avoided.

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