A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: An Urgent Call to Approve Davao City’s Critical Habitat Statement

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/September 20) – On a clear day after a river of clouds runs over the rugged terrain of Mount Apo and disappears into the horizon, leaving a majestic view of Mindanao’s most revered volcano with the most high peak, one can get teary eyed contemplating this beautiful and precious gift from Mother Nature to those of us who live in her shadow.

The drive along the highway from Toril to Sta. Cruz is made more enjoyable if one can get a view of the different angles of Mount Apo. There is something very reassuring in knowing that Mount Apo is right where it rises to the clouds, as if one were under the watchful eye of a loving grandmother anxious to ensure that her little ones – children are well taken care of.

And its graceful and generous spirit embodied in rich biodiversity has been a blessing to all creatures lucky enough to find their abode around Mount Apo, including the pride of southern Mindanao (the Philippine eagle), other species from birds like hornbills, various animals from wild boars to deer, insects and flora and fauna. There are species in this locality that are unique to this location, making their conservation a most important program.

But the peoples have also benefited from the wealth of resources of Mount Apo, especially the Lumad communities who reside in these parts of the mountain range. But alas, there have been non-Lumad Davao City private residents who have found a way to own land in this part of Mount Apo, especially in Barangay Salaysay in the Marilog district of Davao City. The Mount Macabol-Alikoson Conservation Areas (MMACA) are at risk in such a mad rush to accumulate wealth by extracting natural resources.

Unfortunately, the residents of Ovu-Manuvu Lumad de Salaysay have not been able to find ways to obtain an Ancestral Domain Certificate (CADT) and despite being in a protected area of ​​the watershed, the government provided private landowners with titles to these lands which should not have been classified as alienable and therefore still part of the public domain of the state. It was not long before the desire to take advantage of the remaining forests in the area prompted some of the landowners to apply to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for a permit to cut trees in this region.

Luckily, there are 28 Lumad rangers – known as Bantay Bukid – guarding the Salaysay area led by their leader, Pastor Julito Ajao. At first, it was just Pastor Ajao who was very concerned about logging in this area, believing that the trees had to be protected if only to provide the Philippine eagle with its necessary habitat. In fact, he was able to ensure that the eagles seen in this part of Mount Apo are well protected. As soon as a recent movement by a landowner to start cutting down trees took place, Pastor Ajao informed civil society organizations (CSOs) in the city. Immediately the DENR was approached who eventually rescinded the permit to cut trees.

Their numbers increased around 2016 when CSOs, primarily Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) and the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) made sure to recruit, train and support them. Through lobbying, CSOs were able to convince the local government unit in Davao City to provide rangers with a stipend in exchange for seven to 10 days a month during which they travel around the area to ensure no logging. of trees takes place.

IDIS has pioneered the identification, recruitment and training of Lumad rangers since 2005 when it began engaging in watershed protection around the Panigan-Tamugan barangays whose source rivers are city ​​drinking water alternative. Today, there are more than 200 scattered in the Mount Apo region, from Sibulan to Salaysay. Even if given a token allowance, the rangers need more assistance. IDIS, PEF and partner CSOs are planning outreach programs to help them earn a living.

Considering the need for a continued campaign to stop tree felling and environmental problems in the Mount Macabol-Alikoson Conservation Areas, researchers from IDIS, PEF, UP-Mindanao and residents of Lumad de Salaysay undertook a joint exploration and survey in the area last July 2022. Their objective was “to collect observations highlighting the identified nesting sites of the resident pair of Philippine eagles, as well as the presence other endemic and threatened wild species”.

In order to provide the public with the results on the wildlife and biodiversity profiles of the MMACA area, the participating CSOs together with the Ateneo de Davao-University-Ecoteneo program and Sustainable Davao Movement (SDM) organized a press conference on Thursday 15 last September. , 2022 at the Great House of Matina, Davao City. The event aimed to raise awareness, discuss wise protection and preservation measures, and appeal for public support for the declaration of the Philippine Eagle’s nesting site to MMACA as a “critical habitat “.

This is an urgent call that should concern all Dabawenyos, especially millennials who are beginning to be sensitized to the urgency of the ecological crisis that could impact the rest of their lives. The future of Davao’s watersheds and the reasonable expectation that in the next century all citizens of Davao City will still have access to safe drinking water – aside from our collective wish that the Philippine eagle not ever go away – are just a few of the important reasons why the Critical Habitat Statement should already be issued by our city’s LMU and fully supported by not only the city’s Office of the Environment, but also by the Department of Energy and Natural Resources.

Protecting Mount Macabol-Alikoson and the rest of Mount Apo should be taken to heart by every Dabawenyo if they hope their grandchildren’s children still have a mountain they can climb and experience the kind of peak that never comes than mountaineering. Climbing to the top of Mount Apo should be on every Dabawenyo’s wish list as there is still nothing like walking the path to the top and seeing and touching the rich biodiversity of this previous gift. After a Dabawenyo reaches the summit, every time he gazes at Mount Apo from afar, sweet memories flood the mind and one can simply smile broadly remembering how great a gift it was. having met this queen of the mountains, up close and personal.

One should really ask – why is there a need for a critical habitat declaration? We have to remember that ours is a weak state – where laws are passed, but somehow those at the top of our elite society can just find loopholes in the laws that are passed. or find ways to circumvent the laws and obtain exceptions for breaking the law.

On file, the city of Davao already has an ordinance establishing the watershed code. It was discussed by the city council (Sangguniang Panglungsod) in their third set of regular sessions of 2007 with this title – Ordinance No. 0310-07 Series of 2007 – Watershed Protection, Conservation and Management Ordinance hereinafter referred to as the Watershed Code. The ordinance was enacted on January 23, 2007, its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) were approved on October 15, 2008, and published in a locally distributed document on January 7, 2009.

An Executive Order #3 was subsequently issued by Mayor Sara Duterte in May 2011 with this title – An order implementing the reconstitution of the Watershed Management Council (WMC), Barangay Management Councils and multi-stakeholder watershed monitoring teams in Davao City as provided for in the Watershed Code.

Its rationale stems from the recognition of “the importance of a healthy and ecologically sound watershed in achieving ecological balance where human beings and nature thrive in harmony with each other; (as) Davao City Government recognizes that watersheds are central to the aspirations of a livable city for the Dabawenyos who must maintain its sustainability through a participatory, empowered and environmentally conscious community and that it also recognizes that the City’s watersheds and aquifers must be protected, conserved and managed as they are the sources of the City’s drinking water.

That a protected area such as Mount Macabol and Alikoson can still be exploited by landowners who feel empowered to do as they please in their respective areas, only highlights the risks to the remaining biodiversity of this locality. Except for rangers, tree cutting followed by clearing for agricultural purposes is unavoidable in environmentally sensitive areas. This is where additional assurance is needed to ensure that Mt. Macabol and Alikoson will never be in danger, and this is through a Critical Habitat Statement which should be issued as a city ​​LGU supplemental ordinance.

We can no longer be satisfied with what is happening in our biodiversity-rich territories inside our city, as if they would remain intact and pristine. The competition to extract from nature is growing day by day and where natural resources are still abundant, so is human greed to exploit nature which has gone unchecked, fueling a dizzying increase in carbon emissions driving worsening climate change.

CSOs with eyes on Mount Macabol and Alikoson and their partners on the ground – the brave Ovu-Manuvu who cling to their myths about the sanctity of this mountain – continue their crusade. The public should find ways to support them as they undertake more research into the rich biodiversity of this land, engage with private landowners to convince them of the value of conserving forests as a form of carbon payment and to further help the Lumad communities.

A watershed summit takes place in the city during the month of November. It is their hope that by then the Davao City Government would have been convinced to finally issue a critical habitat statement! Until then, when one gazes at the beauty of Mount Apo, one need not worry that somewhere there, evil lurks that could ultimately lead to the destruction of this sacred mountain. And the river of clouds can continue its journey through Mount Apo to the delight of all of us who can marvel at such a fabulous sight!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is Mindanao’s most prolific book author. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). He is a Datu Bago awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]

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