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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, September 3, 2018
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Conservation Matters
with Errol A. Gatumbato

Working for Mindoro’s biodiversity
(1st of two parts)

Rock & Refuge

It is almost 15 years now when I first visited the island of Mindoro, a name derived from “Mina de Oro”. I am glad that until today, I still have the opportunity to participate in working for its biodiversity conservation. I was then the consultant of the Haribon Foundation for its Integrating Forest Conservation with Local Governance Project, of which I facilitated the forest management planning of the Mount Siburan in the municipality of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro province.

It was an interesting engagement, because Mt. Siburan is known as the largest intact lowland forest in the island, and it is located within the vicinity of the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm. Along with other staff of the Haribon, we engaged the officers, staff, and inmates of the SPPF in forest conservation actions. In one of our training activities, I provided inputs on forest protection, and I shared my experience in law enforcement when I was still the park superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in Negros Island.

I testified that our seriousness in forest protection had led to the conviction of several persons, only to find out later that one of the convicts in the MKNP was right there in the SPPF serving his 17-year sentence. I hope he was already pardoned, otherwise, I could only wish that two years from now, he will be released and reunited with his family and to live a life away from any illegal activity. Our strategy in the SPPF was to mainstream forest and biodiversity conservation in the management of the penal farm, including the participation of inmates in forest restoration.

My perspective about Mindoro had further broadened when I was with the team that conducted Conservation Needs Assessment for the whole island, under the auspices of the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., an organization that is supported by the Malampaya Joint Venture Partners. The MBCFI is celebrating its 10th founding year this 2018, and I am serving as its technical advisor, the factor why I am still travelling now and then in Mindoro.

Since historically it had never been connected with other islands comprising the archipelago of the Philippines, Mindoro contains numerous species of flora and fauna that are only restricted or isolated in this island with two provinces. The most popular species found only in Mindoro is the Tamaraw, considered as the biggest terrestrial fauna in the Philippines. Mindoro has its own bleeding heart, hornbill, frog, orchids, butterfly, and many other plants and animals. The critically-endangered Philippine crocodile was scientifically named after Mindoro, Crocodylusmindorenses, because accordingly, it was first described in the island.

The diversity of species is also attributed to the wide range of ecosystems and habitats present in Mindoro. Most of these habitats are not only biodiversity important, but they are also home to at least eight tribes of indigenous people, collectively known as Mangyan. These Mangyan Tribes are claiming a large portion of the island as their ancestral domain, including sites listed as Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.

Some of these Mangyan groups are opposing the declaration of biologically significant sites as protected areas, due to the notion that it would dislocate them from their ancestral lands. This is basically one of the reasons why, prior to the recent enactment of the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, only two sites have been proclaimed as protected areas in the island, the Mount Calavite Wildlife Sanctuary in Paluan and the Apo Reef Natural Park in Sablayan, both located in Occidental Mindoro. (To be continued*)

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