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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, January 21, 2019
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with Errol A. Gatumbato

PhilBio sets targets

Rock & Refuge

I was with the team of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PhilBio) last week for their organizational five-year direction setting and 2019 work planning, and it was quite interesting to facilitate the activity where majority of the staff were wildlife biologists.

The PhilBio was founded by the late William Oliver, a British wildlife expert who spent almost three decades of his life, before he died in 2014, in the conservation of the Philippines’ endemic species. Oliver could be best remembered for his iconic artworks known as “Only in the Philippines”, featuring the different species that exist only in the country and nowhere else in the world.

After Oliver, the PhilBio, under the leadership of the Board of Trustees, continued and is still continuing to tread the path of conservation, catering primarily on endemic species, especially the single-island endemic species, and their habitats in the different provinces of the Philippines.

The current BOT of the PhilBio are Lupe Garcia from Kalinga, lawyer Ace Durano from Cebu, Robbie Sandoval from Palawan, and lawyer Ignacio Santillan and yours truly from Negros Occidental. Former Negros Occidental Gov. Rafael Coscolluela was once a trustee of the PhilBio, too, and acted as the president before I took over the position last year. Lisa Paguntalan, a wildlife biologist from Negros Oriental, is the executive director of the foundation.

During the planning workshop, the PhilBio team updated the goals and strategic directions, set quantifiable and reasonable targets, and revisited the priority project sites of the organization, from this year to 2023.

Negros remains as a priority area of the PhilBio, not only because it is based in Bacolod City, but more on the critical importance of the island when it comes to global biodiversity conservation. It holds a good number of endemic species of the Philippines, several of which are restricted only to this island. Threats to the biodiversity of Negros are still high, since its remaining natural and undisturbed ecosystems, particularly forest cover, are getting limited and remain not fully secured.

One of the PhilBio’s grand plans on its scientific surveys and researches is on the ecology, population, and distribution of some critically-endangered species in at least three of its priority sites – Negros, Panay, and Cebu, although several other sites are also being targeted. The purpose of this research is to deeply determine and understand the various natural features and threats of critically endangered species, as well as to provide scientific basis for the enhancement of recovery and protection of these species and their habitats.

The critically endangered is the highest status of threat assigned to a particular species with limited population in the wild, and is facing imminent danger of extinction in the wild if threats are not properly addressed.

The PhilBio aims to further enhance its scientific and conservation standards, not only in researches, but in other fields of its program thrusts. It is looking into partnerships with concerned individuals and institutions in facilitating the establishment and effective management of new conservation sites, either through local legislations, national declarations, or international recognitions.

During the planning, it was agreed that the foundation shall officially adopt the landscapes and wetlands conservation as one of its core thrusts. In the recent past, the PhilBio facilitated the development of island-wide biodiversity strategy and action plan of several islands, particularly in Negros and Cebu.

Under the landscape and wetlands theme, the PhilBio is expected to provide technical assistance in developing island-wide biodiversity action plans in some other regions of the country. It will offer technical services to local governments with intention to integrate biodiversity conservation to their respective local development plans, programs, and policies.

The PhilBio was active in numerous efforts in wetlands conservation, especially in the Annual Water Birds Count and development of wetlands conservation area. It rendered technical assistance in the establishment and declaration of the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.

The PhilBio aims to broaden its target audience across varied sectors on conservation awareness, education, and events using various platforms and mediums, including maximizing social and mainstream media. Like its strategy of mobilizing citizen scientists in biological research and monitoring, it will attempt to make use of netizens in spreading and educating the public on the critical importance of biodiversity conservation in our lives.*

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