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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, September 14, 2020
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with Errol A. Gatumbato

Spare wild plants

Rock & Refuge

The restrictions of movement since the global outbreak of Covid-19 have made a lot of changes in our lives, especially for those who are just staying at home.

To divert attention from anxiety brought about by the pandemic, many resorted to planting and gardening, not only of a variety of vegetables, but including ornamental plants, too, either flowering or non-flowering. Vegetables and ornamental plants are popular items for barter in several areas, including in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental.

I also noticed that a good number of my Facebook friends are into this productive activity, and it is interesting to see their status updates showing the photos of plants they planted, either in pots or backyard, and how they made their homes cozy with various arrangements of ornamental plants. The terms “plantitos” and plantitas” became popular as they are referred to those uncles and aunties, respectively, who are into planting vegetables and ornamental plants.

I also believe that, somehow, planting is a good coping mechanism from stress and anxiety, given the predicament we were into and is still facing, to date. Cases of Covid-19 in the country are still increasing despite of the easing of the lockdown or community quarantine.

The pandemic has also brought and is still bringing hardship when it comes to income and food. With the popularity of planting ornamental plants, I learned from a friend that several groups of indigenous people in some parts of Mindanao were engaged in selling some plants sourced from the wilds in order to buy food and other necessities. I think, this is not only isolated in those areas in Mindanao, but also in other places of the country. In fact, the Soccsksargen region of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources posted on its official FB page some wild plants that are heavily pouched during the pandemic, and these include orchids, ferns, cycads, medinillas, molave for bonsai, tree ferns, alocacias, begonias, zingibers (wild gingers) and agarwood. Some of these species are already included in the Red List of Threatened Species of both the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the DENR.

When the demand for ornamental plants keeps increasing, it is possible that more collections of wild plants for barter trade or selling will happen. Let us take note that each plant species in the wilds has its specific function in the maintenance of natural ecosystems. Some of these plants are food to wildlife, while there also species that serve as hosts to other species. Many of our plant species are still unknown to science or still require proper description. There are also wild plants that may no longer grow once they will be uprooted from their original habitats, particularly species that are growing in higher elevations and cool places.

We should also be reminded that gathering of wild plants without permit from the DENR is an illegal act, in accordance with Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. The mere possession of these plants without permit constitutes similar violation. Therefore, we should be careful in displaying public plants that are sourced from the wilds. The maximum penalty for gathering, collecting, or possessing a wildlife species is one million pesos and/or imprisonment of a minimum of six years and one day to 12 years if the species involved is listed as critically endangered.

Gathering and selling of wild plants were once rampant in Murcia, Negros Occidental, particularly at Mambukal Mountain Resort. Those plants were then taken from the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, which is known as one of the centers of plant diversity in the Philippines. When I started working as park superintendent of the MKNP in 1995, my team, together with MUAD-Negros, introduced the cut flower enterprise to collectors of wild plants. During my last visit in Mambukal two years ago, I was glad to observe and know that no one was selling wild plants anymore.*

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