By Stephen J Pedroza
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—In 2011, Typhoon Sendong (Washi) defaced the “City of Golden Friendship.”
The price we paid for our complacency was staggering and some lessons were learned the hardest way.
Sendong’s wrath was a painful eye-opener implanted in the memory of the city. But an eye-opener is an empty lesson when we do nothing to prevent it from happening again.
Environmental degradation being a major factor in disasters propelled us with the challenge to develop sustainable and long-term solutions, which include forest management and a behavioral shift to the “new normal.”
For Cagayan de Oro City, which forms part of the catch basin of the waters from the highlands of Bukidnon, tracing where the problem starts requires us to go up the denuded forests of the two giants of the province, Mt Kitanglad and Mt Kalatungan.
The simple truth is what happens at the top trickles down to the lowlands.
However, protecting the watershed needs the cooperation of the upland communities and of the low-lying urban city. With this idea in mind, the Payment for Ecological Services (PES) program was born.
“PES is a strategy designed to protect our forest here in the highlands of Mindanao so that when it rains, the water will not be devastating by the time it reaches urbanized areas like Cagayan de Oro,” said Lordilie Enjambre, development management officer of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Region X.
MinDA is the government agency that initiated the program as part of the Mindanao 2020 Peace and Development Framework-MindaNOW! (Nurturing Our Waters).
PES encourages different stakeholders, including the Cagayan de Oro River Basin Management Council (CDORBMC), the academe, and public and private institutions to participate in a “rewarding scheme” to rehabilitate the hinterlands where the headwaters of the region originate.
Various institutions in CDO will reward the indigenous people (IP) as forest managers to ensure that watersheds along the region develop high water infiltration capacity, forming a pivotal part of the ridge-to-reef approach.
After its official launching on May 21, Xavier Science Foundation (XSF), Xavier University – McKeough Marine Center (XU-MMC), CDORBMC, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region 10 and MinDA conducted the first wave of the PES project in Mt Kalatungan Range Natural Park on June 25-27 and the tree-planting activities on the last week of July.
In Northern Mindanao, it has been piloted within the ancestral domain of the Miarayon-Lapok-Lirongan-Tinaytayan Talaandig Tribal Association (MILALITTTRA), one of the 12 lumad communities in the protected area of Talakag, Bukidnon where Mt Kalatungan prominently stands 2,824m above sea level.
Mt Kalatungan – the sixth highest peak in the country – has long faced environmental threats such as illegal logging and the hunting of endangered species.
Harboring diverse species of flora and fauna, Mt Kalatungan was identified as part of a “Terrestrial Biodiversity Corridor in the Greater Mindanao biogeographical region.”
The mountain is among the 18 protected areas to be provided with PES technical and management assistance by both the public and private sectors.
“Three hectares serves as the pilot area for PES here; two hectares of which in Sitio Tinaytayan, San Miguel is allotted for reforestation and one hectare in Barangay Lirongan is for agroforestry where MILALITTTRA plans to grow cacao, coffee and other high-value crops to generate income for the community,” said Renante Salcedo, program coordinator of XSF, a CDO-based NGO focusing on agricultural development and research. XSF acts as the fund manager of the program.
If the pilot showcase succeeds after a year, PES will entice more industries and investors to support this multi-sectoral endeavor. In the long run, it is expected to yield a continuous supply of potable water, cleaner air, profit generation for the IPs and reduce disaster risk in the region.
From their ancestral domain, the 5-year master plan aims to reforest 832 hectares, while 816 hectares will be utilized for agroforestry.
Furthermore, MILALITTTRA dreams to build their tulugan or a sacred place for community dialogues and rituals, and to give incentives for the Bantay Lasang volunteers using the income from PES.
Commitment to work together
Aside from the action-packed rodeo games and revelries, this year’s Manresa Days (August 20-23) celebration of XU – College of Agriculture was also marred with a multi-sectoral commitment to address environmental concerns in NorMin through the PES program.
Different sectors, frontlined by XSF, signed the PES Memorandum of Agreement on Aug 21 to push through with this environmental endeavor designed as a sustainable solution to mitigate climate change at the regional level and to recuperate the denuded forests of Mt Kalatungan.
“The Talaandig tribe in Mt Kalatungan organized themselves and they committed to reforest 1600 hectares. In return, we will also do our part even in small ways like these signatures [to our environmental pledge],” said Roel Ravanera, former XUCA dean and the current executive director of XSF.
The signatories of the said MOA were representatives from different cooperatives in NorMin (MASS-SPECC Cooperative Development Center, Oro Savings, Bukidnon Pharmaceutical Multipurpose Cooperative, First Community Cooperative – Community Outreach Foundation) and MILALITTTRA chairman Datu Dungkoan “Rio” Besto.
Representatives from DENR and Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) also witnessed the signing.
“This is really a community engagement with our brothers and sisters in the indigenous people community in Mt Kalatungan. We will not allow another Typhoon Sendong to happen in Cagayan de Oro City and we will contribute in our own ways to make that a reality,” Ravanera continued.
Due to its altitude and topography, the mountain range within the ancestral domain of MILALITTTRA has been the source of most water coming down during the Sendong catastrophe.
On the other hand, the social marketing arm of the said environmental project under the auspices of XU-MMC is set to launch in November the “Valuing Ecosystem Services Together” (VEST), an offshoot campaign aimed at engaging communities in the region to take part in this venture.
Evans Yonson, a Development Communication professor at XU and VEST SocMar team leader said that a slew of activities have been prepared to encourage the communities to show their support and stewardship for Mother Earth.
The forest for the IPs is more than just a mere place of greens and browns. It is a place bursting with life – the ultimate reason why the tribe has fostered an intimate and protective relationship with the environment.
They believe that the forest, aside from being their source of livelihood, is an abode of unseen spirits, their ancestors, and the kingdom of their Supreme Being, Magbabaya.
“We live here. Our ancestors lived here. All our actions will affect the future generations. That is why we need to take care of our forest,” Datu Rio said in Bisaya.
The locals strongly believe that disgracing nature’s resources would result to punitive actions from the gods, such as plagues, a decline in the harvest and other disasters.
“This is our culture. What is there to life when the forests will be taken away from us,” said Datu Rio, adding that the success of this undertaking lies in the synergy among the communities.
A version of this article first appeared on Rappler. Stephen J. Pedroza is a Development Communication major in Development Journalism graduate at Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan and he attended Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He enjoys travelling and reading Jon Krakauer.
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