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Ilonggo Network

The wilderness area Second of 3 parts


Negros Occidental is one of the provinces in the Philippines where environmental activism is quite pronounced.

The provincial government was one of the earlier local government units in the country that had created a full-time environment and natural management office, equipped with budget and personnel, following the enactment of the Local Government Code in 1991.

Civil society organizations, mass media, academe and church are also active in promoting environmental protection. The DAILY STAR is one of the pioneering newspapers in the Philippines that has devoted a weekly page for environment.

The third week of every June is declared as the province’s Environment Week, while Wildlife Month is being commemorated every November, too.

In spite of these interesting efforts, however, it is quite disturbing that the destruction of the natural forest is still one of the major environmental challenges in Negros Occidental. Recent reports claimed that the remaining 300 hectares of wilderness in Hinobaan town in the southern part of the province have almost been wiped out through years of illegal timber poaching, and this has been left unattended by concerned authorities.

Charcoal-making out of the natural forest continues to exist, while slash-and-burn farming, or kaingin, is still being practiced in the uplands. Even the two protected areas in the province, the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park and the Northern Negros Natural Park, are still not fully secured from destructive activities. In fact, the NNNP is further threatened with further occupancy of illegal settlers, who have constructed vacation houses and resorts in the protected area.

The provincial government has organized the multi-sectoral Task Force Ilahas, which is primarily entrusted to ensure the protection of the remaining forest in Negros Occidental. Since its formation several years ago, the task force had been active in apprehending illegally sourced forest products, but the same could not be considered as conservation success, because what of paramount importance is the real protection of the forest or standing trees. But in due recognition of the efforts of the Task Force Ilahas, illegal forest activities may have been rampant if not for the active patrolling of its members.

While it is true that forest protection is still the primary responsibility of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it is ineffective because it lacks the necessary personnel and other resources to carry out its mandate. The DENR is already an “aging” institution, because for more than a decade now, the hiring of new regular personnel has been frozen. Most, if not all of its forest rangers, have already retired, while the remaining ones are due to retire and could no longer effectively function as such.

This is the reason why I personally would like to see the full devolution of forest protection from the DENR to local government units, especially in areas where LGUs are active in environmental concerns, like in Negros Occidental.

Forest protection should be carried out through monitoring and patrolling in the forest itself. The presence of forest protection agents would deter the commission of illegal activities. As a matter of strategy, it is very important that law enforcement agencies, such as the Philippine Army and Philippine National Police, should be tapped to patrol the remaining forested areas of Negros Occidental.

Given the limited natural forest left in the province, it is necessary that various strategies shall be used to curtail its further destruction. (To be continued)*

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