KGVs: A new breed of environmental warriors

August 26, 2010

Chances are, if you visit the Cinchona Forest Reserve of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, located at Barangay Kaatuan, Lantapan, Bukidnon, you'll meet Emeliano Justiniano or Blackie. He has many stories to tell, including the time he observed, together with National Geographic photographers, a pair of Philippine Eagle and their youngs or the time he visited the Sierra Madre to find eagle nests.

More than just a jolly guide, Blackie plays a big role. Together with his fellow Kitanglad Guard Volunteers or KGVs, they are tasked to protect a heritage, not just of our country, but of the world.

The KGVs are volunteer lumads or indigenous people who are tasked to help protect the recently declared ASEAN Heritage Park, Mt. Kitanglad and the country's national bird, the Philippine Eagle.

Now numbering 344, their primary concern is to guard the remaining forest and implement policies on the ground. Park Superintendent Felix Mirasol proudly tells recent Mt. Kitanglad visitors from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity and some members of the media that the KGVs were instrumental in trimming down park violations from 80 trees per month in 1997 to 15 trees in 2005.

Aside from Mt. Kitanglad, the KGVs also look after the Philippine Eagle.

The Philippine Eagle faces two major threats to their survival. First is deforestation and the second is hunting.

"The Philippine Eagle is not safe even in protected areas. They are vulnerable to shooting and hunting" according to Biologist Jayson Ibanez, Philippine Eagle Foundation Research and Conservation Director.

The first bird released in Mt. Kitanglad, Kagsabua, suffered a sad faith. "Kagsabua," a Bukidnon word for unity is a rehabilitated Philippine Eagle rescued by the KGVs in 2006. A hunter shot and injured him. He was brought to the Philippine Eagle Foundation for medical help. He was released back to the wild in 2008, only to be shot again and made into a bird soup.

At the Cinchona Forest Reserve, there are about 12 volunteers according to the Kaatuan KGV Chief Mr. Jacinto Cambari. One of them is Blackie, who also lives at the Cinchona Forest Reserve park.

Cinchona Forest Reserve was first established in 1929 to produce the Cinchona bark for anti-malaria drugs. It has a total land area of 1,994 hectares with 147 tree species. 240 hectares are virgin forest, 1,707 hectares manmade, and 37 hectares of mossy forest.

Based on the forest cover, the Philippine Eagle Foundation believes that there are minimum of four nesting pairs of Philippine Eagle here. They have already confirmed three breeding pairs. The hunt is on now among KGVs to find the fourth pair.

As the name implies, the KGVs are volunteers who only receive honorarium for the service they provide, so the hard work really stems from the commitment to save the environment from further degradation.

Incoming Governor Alex Calingasan however promised to double or triple the honorarium being received by the KGVs if they plant more indigenous species. Further incentives await them at the end of the year for trees that flourished.

KGVs undergo a ritual performed by the elders before they become members. They work under the Protected Areas Management Board or PAMB, a multi-sectoral body chaired by DENR with representation from the local government units, non-governmental or civic organizations, people’s organizations, indigenous peoples through their Council of Elders and national government agencies.

The KGV was originally formed in 1982 in response to a forest fire that hit the mountain range. It was reactivated in 1993 by the PAMB.

The mountain range they are tasked to protect, Mt. Kitanglad is the 28th and the third ASEAN Heritage Park in the country, after Mt. Apo and Mt. Iglit Baco. It is one of the few remaining rainforests in the country, hosting high floral and fauna diversity, with 168 birds, 185 trees, and 63 mammal species. These include the Philippine eagle, rafflesia, and the Bukidnon Woodcock.

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