Protecting an ASEAN Heritage

August 26, 2010 Travel

In 2008, members of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park Protected Areas Management Board (PAMB) filed a resolution requesting Mt. Kitanglad to be a member of the ASEAN Heritage Park. In 2009, Mt. Kitanglad Range becomes the 28th and the third in the country, after Mt. Apo and Mt. Iglit Baco, to be declared an ASEAN Heritage Park.

This year, 2010, as the world celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity, the world shifts its attention to the province of Bukidnon as it looks at how they protect, not just the country's, but the world's heritage. 

As part of the celebration, members of the media were invited on a three-day exposure trip by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB).

Mt. Kitanglad 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.

Protectors of an ASEAN Heritage

Mt. Kitanglad range covers 47,240 hectares in the province of Bukidnon, including parts of the municipalities of Baungon, Talakag, Lantapan, Impasugong, Sumilao, Libono, Manolo Fortich and the the city of Malaybalay.

Protecting the park falls under the turf of the 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. 

Implementing the plans and policies is the Protected Area Superintendent Office (PASU).

Mt. Kitanglad's PAMB is one of the country's most efficient, having the commitment of its members, including LGU heads. This comes from a sheer determination and dedication to protect the environment and the park.

Former Governor and Current Vice Governor Jose Ma. Zubiri shared to attendees of the media tour how investors would come in with ecotourism projects that involve carving the mountains and putting up golf courses and condominiums. "The moment we do that, our province will be flooded and we do not want to take the risk," says Vice-Governor Zubiri.

Governor Zubiri is also firm in his belief against mining. He exclaims "There is no such thing as big mining protecting the environment." Only small-scale mining is allowed in the province, like the 20 hectares land given to select lumads or indigenous people.

The movement to protect the environment, through PAMB's efforts, trickles down to every member of the community.

Ang mga puno’t halaman
ay kabiyak ng ating gunita. 
Sa paglipas ng panahon, bakit kailangan ding lumisan? (The trees and the plants are all part of our memories. As time pass, why do they also have to go?)

These are part of the lyrics of the song "Kanlungan" once popularized as a television ad jingle for a fast food chain. This song by Buklod and Noel Cabangon embodies the sentiments of most environmentalists and the songs the communities sing during the anti-mining campaign.

Mt. Kitanglad is also the home of the lumads and the wellspring of their tradition. The mountain range is regarded as their ancestral domain. There are three main indigenous communities - the Tala-andig, Higa-onon and the Bukidnon cultural groups.

Some of the lumads are also entrusted to protect Mt. Kitanglad. Several lumads volunteered to handle their land's protection through the KGV or the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers. Now numbering 344, their primary concern is to protect the remaining forest and implement policies on the ground.

The KGVs were instrumental in trimming down park violations from 80 trees per month in 1997 to 15 trees in 2005.

Protecting another World Heritage

The park's most famous resident is perhaps the Philippine eagle.

Having the Philippine eagle is an indication of Mt. Kitanglad's healthy environment. One of the park's attractions is the nesting site found at the Cinchona Forest Reserve, which sits at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad. Cinchona is located at the northwestern part of Barangay Kaatuan in Lantapan.

According to biologist Jayson Ibanez of Philippine Eagle Foundation Research and Conservation Director, Mt. Kitanglad is a flagship site for test releases of Philippine eagles.

4 Philippine eagles were already released in Mt. Kitanglad, with one deemed successful. Unfortunately, the three others didn't share the lucky faith as "Kalabugao."

Mr. Ibanez relates that the Philippine eagle is not safe even in protected areas, as it is very vulnerable to shooting and hunting. Of the four birds released in Mt. Kitanglad, 2 were shot. An education program is currently ongoing to prevent the killing of eagles

Another threat of the Philippine eagle survival is deforestation.

The Mt. Kitanglad Agri-Ecological Techno-Demo Center (MKAETDC) located at Brgy. Imbayao, Malaybalay City, not only showcase upland improved farming system but also sets another facet on the protection of Mt. Kitanglad.

MKAETDC is being managed in Brgy. Chairman Benjamin Maputi Sr. or Mang Ben. Trained by the DENR to protect Mr. Kitanglad, the center is instrumental in curbing kaingin and other illegal activities. MKAETDC also has a 6 hectare eco-park filled with endemic trees, which is the source of the seedlings for the rainforestation of Mt. Kitanglad.

As the old Native American Proverb goes "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." The protectors of Mt. Kitanglad owes it to the children of the world to protect this ASEAN and world heritage.

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