Pres. Aquino Declares Aliwagwag Of Davao Oriental As Protected Area

By Ferdinand Zuasola, Photo by Lester Berganio

President Benigno S.  Aquino III has finally declared the mountain range of Aliwagwag in Davao Oriental as the country’s new protected area after years of incessant struggle by local environmentalists for the national government to help them provide protective measures that would effectively preserve one of the “foremost landmarks” of Davao Oriental.

Through his Proclamation Number 139, President Aquino declared Aliwagwag as a protected area under the category of protected landscape and its peripheral areas as buffer zone. Aliwagwag, situated in the municipalities of Cateel and Boston in Davao Oriental, is host to the country’s most beautiful waterfalls, the Aliwagwag Falls, which largely remains a virtually undiscovered ecotourism destination for its distant location from the region’s economic centers.

President Aquino says the country’s new protected area “shall be known as Aliwagwag Protected Landscape, and its peripheral areas as Buffer Zone, subject to private rights, and without prejudice to the rights of indigenous peoples… Any contract, permit or license for the extraction or utilization of natural resources therein already existing prior to this proclamation shall, subject to national interest, be respected until its expiration. Areas covered by such contracts, permits or licenses which are found not viable for development after assessment  and/or exploration shall automatically form part of the Aliwagwag Protected Landscape.”

Davao Oriental residents including local government officials are warmly greeting President Aquino’s proclamation order, saying it was a big boost not only to the province’s tourism program but most especially to their environment protection efforts. Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon says that President Aquino has become an “instrument to the full realization of the aspirations of the people of Davao Oriental.”

“Not only is Aliwagwag Falls known for its majestic beauty and grandeur but its massive volume of cascading waters that drain into the Cateel River plays a critical role in serving the irrigation needs of the vast rice fields in the area. The water volume is such that we are exploring into eco-friendly means to harness renewable hydropower to serve our energy needs and perhaps that of our neighboring provinces,” says Governor Malanyaon who for quite a long time was always in the frontline in the campaign to have the national government declare Aliwagwag as a protected area.  Long before she assumed her post as governor, Malanyaon, then a representative of Davao Oriental’s first district, had sponsored a bill in Congress for the declaration of Aliwagwag as a protected area. She was supported in the Senate by Senator Pia Cayetano who sponsored the same bill in the upper House.

“Being a vital and precious resources, it has long been our collective desire to have the Aliwagwag Falls and its vicinity declared as protected area under Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) Act of 1992. This desire is rendered more pressing with the clear and ever present danger of environmental exploitation brought about by the influx of unscrupulous people penetrating the area,” says Governor Malanyaon.

Protected area refers to identified portions of land and water set aside by reason of their unique physical and biological significance, and managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation. In a position paper prepared by the local officials of the DENR here, it says that “Aliwagwag Falls  is one of the important sites in Davao Oriental. The proclamation of the area as a watershed/protected landscape could conserve and preserve the habitat of important and vanishing species and outstanding sceneries which are assorted elements in sustainable development of natural resources and biodiversity conservation. It also plays a critical role as water catchment of the area that serves the irrigation needs of rice fields of Cateel, Davao Oriental and it also has a potential for hydro-electric facilities that will augment the energy needs of the province of Davao Oriental and the neighboring areas.”

The province of Davao Oriental has the largest protected areas in Southern Mindanao, covering at least 778.45 square kilometers or 43 percent of the total protected areas in the region. Aliwagwag’s aggregate area was put at 10,000 hectares, 78 percent of which falls within the province of Davao Oriental while 22 percent belong to the Compostela Valley province.  Aliwagwag is a new addition to Davao Oriental’s protected areas. Based on official records from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, there are now seven protected areas in Davao Oriental. These are:

1.     Baganga Bay Protected Landscape with an area of 205 square kilometers.

2.     Baganga Protected Landscape (1.14 square kilometers).

3.     Mati Protected Landscape (10.17 square kilometers).

4.     Pujada Bay Protected Landscape and Seascape (212 square kilometers).

5.     Mount Hamiguitan Range and Wildlife Sanctuary (68.34 sq.km.).

6.     San Isidro Protected Landscape and Seascape (175.90 sq.km.).

7.     Aliwagwag Protected Landscape (105.9 sq.km.).

Aliwagwag Falls is one of the province’s top tourist attractions. Governor Malanyaon says she is pushing for a sustainable and quality tourism program that requires community participation in protecting and managing natural resources, traditional culture and indigenous wisdom.

She says their tourism program aims to foster environmental ethics while promoting economic benefits for host communities and cultural enrichment for visitors. “I want a sustainable and quality tourism that is attractive to a diversity of foreign and local tourists, a tourism with a conscience that advocates for protection of natural resources and establishes mechanisms that are environmentally sustainable, economically rewarding and socially equitable,” says Governor Malanyaon.

The governor, however, says she put much premium in the need to protect and conserve the forest because of its important role, not only in the country, but more so in the integrity and survival of the world. She has earlier founded  the Million Trees Movement that highlights the importance of people in the efforts to save and manage the forest. She says she believe in the power of collaborative efforts concentrating on increasing awareness at all levels to support sustainable management, conservation and development of all forest for the present and future generations. She says that  sustainable management of forest can create a positive impact on sustainable development and poverty eradication.

The governor also says that in order to execute a successful undertaking in forest management, communities living in and near the forest must first understand the role forest play to their lives and to the whole world. “With a simple understanding on how things work between humans and their environment, people will surely feel a sense of responsibility making them accountable for the environment,” says Governor Malanyaon.

The provincial board of Davao Oriental has just passed an ordinance that would strictly impose a log ban in the whole province. Long before President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 23 that impose a log ban in the whole country, Governor Malanyaon has already announced the provincial government’s log ban policy. “I have always been against logging whether it is legal or illegal. There is no such thing as totally legal logging. That is my belief,” says Governor Malanyaon during her dialogue with top police and Philippine Army officials in the province. President Aquino’s Executive Order No. 23 has declared a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests in the whole country and it also created the Anti-illegal Logging Task Force.

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