By KIMBERLIE NGABIT QUITASOL
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet —L ocal officials agree with the park management under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that the conservation of the Mt. Pulag National Park or of what is left of it is the most important amid ensuing problems on encroachment and peace and order.
In separate interviews, some Benguet officials agreed with Mt. Pulag National Park Protected Area Superintendent Emerita Albas that it is important to preserve Mt. Pulag not just for tourism purposes but because it is water source for the province and adjacent provinces as well.
Albas highlighted the important role of Mt. Pulag as a water source and the need to preserve and protect it from further degradation during her presentation at the regular session of the Benguet provincial board last August 6. She shared that a large portion of the park reservation is already lost to vegetable garden expansions and to local government projects particularly farm to market roads.
The park superintendent also highlighted that forest guards and other park personnel are being threatened by an armed group in the area hindering them from doing their job. “We can not do our job properly due to threats. There are times when we hear gunshots when we are to conduct ocular inspections in the park… This armed group is said to be a break away faction of another armed group,” Albas said.
She reiterated that the park management is in the process of conducting a ground validation survey to determine the meets and bounds of the reservation. She explained that a ground survey is actually just the actual plotting on the of markers on the ground. “It is just plotting what is on the paper on the ground,” she added.
Albas clarified that the ground survey does not intend to drive away communities that will be identified to be inside the park reservation. She added that it is just to identify the park’s boundaries and how much of it is already occupied. She pointed out that the problem area for the ground survey is in the boundary of Bugias and Kabayan.
“Conservation of the park needs the united effort of all stakeholders that include the park management, LGUs, indigenous communities with in the park and the farm owners,” she stressed.
Albas proposed that a zoning of the park should be conducted to identify areas where can be utilized for farming, housing and the forest area. She recognized that the indigenous peoples who were granted certificate of land titles with in the Pulag reservation has the right to their claims. In the same light that she understands the need of farmers for land to till. However, she reiterated that the farmers and indigenous communities should take into consideration the effect of all the activities and development project to the forest reservation.
“The total destruction of Mt. Pulag will adversely affect the communities and farms with in it, majority of Benguet and nearby provinces depending on it for water source,” she reiterated.
Vice Governor Crescencio Pacalso said the board will inform concerned government units about the situation of Mt. Pulag and the importance of preserving what is left of it. He added that an information and education campaign will be very useful because the people may have forgotten the importance of Mt. Pulag as a water reservoir and to the environment.
Pacalso further said they will report Albas’ complaint about the presence of an armed group in the reservation posing threats to park personnel to the Regional Peace and Order Committee (RPOC). He also noted that the police personnel in the area are outnumbered. “Is there any other break away group of another armed group in the region if not the CPLA (Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army)?” he pointed out.
Moreover, Pacalso finds the situation unusual pointing out that it usually the affected residents that seek the intervention of the provincial board but for the case of Mt. Pulag it is a government agency seeking help. “What they (Park management) are actually seeking is the political will of LGUs to implement existing laws governing the park reservation, it seems so hard to come by at the moment,” he said.
Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan on the other hand suggested the conduct of a relocation survey to identify exactly the area occupied by indigenous communities and farmers. He added that the survey will also identify the remaining forested area.
“The remaining forest must be protected,” he said.
Kabayan Mayor Faustino Aquisa said that affected people and the park management do understand each other. He explained that farming is a source of livelihood to most of Benguet folk which resulted to the farm expansions.
Aquisa also agreed that the remaining forest must be preserved but the areas already occupied should not be taken away and the communities with in the park reservation should not be driven out. #Kimberlie Olmaya Ngabit-Quitasol