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I came across two articles from the GMA news feed several weeks ago, both about the establishment of proposed renewable energy power plants and the opposition they presently face from local constituents. While the articles are not as recent, the issues they present are ever as fresh. I quote them both at some length here:

Class suit vs. geothermal project in Kanlaon filed

MANILA, Philippines — At least 200 people, including children, will lodge before the Bacolod Regional Trial Court Wednesday a petition to stop the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) from entering the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) buffer zone for geothermal development.

…the petitioners’ lawyer Andrea Si said they would seek a temporary retraining order and a permanent injunction on the EDC move. Si said the petitioners remain opposed to the tapping of geothermal power from the buffer zone and to the purchase of power for Negros Occidental from a coal-fired plant in Cebu.

They said government and the business sector should push for alternative renewable power, such as hydro, solar and wind, and should not compromise what little is left of the province’s forest.

…Si said the class suit will ask the court to stop EDC from entering the buffer zone because of questions on the constitutionality of Republic Act 9154, which established MKNP as a protected area and a peripheral area as a buffer zone. The suit will also question the Energy Development Corporations’ (EDC) Environment Compliance Certificate and the firm’s plan to drill for geothermal energy from the buffer zone to the MKNP protected area.

…Tapping 40 megawatts of geothermal power from the buffer zone is not worth destroying irreplaceable rich biodiversity in the area, she added.

Energy officials earlier warned that Negros Occidental no longer has reserve power and its power shortage will worsen by 2010 if it does not have new sources of energy in place by then.

Cooperative eyes P2.8 hydro plant

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — An electric cooperative here plans to build a 20-megawatt hydropower plant in Lake Sebu, the tourism capital of South Cotabato province, as it anticipates a supply shortage in the area two to three years from now.

Santiago C. Tudio, general manager of the South Cotabato Electric Cooperative said, “…the generated power from the waters of the Seven Falls of Lake Sebu will be used to supply the power requirement of South Cotabato in anticipation of the power shortage…” Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is safer than a coal-fired power plant.

But Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Jose M. Madanguit, chairman of the environment committee, said residents of Lake Sebu would oppose the project due to concerns about biodiversity. This could affect the area’s eco-tourism potentials and might displace the T’boli tribe.

But Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is the best option given the rising cost of diesel fuel. A hydropower plant is also more environment-friendly than one fired by coal, he pointed out.

Lake Sebu’s mountains are rich in coal pursued by several mining firms. But the local electric cooperative here, Mr. Tudio said, prefers a hydropower plant given the town’s abundant water resources. Lake Sebu is home to waterfalls and several lakes.

Mindanao has a generating capacity of 1,850 megawatts, but the dependable capacity is only 1,520 megawatts. Peak demand is projected to hit 1,440 megawatts this year. Industry regulations, however, require the Mindanao grid to maintain a reserve capacity of at least 23.4% of its generating capacity. Peak demand for power supply by 2015 is expected to hit 1,750 megawatts.

At the onset, I can recognize the potential benefits that the introduction of power sources—let alone renewable energy sources—will bring to these areas. Not only does it provide electricity for communities that did not used to have it, it can also augment the much needed energy demands of the province or the region. Communities that used to rely on diesel generators running for just several hours in a given day can now enjoy continuous power supply. Power generation can stimulate trade; refrigeration, for example, is now made possible unlike before when it was too costly to run on generators, and consequently, perishable goods like fish and other meats can now be stored longer periods and stocked more for mass volume trading in the market. The scales of production increase as a consequence, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of people.

Apart from the tangible benefits of electricity to local communities, the generated power to begin with is cleaner; it comes from cleaner energy sources such as geothermal plumes or hydropower, as opposed to coal-fired plants which emit harmful CO2 into the atmosphere. The national government presently promotes the shift to cleaner, renewable energy sources in pursuit of its commitment to mitigate global climate change. By utilizing these cleaner energy sources, not only is the country’s carbon emissions reduced, but so is its dependence on imported oil for power generation minimized; thereby, lowering the risks of its constituents to inflation and food price hikes due to exorbitant oil price surges.

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Just saw this story in Inquirer.net, which immediately transported me into a state of nostalgia and melancholy:

Help save Sierra Madre, tribe leader urges media
By Delfin Mallari Jr.
Southern Luzon Bureau

LUCENA CITY, Philippines — Using a borrowed mobile phone, a tribal leader in Sierra Madre in northern Quezon asked for media’s help to stop the renewed illegal logging operation in the mountain ranges.

On Monday evening, Eric Avellaneda, vice chairman of mountain tribe association called “Adhikain ng mga Grupong Taong Katutubo na Nagtatanggol” (Agta), sent a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and reported that more than 30 chainsaws were sneaked into the mountain and were now being used by unidentified groups in their renewed unlawful cutting of trees.

In a follow-up phone interview, Avellaneda said he just borrowed the mobile phone from a lowlander to contact the media to ask for help to stop the illegal activities.

“The media is our only hope to stop and prevent the further destruction of Sierra Madre. Illegal logging stops every time it was reported in the media,” he said in Filipino.

Full story here

I guess there’s a bright side to this. That a tribal leader is actively engaged in protecting his ancestral domain, that the ubiquitous mobile phone has given him access to media, that the reporter who got the message actually wrote about it, that the government initiated action on the complaint. It shows the power of the individual, the power of the media, the power of, well, texting.

Just what the extent of that power is, I don’t know.

Illegal logging has been systematically wiping out the Sierra Madre for years, even decades. It’s one of those situations where the problem seems so big that one is tempted to just despair and give up hope that it’s ever going to go away. The loggers are rich, powerful, and armed. The government officials are on the take. A lot of upland residents are too poor to have much livelihood options other than the destructive slash-and-burn farming. And the felled logs continue to float down the river, continue to breeze through the checkpoints.

Three years ago, the Sierra Madre was the scene of heartbreaking tragedy as the denuded mountain slopes broke loose after days of heavy rains, triggering landslides and flashfloods. The disaster killed more than a thousand people, destroyed property and infrastructure, and rendered farmlands useless.

I had the opportunity to listen to some of the victims during a forum we organized at the Haribon Foundation about half a year after the tragedy. I wrote about their story for the Haribon website, where I now go back to go over it once again.

The article was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to write. I remember sitting in front of the computer listening to the tape from the forum, trying to hold back tears as I listened to the speakers.

“Hanggang ngayon maluwag sila sa pagbibigay ng permit para mailabas ang kahoy na dapat sana’y tulong na sa amin. Masakit para sa aming tanggapin na yung mga kahoy na yon ang pumatay sa mga mahal namin sa buhay samantalang kami walang maipag-pagawa ng bahay… Tone-toneladang kahoy ang lumalabas, sabi nila total log ban daw, sabi nila ibibigay daw sa aming nasalanta, pero marami sa amin ang walang bahay.”

“Sa totoo lang po gustong-gusto naming hukayin yung bangkay ng mga mahal namin sa buhay pero wala kaming magawa. Syempre po yung mga natitirang nabubuhay may mga pangangailangan naman na dapat tingnan,”

“Ang mga ganitong pagsasalita ay mahirap para sa amin…sa bawat pagkakataong nagsasalita kami ng ganito ay para naming hinahalukay ang aming mga namatay na anak. Pero kung hindi po ako magsasalita ngayon sa harapan ninyo, para ko ng kinalimutan yung pagkamatay ng pamilya ko, ng anak ko.”

Two of the speakers very understandably broke down and cried in the middle of their talk, and it was all I could do not to burst into tears as well. But they very bravely told their stories, because they knew that the world needs to know what happened, what is still happening, in Sierra Madre.

“Huwag nilang ibaon sa limot ang trahedyang ito …kung dadaain natin sa limot ang mga bagay na ito, ilan pang bayan at ilan pang Sierra Madre ang luluha?”

It’s a sad story, it’s one that’s been going on for years, so much so that even the media entities do not put it among the big headlines. Still, Agta leader Eric Avellaneda had enough faith and determination to send in that text message, to do every little bit within his capacity, in search of solutions. It’s a sad story, but I don’t want to think, not yet, that it’s not going to have a happy ending.

Photos by Don De Alban

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In the Philippines, forests have become denuded due to logging and mining concessions, while coastal areas have been polluted and destroyed due to navigational accidents and destructive fishing methods. Fisheries resources have been plummeting and recovery has been deemed to be unsuccessful as fisher folks continue to fish endlessly. Fish stocks have difficulty in recovering, and as a result, catch composition have shifted. Thus, in light of the recent occurrences of fish stock depletion, many communities have realized that exploiting environmental resources is no longer sustainable. With this realization, an alternative livelihood such as tourism is very important.

Tourism is highly valued in the Philippines. The country is endowed with vast coastal areas with a coastline summing up to 17,460 km. It is known for having one of the most ecologically rich coastal resources in terms of diversity and endemicity. (BFAR 2003, http://www.haribon.org).

Biggest fish in the World

The whale shark, Rhincodon typus (Rhiniodon typus), the largest fish in the world circumnavigates in subtropical to tropical climates (Figure 1). It is of high importance in fisheries and in industries because of its liver oil. This slow swimming and harmless shark is a filter feeder that depends on plankton and krill (www.fishbase.org). It swims to the Philippines to feed and mate with its kind.

 

Figure 1. The whale shark – the largest fish in the world is not a whale but a shark (www.fishbase.org).

Figure 1. The whale shark – the largest fish in the world is not a whale but a shark (www.fishbase.org).

Whale Shark Capital of the Philippines

The whale shark, just like in other countries in Asia has been captured by commercial fishers. However, in the small town of Donsol in Sorsogon province, the gentle giant or locally known as the butanding has become one of the most loved animals. Donsol locals have started to protect it rather than capturing it. In 1998, with the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund – Philippines and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the town has instituted the protection of the shark through ecotourism (www.donsol.gov.ph, http://www.wwf.org.ph).

Since these fish are passive and slow swimming, whale shark interactions has been made as the tourist attraction in Donsol. Selected fishermen have been educated and trained on how to handle and behave around whale sharks and on safety protocols for tourists as well. The fishermen which were highly dependent on fishing, now has an alternative livelihood by serving as Butanding Interaction Officers from the months of November to May. This form of ecotourism has not only been significant in protecting whale shark populations in Donsol and in the Philippines as a whole, but served as good information, education, communication (IEC) campaign not only to the townsfolk but to all the tourists that have come there as well (www.donsol.gov.ph, http://www.wwf.org.ph).

Other means aside from Whale Sharks

Swimming with the whale sharks has been ranked as the Best Animal Encounter in Asia as stated in the Time Magazine in 2004 (en.wikipedia.org). Because of this popularity and the frequency of the whale sharks venturing in the Donsol, the locals have come up with other ways of improving their tourism services. Aside from establishing more resorts and accommodations, other tourist attractions were added to make more revenues for the town. Additional attractions that were set up as packages aside from the butanding interactions were firefly and bird watching and diving in Ticao Pass (www.donsol.gov.ph).

Bird watching is very popular in the Philippines, since many areas in the country have been named as Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International (www.haribon.org.ph). Donsol, even if not named as an IBA still has numerous bird species that could fascinate a beginner or an avid bird watcher. Firefly populations have been dwindling in the whole world due to development. However the fireflies in Donsol river is so many that one who watches them might think that mangrove trees are burning because of them. The firefly watching is a night activity that starts with a boat ride under the stars from the beach area of a tourist resort to the river. The Philippines is famous for its coral reefs. Ticao Pass which can be accessed through Donsol is ventured by advanced divers for its strong currents and manta rays and thresher sharks (www.donsol.gov.ph).

Community-based Ecotourism and CRM

Donsol has come a long way from protecting an endangered species to providing locals alternative means of livelihood. They have begun to learn the value of their ecosystems and their resources and thus have been very adamant when it comes to protecting these resources. Hopefully, more coastal communities in the Philippines take the example of the community involvement if not in ecotourism but in coastal resource management. Hopefully, other communities begin to realize the importance of habitats and resources and not just think practically, or commonly succumb to the ‘tragedy of commons’.

References

BFAR. 2003. Fisheries Statistics Profile. http://www.bfar.gov.ph/FishProf.asp

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2007.FishBase. http:// http://www.fishbase.org, ver (04/2007).

Haribon. 2005. Ang Paraisong Pinaka… a showcase of superlatives. http://www.haribon.org.ph/?q=node/view/216.

Municipality of Donsol, Province of Sorsogon, Philippines. http://www.donsol.gov.ph

Wikipedia. 2007. Donsol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donsol,_Sorsogon.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature – Philippines. 2004. Community-Based Ecotourism and Coastal Resources Management Project in Donsol, Sorsogon. http://www.wwf.org.ph/about.php?pg=wwd&sub1=00011

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“It’s one of the most important news stories of our time, and it’s breaking right now.”

Go around the world with CNN as CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Animal Planet host and wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin take viewers to four continents and 13 countries, investigating stories of environmental change and witnessing first hand the various ways in which the planet is under attack.

“The environment is more than just a niche news story; it is an issue that affects every living being and warrants greater attention in the press,” Cooper said. “Our goal was to report not only on individual issues but to examine the interconnectivity of environmental changes. Instead of simply delving into academic theories, we set out to document the actual changes taking place that affect the way we live our lives and the choices we make.”

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From the wildlife markets of downtown Bangkok to the depths of the Madagascar jungle to the melting ice sheets of Greenland, Planet in Peril weaves the different stories together and brings unforgettable images of a world that is changing in alarming ways right before our very eyes. These are stories that are worth telling, because in spite of everything, there is still hope, and there are still things that we can do.

The two two-hour programs of Planet in Peril will air in Manila on October 24 and 25 at 9pm.

See videos, take a visual tour, and get other information here.

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Measuring the green sea turtleIn a previous visit to Polillo town in Quezon Province, I had an opportunity to hear a great news that a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) was rescued from an illegal trader. Alex Acuña, a fellow conservationist and staff of the Polillo Islands Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PIBCFI), recounted that the turtle was accidentally caught by a local fisher in Polillo Strait near the town of Panukulan. But rather than returning the endangered animal to the sea, the fisher resorted to selling it instead at the town market to make money.

Fortunately at the time, a concerned resident saw the turtle being traded and immediately sought to inform the local authorities. The local police, however, had cautioned against apprehending the trader in fear of retaliation. Upon failing to enjoin the local police, the concerned individual went to inform Alex of the incident. Alex, in turn, upset at the response of the local police, approached the police and threatened to file charges against them if they refused to enforce the law. Having heard that (and probably scared out of their wits), the police together with Alex proceeded to confiscate the turtle from the illegal trader.

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My family-run, home-based travel agency’s name is TROJANA World Travel. I love butterflies, so I named the agency after the magnificent birdwing butterfly, the Trogonoptera trojana, found only in Palawan and nowhere else in the world.

After ten years of existence, I have noticed that my agency’s name still has a poor recall among my regular passengers, consolidators, and airline staff. Likewise, in Palawan, when you mention the name Trojana, it does not ring a bell at all even to the locals despite this butterfly being in the midst of their existence for hundreds of years. Only a handful of people, like those who live in the forest areas, know the Trojana very well—although when I ask them if they have heard of the birdwing, they would give me a cautious look and choose to remain mum. But if you nudge them a little more, start being comical, or sound curious but seemingly uninterested, or maybe take their photos for a souvenir shot, they will soon finally start to share and show some specimens of their favorite butterfly catch. Catching Trojana butterflies is a source of livelihood for these mountain folks. They have been trained by butterfly traders on how to easily catch them in the wild, and how to preserve the fragile specimens with chemicals and neatly wrap them in wax paper ready for turnover. They have also been taught to keep silent about their trade.

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Any chance you’d remember how you came across the term “biodiversity” before? If not, let me make it easier for you by making you pick from the choices listed below instead. Could you have learned about biodiversity through:

A. Printed materials. It could be academic textbooks (don’t be shy now), magazines, posters, or newspapers. Billboards—why not?

B. Radio. Probably from listening to news announcements and radio programs. Or from an FM station, perhaps?

C. TV. Of course, the most popular and widespread broadcast communicating medium in the country. Let’s see: The Discovery Channel? Or late-night documentaries like The Correspondents or The Probe Team?

D. Friends or from other people. Maybe you know somebody who’s into environment stuff, hopefully not a pet collector. Or you’ve been invited to discussions, or a monthly forum? Let’s not forget the classroom.

E. Internet. Surfing the World Wide Web could lead you to environment-related sites, or could get you to this blog, for example.

Biodiversity, Conservation, and the Community

For me, it would have to be A. I happened to be tidying up the room of our college department laboratory, back at the time when I was already a graduating student. On one of the desks I was arranging, I noticed a book with an attractive front cover showing a pair of Philippine Eagles attending to their offspring. The title read, “Biodiversity, Conservation, and the Community.” I figured the book probably had something to do with animals, but I couldn’t quite define what “biodiversity” was. I was familiar with “bio,” which meant life, then “diversity” meant variety. Ah, variety of life! Easy. I scanned through the pages for a few seconds, then I put the book on a shelf somewhere, never to lay hands on it again until fate brought me to work for a conservation NGO several months later. But just to formally define “biodiversity,” I quote Catibog-Sinha and Heaney from their book, “Philippine Biodiversity: Principles and Practice,” which goes:

Biodiversity means the variety and extent of differences among living things, at the species, genetic, and ecosystem levels.

Most of you who have learned about biodiversity may have found out about it through either of those conventional channels I’ve mentioned above. If you encountered the term for the first time through this blog, that’s really flattering. But that only means you have not heard of it before regardless of whichever medium, which to me indicates that biodiversity, or more specifically Philippine biodiversity, still has a long way to go before it becomes as commonplace as Jollibee in the Philippines.

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