In pursuit of stronger forest laws, communities in the municipalities of Infanta and General Nakar in Quezon gathered recently in a citizen dialogue to identify issues they observed in the forest governance of Mt. Irid-Angelo.
Representatives from different sectors agree on the different, if not dismal state of their forests compared to what they have enjoyed while they were young. The National Greening Program (NGP), small-scale mining regulation, weak implementation of environmental laws and ineffective forest monitoring were cited as the main issues confronting the forests of Mt. Irid-Angelo.
Nestled amidst the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal and Quezon, Mt. Irid-Angelo serves as an important watershed, which provides the main water source for over 12 million Metro Manila residents. Covering around 135,527 hectares, this tract of old-growth forests is among the few remaining forest blocks in the country.
These two neighboring mountains in Southern Sierra Madre are among the 228 Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines. They hold environmental and cultural values being the haven of some critically-endangered Philippine Eagles in Luzon and the ancestral home of the Dumagat-Remontado indigenous peoples.
When asked about their ambitions for their forest home, the participants held the same aspirations for Mt. Irid-Angelo. The different sectors envision a harmonious relationship among different stakeholders in the area.
They look forward to bringing back the lost wildlife in the forests. Someday, they want to see taller trees and no more timber poaching. Finally, they aspire for a community that is responsible and practices organic farming.
The community dialogue became a venue for different groups to air out their sentiments about the perennial problems they have been experiencing concerning their forest home. Towards the end, all sectors agreed that the alarming condition of Mt. Irid-Angelo is not only an issue of the IP groups, nor the agenda of people’s organizations but an interest of the entire community.
“Kapag kami lang, hindi namin kakayanin dahil sa laki ng gubat. (If it’s only us, we cannot handle it alone because the forest is too vast),” said Marcelino Tena, president of the Samahan ng mga Katutubong Agta, Dumagat, Remontado na Binabaka at Pinagtatanggol ang Lupaing Ninuno (SAGIBIN-LN).
“Wala nang magagawa pa ang pagsisisihan. Ang gawin natin ngayon ay magtulungan upang maibalik ang dating ganda ng kagubatan. (The blame-game is useless. We should start working together now to restore the beauty of our mountains),” added Tena.
The community consultation is part of Haribon Foundation’s program that aims to empower citizens to create meaningful dialogues with the government to protect the remaining natural forests of this Southern Sierra Madre mountain range.
Participants in the dialogue are representatives from the academe, business sector, including resort owners, people’s organizations, civil society groups and indigenous peoples.
Haribon’s community consultation is made possible with funding and support from the European Commission under the project Strengthening Non-state Actors Involvement in Forest Governance in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea.