Palawan’s highest peak now a protected area
The much-awaited signing of Proclamation 1815 last June 23 by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo transformed 120,457 hectares of land into what is now known as the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL).
The proclamation formally provides the area with protection including resource management, scientific monitoring, and a zoning system. Water and soil conservation and flood control are some of the projects that will be implemented to protect the area.
Local officials aim to create sustainable livelihoods for the communities in the area that do not depend heavily on resource extraction. They intend to provide training and education for residents that would give them alternative sources of income, which are not harmful to the environment.
One such livelihood opportunity is tourism, which could benefit local communities while conserving resources at the same time.
Palawan Governor Joel T. Reyes lauded Mt. Mantalingahan’s new status: "The proclamation is crucial towards the protection of the watersheds of southern Palawan as well as its rich biodiversity."
Haven for plants and animals
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Mt. Mantalingahan is a "Key Biodiversity Area," which means that it harbors important natural resources such as unique flora and fauna.
The environmental group Conservation International (CI) has recorded about 861 plant species in the area, including eight that were “previously undescribed by scientists" and five newly discovered ones in the province.
One of these species is a member of the Coelogyne sp., a group of orchids known for their striking beauty. The new discovery has white flowers that are tinged with gold.
CI conducted a survey in Mt. Mantalingahan in 2007 that counted 169 species of vertebrates, 26 of which are in varying stages of threat or near-extinction.
The group also identified 90 bird species in the area, making it one of the 11 important bird sanctuaries in Palawan.
Beneficial to locals
Mt. Mantalingahan straddles five municipalities – Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, Quezon, Rizal, and Sofronio Española – and holds an important role for local communities.
The beautiful landscape is not only a refuge for endangered species but also benefits local residents, with a projected Total Economic Value of US $5.5 billion, according to CI.
The abundance of non-timber forest products such as rattan and wild honey, along with the development of tourism zones, offers a viable alternative for local villagers to earn a substantive income without harming their surroundings. Among the natural products that upland dwellers can harvest without destroying the forest are fruits, herbs, and oils.
DENR Secretary Joselito Atienza said the declaration was the result of collaborative efforts by the national and local governments, and non-governmental organizations.
These groups include the DENR, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the provincial government of Palawan, South Palawan Planning Council, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff, and CI.
Atienza said the protected area status of Mt. Mantalingahan "proves the government’s sincere effort in protecting our important natural wealth." - GMANews.TV