Kitanglad Range launched as ASEAN Heritage Park

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/2 Sept) — Bukidnon’s Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park (MKRNP), which hosts the country’s second highest peak, has been designated as one of the 30 ASEAN Heritage Parks, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Norma Molinyawe, head of the Biodiversity Management Division of the DENR’s Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau, said that officials from the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB) and the DENR held the site launching here last Tuesday.

Molinyawe said they will generate an initial five-year action plan for the park after the launching, which is the official start of the park’s inclusion to the list after its designation in October 2009.

She added that with its inclusion to the ASEAN list, there are now better resources to improve the conservation of Mt. Kitanglad’s biodiversity.

Felix Mirasol, the community environment and natural resources officer and Mt. Kitanglad protected area superintendent, said the inclusion means conserving the park is no longer just the responsibility of the Philippines or the Protected Area Management Board.

He said the structure of the Association of the South East Asian Nations now include Mt. Kitanglad as among its priorities.

He said this meant also a continuing commitment from the local stakeholders to a wider partnership.

But Mirasol clarified that the park’s present status in the list does not automatically mean influx of financial aid.

“It means eligibility to access the financial resources of the ASEAN as only listed parks can access ASEAN resources for conservation,” he added.

According to the ACB, the components of the ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP) program include capacity development, information sharing network, technical exchange program, first in line for available international funding, promotion of tourism, participation in joint research program, biannual conference of managers, and management improvement programs.

Mirasol said initially MKRNP obtained a $10,000 (P450,000) grant from the AHP for the ongoing construction of the visitors’ center in Cinchona, Lantapan, Bukidnon.

He said the AHP involves largely educational, appreciation, and promotion thrusts so the visitors’ center is an important initial project.

Mirasol added that in terms of eco-tourism products, park management still has a long way to go compared with the prospects in the other countries in the ASEAN.

He said if they craft the long-term plan of MKRNP it should not only redound to protection and conservation of the park’s resources. “It must also provide sustainable economic opportunities to the stakeholders in the upland areas,” he added.

Mirasol said they are planning to propose to include eco-tourism, agro-forestry like inter-cropping of fruit trees and the plantation of essential herbal oils.

Mt. Kitanglad is the third declared ASEAN Heritage Park in the Philippines, after Mt. Apo in Davao and North Cotabato and Mt. Iglit-Baco in Mindoro Oriental were included.

The ACB, Molinyawe said, included the Kitanglad to the list because it qualified in the criteria, among them ecological completeness, high conservation importance, approved management plan, uniqueness, importance for endangered or precarious bio-diversity, and high ethno-biological significance.

She quoted DENR officials as saying among the reasons Mt. Kitanglad’s was included in the list is because it is considered home of the indigenous peoples.

Bae Inatlawan Adelina D. Tarino, chieftain of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan tribe, said they welcome the inclusion to the ASEAN list as it would help in the preservation of the park.

The Bukidnon Daraghuyan considered a portion of the 47,270-hectare Mt. Kitanglad park as its ancestral domain. The Bukidnon-Higaonon-Talaandig tribe calls the whole park its home.

But Bae Inatlawan said one thing was missing in the launching — the traditional ritual obtaining consent from their ancestors. She said it is an important aspect of their culture to pay respect to their ancestors whenever they are involved in new undertaking.

She said, however, that they will just hold the ritual on their own when she returns to their community.

She said that in the next activities, organizers must not miss on the spiritual aspect of projects as these are important to the life and culture of the lumads, who are stakeholders, too. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)