6 Bukidnon mountain ranges eyed to be declared protected areas

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/18 July) – The Sangguniang Panlalawigan here is pushing for the declaration of six mountain ranges in the province as protected areas, aside from the two already previously declared.

Board member Nemesio Beltran Jr., who co-authored the resolution with Alfeo Baguio, chair of the committee on environmental protection, cited in his draft the urgent need to preserve and conserve the six mountain ranges.

Bukidnon already has two protected areas: Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park declared through Republic Act 8978 and Mt. Kalatungan Range Natural Park through Presidential Proclamation No. 305.

The proposed protected areas include Mt. Kimangkil Range with 13,341 hectares lying along Malitbog and Manolo Fortich towns; Mt. Tago Range with 37,108 hectares situated along Malaybalay City and Impasug-ong; Mt. Tangkulan, with 21,924 hectares along Quezon, Valencia City, and San Fernando; Mt. Pantaron with 33,029 hectares straddling San Fernando, Impasug-ong, Cabanglasan, and Malaybalay City; Mt. Lumot with 21,911 hectares along Impasug-ong and Claveria, Misamis Oriental; and Mt. Palapao Hill Cave, with 1,482 hectares in Sitio Kilabong, Brgy. Villa Vista, Sumilao.

The resolution is requesting Congress to declare the mountain ranges as protected areas and their peripheral areas as buffer zone.

The board members said in the resolution that the mountain ranges have unique ecological diversity and human communities habituating the natural landscapes.

Mt. Pantaron range, for one, hosts three watersheds that cascade through the rivers of Sawaga, Can-Ayan, and Upper Pulangi, the board said. This is not the first time a proposal to declare Mt. Pantaron as a protected area was announced. In 2004, the DENR announced the proposal but it did not pass in Congress.

Beltran said that the provincial board had already declared the whole province as an environmentally critical area.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bukidnon, through the Protected Area Management Board, should submit the required documentation to Bukidnon’s three representatives to the House representatives in support of their recommendation, Beltran said,

But he noted that it should be subject to the free and prior informed consent process under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.

Mt. Kitanglad, Bukidnon’s first protected area, was declared a natural park on October 24, 1996 through Presidential Proclamation no. 896. It became a full-fledged protected area on November 9, 2000 through Republic Act 8978. But it had become a national park on Dec. 14, 1990 through Presidential Proclamation 677.

Recently, Mt. Kitanglad was listed as among the Top 17 environmental hotspots in the Philippines and as an ASEAN Heritage Park.

The proclamation of Mt. Kalatungan into a protected area in 2001, however, sparked controversy when the lumads complained it has reportedly overlapped with their own ancestral domain claim.

Ma. Shirlene Sario, provincial officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), confirmed in 2004 that the area of the Mt. Pantaron range is being claimed by the indigenous peoples as part of their ancestral domain.

Earlier, she said the process of obtaining free and prior informed consent is very vital in proceedings that involved areas being claimed by IPs as their ancestral domain.

Both the DENR and the NCIP earlier admitted that there was a problem with the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 and Republic Act 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.

Mt. Kalatungan became a natural park on May 5, 2000 through Presidential Proclamation 305. On June 12, 2008, then Rep. Candido Pancrudo Jr. (1st District) filed House Bill 4371 declaring the mountain range a protected area. As of April 28, 2009, the House Committee on Appropriations had approved the bill with some amendments. Yet, like the still unapproved bill for Mt. Pantaron, it needs to be filed anew in the new Congress.

The protected area system is part of the government’s effort to conserve ecosystems and the country’s watersheds.

The DENR has considered Bukidnon’s watersheds as very vital to Mindanao’s water Systems. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)