Mt. Hamiguitan Eco Park promotes conservation and protection

SAN ISIDRO, Davao Oriental (MindaNews / 5 May) – The Eco-Park and Interpretation Site of Mt. Hamiguitan will ensure the preservation and conservation of the mountain range that houses at least 1,403 species of flora and fauna, including the critically endangered Philippine Eagle and the pygmy forest (bonsai forest), Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said during the inauguration Wednesday.

She said that the eco-park is an embodiment of ecological balance, which symbolizes the collective effort to conserve and protect the mountain range.

Malanyaon added that the park – which has a natural science museum, research center, research and tourist cabins, mountain trails, camping grounds, souvenir shop and restaurant – is a “model which strikes a balance between utilization and conservation.”

“The eco-park allows you to experience Mt. Hamiguitan,” she said.

Gracing the inauguration was President Benigno S. Aquino III, who arrived 2:40 p.m. and delivered a 15-minute message, along with Malanyaon and other provincial and municipal government officials.

Aquino said that the government allocated about P236 million for the construction of roads and bridges to make transportation easy for tourists going to the to the eco-park

He said that better roads and infrastructure will eventually translate to improved development and tourism growth.

“Panata po natin na iiwang maayos ang Pilipinas,” he said.

Mt. Hamiguitan is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site after its inscription on June 23, 2014, the sixth in the Philippines and the only mountain range in the country which attained such distinction.

Last April 14, at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City, Mt. Hamiguitan was also officially launched as the 34th ASEAN Heritage Park (AHP) and the eighth in the country, after almost two years of its inscription on October 21, 2014 at the 15th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Lao.

Department of Tourism (DOT) 11 director Roberto Alabado III said in an interview that they are expecting an influx of tourists in Davao Oriental after the Eco-Park and Interpretation Site of the Mt. Hamiguitan Heritage Park was inaugurated on Wednesday, a month after its formal launching as an Asean Heritage Park.

Alabado said that the agency will work closely with the local government units of Mati City, San Isidro, and Gov. Generoso to ensure that tourism establishments will be ready for the deluge of visitors who want to experience the eco-park.

“For DOT, we will be working hand in hand with Mati, San Isidro, Gov. Generoso in ensuring that the quality of the tourism establishments and the quality of tourism service conform with what is expected of Mt. Hamiguitan, so we will be working very hard on trainings with our communities who benefit from the gains of this activity and accommodations within the vicinity,” he said.

Days ahead of the inauguration, Alabado claimed that there had been bookings from tourists to the eco-park, located at the buffer zone from the San Isidro municipality side in the province.

Because of the lack of hotels and similar establishments, he said they are encouraging local communities to embark on a hosting program, which means that they accommodate tourists to stay in their homes.

“The nearest hotels are located in Mati. We are encouraging hosting programs in San Isidro, the community itself will house the tourists. This is good because when you have a heritage park, the tourists would like to taste the local culture. We hope the local community can host our tourists so we can have more wholistic approach to tourism,” he added.

The 16,923-hectare Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, which covers the municipalities of San Isidro and Governor Generoso and Mati City, is a protected area declared under Republic Act No. 9303.

A briefer said that the park is constructed to serve as a way to deter the effects of human activities and ensure the conservation efforts of the stakeholders in perpetuation of the rich and unique biological diversity of the heritage mountain.

Recorded on Mt. Hamiguitan are 963 species of flora and 440 species of fauna, 341 of which are endemic to the Philippines.

The plants include 729 angiosperms, 27 conifers, 164 ferns and allies, 17 mosses, 13 liverworts, and 13 lichens while the known fauna include 15 species of non-flying mammals, 11 species of flying mammals, 108 species of birds, 33 species of reptiles, 18 species of frogs, 142 species of butterflies, 31 species of dragonflies and damselflies, 46 species of spiders, four species of earthworms, 15 species of nematodes, and 17 species of freshwater fish.

“It houses, among others, highly rare and globally threatened species of plants and animals such as Philippine Eagle, tarsier, nannophya pygmaea or the world’s smallest dragonflies, Philippine cockatoo, shorea dipterocarps, orchids, and Hamiguitan hairy-tailed rat,” the briefer added.

The Asean Center for Biodiversity (ACB), as a secretariat of the Asean Heritage Park (AHP) programme, facilitates the intergovernmental cooperation and capacity building on biodiversity of the 10 member states – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“ACB assists countries in the region to enhance and strengthen the administrative and management capacity of AHP managers and promotes the AHPs,” said lawyer Genalyn Balon-Soriano, a representative from the ACB.

“One of our key thrusts is to assist the ASEAN member states in effectively managing protected areas through the Asean Heritage Programme,” she said.

Soriano said their mission is to facilitate and coordinate biodiversity conservation efforts in the ASEAN region that are aligned with the three pillars of the Convention on Biological Diversity on conservation, sustainable use, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits.

Mt. Apo and Mt. Hamiguitan are among the eight declared as heritage parks in the Philippines, including Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Occidental Mindoro, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidon Province, Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park in Misamis Occidental, Mt. Makiling Nature Reserve in Laguna, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan, and Mt. Timpoong-Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.

“When a protected area is declared as an AHP, we always say that it is already a shared natural heritage of ASEAN. The AHP Programme underlines the need for greater collaboration for biodiversity in ASEAN, particularly since the region provides for some of the world’s enigmatic species and harbors a globally significant wealth of biodiversity,” she added.

Protected areas declared as Asean Heritage Parks benefit from the AHP programme through participation in learning events and capacity building activities for park managers and stakeholders.