Forest cleared, structures built within watershed in Davao

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 July) – Environment groups have raised the alarm on the reported cutting of trees within the Panigan-Tamugan watershed in Sitio Kalatong, Barangay Carmen in Baguio District to give way to human settlements.

The watershed is eyed to be Davao City’s next source of potable water.

Lawyer Mark Peñalver, executive director of Interface Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS), told MindaNews on Thursday that these activities would compromise the integrity of the critical watershed.

He pointed out the importance of an intact forest cover to maintain water quantity and quality.

Tamugan River. MindaNews file photo

“If the quality and quantity of water of Panigan-Tamugan watershed is jeopardized, then the most affected will be the Dabawenyos. Hence, there should be a stronger effort to protect Pangan-Tamugan watershed,” he said.

Peñalver said IDIS, Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), Euro Generics International Philippines Foundation (EGIP Foundation), and Davao City Bantay Bukid volunteers urged Mayor Sara Duterte to take immediate action to stop the clearing of forested areas in the sitio.

In a letter to Duterte dated June 29 a copy of which was emailed on Wednesday, they said cutting of trees and selling of lands to non-indigenous of peoples have been rampant since 2018.

Unauthorized construction of structures was also taking place within the watershed, they added.

The groups demanded an investigation in coordination with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to look into the unlawful selling of lands to non-IPs and illegal structures, and called for the immediate demolition of such structures.

The affected area is within the “conservation zone” and considered an “environmental critical area” based on the Davao City Zoning and Land Use Map and 2007 Watershed Code, respectively.

“Clearing the forested area, illegal cutting of trees and establishment of structures, illegal cutting of trees and establishment of structures in the area are violations of the Watershed Code Ordinance of the City,” the groups said.

They recommended that the Watershed Management Monitoring Team in collaboration with PEF and EGIP Foundation be allowed to conduct a drone study in Kalatong to “monitor the extent of deforestation” since 2019 to provide more scientific bases in addressing the environmental concerns.

They wanted the activation of Inter-Agency Task Force Kalatong “to monitor and investigate the environmental violations in the area and recommend to the concerned agencies the possible actions to address the concerns.”

They also asked the local Watershed Management Council and city council to prioritize the installation of boundary markers in Sitio Kalatong as conservation areas, and conduct an information drive on the Watershed Code among barangay and purok officials and tribal leaders.

In a press release issued by IDIS on Wednesday, Datu Lipatuan Joel A. Unad, chair of Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Conference for Peace and Development, said the unabated clearing of forests will dry up Panigan, Kalatong, Kabinuangan, Laling and Tamugan rivers in five years.

He said at least 200 structures have been recorded since 2018, expressing concerns that the wastewater would find its way into the nearby rivers.

The new settlers are not indigenous people, he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)