Apayao eyes 4th UNESCO labeled biosphere reserve

LUNA, Apayao—Leaders of Apayao are relentlessly pushing for the inscription of the province as the next UNESCO biosphere reserve of the Philippines, aiming to be the fourth after Albay, Palawan and Puerto Gallera.

Governor Elias C. Bulut, Jr. and Representative Eleanor “Cong Leah” Bulut-Begtang in coordination with the Director of Research Conversation Philippine Eagle Foundation Dr. Jayson Ibañez gathered on November 8 the stakeholders of the seven (7) municipalities of Apayao, provincial department heads including the key officials of national line agencies stationed in the province for the inaugural meeting for the proposed inscription as the fourth UNESCO labeled biosphere reserve in the country.

Bulut told the group that the protection of Apayao forest dubbed as the last lowland forest frontier of the north needs serious attention. This apprehension is not only based on mere speculation but on study and real observation of what is happening in the country’s forest and mountains.

“I’m very serious with this program kasi heto na lang yung naiiwan natin (because this is only what is left).  It would be a source of livelihood for the generation to come. Each and everyone should do his or her part, this is a very serious matter for us that if after five (5) years and we do not do something for our forest protection, mawawala yan, napaka bilis mawala ang kagubatan natin (it will disappear, our forest swiftly disappears),” Bulut underscored.

According to Ibañez Apayao has the potential to be tagged as one of UNESCO labeled biosphere reserves in the country for its vast and virgin forest still intact besides the presence of Philippine eagle in some area such as the Municipality of Calanasan.

Ibañez who oriented the group pointed out the unique characteristics Apayao possesses compared to other UNESCO ascribed biosphere reserves such as Albay and Palawan which are usually based on marine/coastal. In Apayao, mainly it is about lowland forest and presence of wildlife and different endangered species.

“The Apayao Province key biodiversity area (KBA) is one of 12 globally recognized KBA’s in Northern Luzon. The forest cover of the Apayao KBA is estimated at about 170,000 hectares in which the seven towns are part of the KBA,” Ibañez said.

Agreeing with the earlier statement of Governor Bulut, Ibañez told the stakeholders of the benefits it could open to the Iapayaos once it qualifies as UNESCO designated biosphere reserve area.

“As governor said, it would attract investors and boost the tourism industry of the province which in turn will generate works in the locality. There will be common blue print/framework and more outside help and funding. Education through research and national and global prestige are also some plus factors that would be attained,” Ibañez added.

According to Ibañez, there are also other advantages such as local economic improvement, indigenous culture enhancement, healthier environment and branding/marketing for the Province of Apayao.

Although the intention is worth pursuing, the governor and his sibling, “Cong Leah” had apprehensions in case the program will be realized. They proposed to the group that the program like in Calanasan should be Local Government Unit (LGU) led one but still with the technical assistance of national line agencies like the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Bulut then asked the Department and Interior Local Government Provincial Director Marvin Basquez and the LGUs concerned to study how would it be possible that the program become an LGU led one.

“This should be an LGU led forest reserve like in Calanasan. Once may pera na iyan, mag-iiba na ang ugali ng tao (if there will be money already, the attitude of people changes).  In the future, if there will be funds, we should be the ones managing it to address what are the real need of the people in a particular area,” Bulut stressed.

In support of this program, Cong. Leah informed the body for her intention to differ momentarily the passing of the bill concerning the “Establishment of the EKB Wildlife Sanctuary” in Calanasan.

Presented in the meeting was an Executive Order organizing the task force for the proposed inscription of Apayao Province to be signed by the Governor. In the EO, the Governor is the Chairman while the Vice Chairman is the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer.

Members of the task force ard the Representative of the Province, all mayors, all Community ENR Officers, Provincial Planning and Development Coordinator, Provincial Assessor, Provincial Tourism Officer, Chairman-Committee on ENR of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Head ENR Division under Governor’s Office, DILG Provincial Director, NCIP Provincial Officer, District Engineers, SDS DepEd Apayao, Apayao State College President, Representatives of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, United States Forest Service, Watershed Rehabilitation and Developers Association, Head of National Irrigation Association and Representatives from NGOs and CSOs.

The body has already laid down plans and timeline for the faster realization of this program. By December, there will be another meeting to discuss the working financial plan for this program while in the first quarter next year would be the gathering of data and consolidation of pertinent documents necessary.

There will also be immersion and/or study proposed to visit Albay as the latest UNESCO biosphere reserve of the country. It was already schedule last month but was cancelled due to the declaration of Malacañang as non-working days for all government offices because of transport strike.

Bulut asked the members of the task group for their full cooperation, patience and sincerity in order to realize this goal within two (2) years, in time before bowing out as the governor of the province.

By GERRIAHZON S. SEBASTIAN

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