Sprawled on 8,334 hectares of land in Occidental Mindoro, the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm (SPPF) is located at the foot of Mt. Siburan, one the country’s last vestiges of lowland forest, and is also identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by Birdlife International and Haribon Foundation. Due to the area’s importance to biodiversity, SPPF became one of Haribon’s project partners for the Integrating Forest Conservation with Local Governance in the Philippines Project (IFCLGP) in 2001.
IFCLGP aimed to improve conservation of important areas through integration with local development planning and strengthening of local governance, raising the awareness of the local people, and local government on issues of forest protection and conservation. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Haribon Foundation was created, indicating commitment of SPPF’s active participation in the project activities as well as the conservation of Mt. Siburan.
As a result, Haribon was able to build a broad constituency for biodiversity conservation through awareness raising, alliance building, networking, and advocacy as well as capacity building of partner forest-dependent communities geared toward effective and efficient community-based natural resource management. Haribon provided additional assistance to SPPF to strengthen its eco-tourism potentials by including eco-tourism, like bird watching as one of the options for the conservation of Siburan KBA, which is currently earning from these activities in partnership with the local government unit of Sablayan.
A series of seminars for SPPF conducted by Haribon culminated in the preparation of a Forest Management Plan, which developed into a Forest Land Use Plan (FLUP) as required by the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), for the municipality of Sablayan. Eventually, as a key partner of the Mt. Siburan forest, the SPPF team’s advocacy turned to forest conservation and protection. SPPF has become an active part of the FMP-Technical Working Group (FMP-TWG) as issued by the LGU-Sablayan.
The budget for the formulation and implementation of the FLUP and the Bleeding Heart Pigeon Protection and Conservation Plan through the Threatened Species Programs was managed by Haribon and SPPF.
Head Chief-SPPF Domedes Dador Jr. explained, “We really discourage hunters to enter the property. No hunting within the premises. No entry in forested areas because we have conservation practice there.”
Haribon’s partnership with the LGU served as a catalyst for communities. It institutionalized the Sablayan Forest Management Board (SFMB) as a multi-stakeholder as a local special body within the LGU to assist in formulation of policies and management of biodiversity in the forest ecosystem. It eventually led to the formulation of the Forest Management Plan that eventually was updated by the LGU, also with assistance by Haribon, and drafting of the Forest Land Use Plan using zonation as management tool prescribing its guidelines on its utilization.
Though IFCLGP concluded years ago, the legacy of Haribon and its projects continue to build a mark in the community’s conservation efforts. They reinforced protection by recently putting up signage in strategic areas to warn violators and the community of the stringent security that SPPF enforces in the area. The staff also evolved as contributors or key informants in further biodiversity studies conducted periodically done by Haribon, DENR and the Threatened Species Programs since they have direct access to Mt. Siburan. The penal farm is now planning to put up CCTV cameras to monitor the activities on site and capture sightings of Tamaraw (Bubalus Mindorensis) and other threatened species that are believed to inhabit the area.
The SPPF officials attested that the locals’ stance changed dramatically after years of Haribon’s community interventions. For instance, local hunting and illegal logging are greatly reduced and the community members are active in reporting any illegal activities in the area. They recognized their own power and significant role in protecting their forest and the unique biodiversity that flourishes in it.