TIWI, Albay: For the Agta-Tabangnon tribe in this town that is rich in geothermal resources, the forest is life. After facing the wrath of nature with natural calamities that have visited the region, the tribesmen have been tapped as guardians of the forest to protect Asia’s oldest geothermal plant that is within the integral part of their natural habitat.
Arsenio Condeno, 50, Agta-Tabangnon tribal chieftain of Joroan has lived within the energy reserve area here most of his life.
The villages of Misibis, Mayong and Joroan with a total population of 2,802 or 489 households, all located in the Philippine Geothermal Production Company (PGPC) energy reserve areas, is also where his fellow tribesmen live.
The PGPC in Tiwi, Asia’s first geothermal power plant, is the largest source of geothermal energy in the Philippines. It supplies clean and renewable energy in the country through the Luzon grid.
Townspeople from all walks of life including indigenous peoples (IPs) joined hands to reforest the denuded reserve area to protect the geothermal field and prolong its life. They’ve seen the necessity for this because of the year round natural calamities that visit the region and the ill effects on the land wrought by logging concessions a few decades ago. Typhoon Nina devastated the area last December.
Condeno and his group linked arms with the PGPC, the local government unit led by Tiwi Mayor Jaime Villanueva, Philippine National Police under Senior Insp. Jan King Calipay, Philippine National Red Cross, students and other stakeholders to reforest the energy reserve area last Valentine’s day.
Condeno told The Manila Times that preserving the environment is very critical to their survival specifically for the coming generation as they rely on the forest cover for their water supply and food.
“We want to bring back the healthy forest of the past because this is the lifeblood of the geothermal generation. It provides our country light and clean energy. Although the geothermal field forest is intact, the nearby area needs to be reforested immediately because this is very important for our survival,” he said in the local dialect.
He added that from 1971 to 1972, there was rampant cutting of trees by a logging concession decimating the rainforest and affecting even the secondary forest.
There are 13 tribal organizations in this geothermal-rich town living in the mountainous villages of Misibis, Mayong, Tabgon and Joroan.
Condeno said that the presence of the geothermal power plant in this town is advantageous to IPs as their rainforest and secondary forest are being preserved ensuring that they have water, clean energy and livelihood supported that the PGPC and the government supports.
“We gained scientific knowledge through the trainings the PGPC and the government provide so we integrate our indigenous practices with these new learnings to improve our survival techniques in times of natural calamities,” he said.
Joroan village is on a cliff that towers over the Pacific Ocean. It is a vantage point for a panoramic view of the surrounding forests. The 240-year-old miraculous image of Nuestra Señora de Salvacion made of Calpe tree is found here making Joroan a major pilgrim site in Albay province.
Erwin Vargas, PGPC spokesman said that close to 2,000 assorted fruit bearing trees were planted in the energy reserve area facing the Pacific Ocean.
The tree planting is a year-round activity here and is the residents’ way of expressing their love for nature and a pledge to protect the environment.
The tree planting event with the theme “Puno Para Sa Puso,” held at Barangay Joroan was supported by various stakeholders specifically the community here.
Vargas said they will tap the IP community as guardian of the forest to watch over and nurture the newly planted trees to ensure their 100 percent survival.
The IPs will be given corresponding payment as guardians of the forest, he added.
Meanwhile, Villanueva said that reforestation is a continuing program of the local government unit in partnership with PGPC and other stakeholders here specifically in Joroan as he envisions the conversion of the place as an eco-tourism site.
Villanueva added that he will build a four-story image of Nuestra Señora de Salvacion Joroan so the pilgrims can commune with the nature under her watchful gaze.