But who will protect the protectors?
THE 26 Wildlife Enforcement Officers (WEO) or Bantay Gubat were recently deputized to help protect a crucial part of the central Sierra Madre: Mt. Mingan, in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.
Deputized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with assistance from the Haribon Foundation, the new Bantay Gubat ensures that the existing wildlife resources laws, as well as its rules and regulations, will be further protected in Gabaldon. The Bantay Gubat will also ensure that forest dependent citizens are following the provisions under Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001.
Mt. Mingan is known for its rich biodiversity, also known as a home for Haring Ibon, or the Philippine Eagle. But what comes with Mingan’s wealth in wildlife are threats to its flora and fauna. The existence of kaingin, logging, and timber poaching pose a great threat to endemic species found in this part of central Sierra Madre, including Haring Ibon.
Given the situation in Gabaldon, the newly deputized Bantay Gubat are now working to protect their home. However, as committed as they are in addressing the environmental challenges in Mt. Mingan, the new Bantay Gubat must continue to obtain financial and technical support.
Challenges faced by the forest warriors
Bantay Gubat is a volunteer effort whose members receive honorariums from their local government units (LGUs). The pay however is still not be enough to support their families, mostly consisting of upland farmers and indigenous people.
Forest monitoring is also not an easy task. If illegal loggers and wildlife traders are found they must be arrested. Bantay Gubat members must also appear in court to testify against wildlife violators.
Community organizers are typically approached by families and community members with questions such as “Ma’am paano po yung pamilya namin?” (Ma’am what about my family?) and “Ma’am anong gagawin namin kapag tinutukan kami ng baril?” (What will we do if I am shot?).
Because of these concerns, the DENR-CENRO or Community Environment and Natural Resources Office also appointed officers per district, whose sole responsibilities were to assist the Bantay Gubat of each municipality under their jurisdiction. This way the Bantay Gubat can now cooperate closely with the CENRO in obtaining assistance such as additional trainings, funding, or to connect with officers from other municipalities.
Bantay Gubat assigned in Gabaldon have now submitted a proposed budget for 2017 which includes the honorariums for each deputized Bantay Gubat. In addition, seminars and trainings for Bantay Gubat will also be provided as part of their capacity building.
Establishing Bantay Gubat is one strategy used by the Haribon Foundation to ensure Participatory Natural Resources Management (PNRM), which empowers the local community to be organizers themselves. By empowering local communities and enhancing their capacity to manage their own resources, sustainable development can be achieved.
The future of our forests and their guardians
The guidance that the DENR will provide is a small but critical step in promoting environment protection on Mt. Mingan. The additional financial and technical support from the DENR also suggests that the government recognizes the constraints experienced by the Bantay Gubat, such as access to resources and job opportunities. This acknowledgement could help strengthen relationships between forest dependent communities and local government to further conserve biodiversity and the precious natural resources we all share. It is hoped that an empowered Bantay Gubat whose work is valued by their peers, community members, and government institutions will mean a sustainable and fruitful future for everyone.
SAM MANALASTAS/HARIBON FOUNDATION SITE ACTION