Commercial Veggie Expansion, Infra Works Threaten Mt. Pulag Biodiversity

Mt. Pulag’s mossy forests are threatened by the fast expansion of commercial vegetable gardens and infrastructure development, a government environmental watchdog disclosed last week.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 27, August 12-18, 2007

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms. north of Manila) – Mt. Pulag’s mossy forests are threatened by the fast expansion of commercial vegetable gardens and infrastructure development, a government environmental watchdog disclosed last week.

Some twenty hectares of Mt. Pulag’s slopes are covered by alleged clearing operations which were reportedly carried out shortly before the May elections. Those behind the expansion of commercial vegetable gardens allegedly used modern equipment – including bulldozers, and back hoes.

Mt. Pulag, the second highest peak in the country, covers 11,550 hectares in the provinces of Benguet, Nueva Viscaya, and Ifugao. It was declared as a protected area through Proclamation No. 75, issued on Feb. 19, 1987 by then President Corazon Aquino.

At least 100 hectares of mossy forests have been cleared off Mt. Pulag since due to the expansion of vegetable gardens, said Emerita Albas, superintendent of the Protected Area of Mt. Pulag National Park.

The widest part of the 20-hectare clearing, which is the latest so far, was allegedly done under orders from a barangay official in Amlinay, Buguias, Albas disclosed; while the clearing of two parcels was carried out by a resident of Ballay, Kibungan. Buguias and Kibungan are both municipalities in Benguet.

Albas said she had warned those behind the clearing to stop the activity. The protected area superintendent issued notices of their violations and made radio announcements warning them on the clearing.

“The trouble is, no one wants to testify on who did the clearings,” she said.

The latest clearings allegedly took place at the foot of Mt. Pulag where mossy forests are most abundant.

Tabeyo Lake leveled

Aside from the threat to the mossy forests posed by the expansion of commercial vegetable gardens, Mt. Pulag is also threatened by road projects that dissect sensitive forests. In one instance, a government road project dissected a lake in Mt. Pulag.

Prior to 1991, Lake Tabeyo used to be nestled in a mossy forest in Ballay, Kabayan. It is classified as a strictly protected zone.

“It used to be wider measuring about 10,000 square meters,” Albas said. “Now it is reduced into half after a road to Tawangan, Kabayan dissected it. The right side, with that part of the road, is leveled and included as part of a garden.”

Albas explained that after the road project dissected Tabeyo, the lake’s right side was covered with soil and planted to commercial vegetable crops as part of the garden expansions.

Aside from Tabeyo, there are at least two more lakes in Mt. Pulag considered ecologically unstable.

Two lakes considered stable are Ambulalakao and Latep Ngapos, the most pristine, which are usually not open for tourist visits, said Albas.

Ancestral domain

Some residents in Mt. Pulag say they have ancestral land rights over parts of the area.

At least four Certificates of Ancestral Land Claims (CALC) have been awarded to residents. Two CALCs were given to residents of Barangay (village) Ekip, Bokod, Benguet; while one each was given to residents of Brgys. Lusod and Tawangan, both in Kabayan, Benguet.

The CALCs were granted under Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No.2. These CALCs can be converted into Certificates of Ancestral Land Title (CALT) by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) as provided by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA).

Lack of inter-agency sustainable projects

A resident in one of the towns near Mt. Pulag said that the shortcomings in conservation work for Mt. Pulag should be blamed on the government. He claimed that different stakeholders’ rights are affected by different government laws such as the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act, the IPRA, and agrarian programs.

The resident, who requested anonymity, pointed out that the concerned government agencies lack coordination. Albas shared this view.

Both observed that a Department of Agriculture (DA) road project under the Highland Agricultural Development Program (HADP) encroaches on sensitive parts of the forests and lakes in Mt. Pulag.

“There are no clear inter-agency sustainable projects for Mt. Pulag,” the protected area superintendent said.

Mt. Pulag lakes are also considered sources of water for the four Cordillera dams: Ambuklao, Binga, San Roque and Magat. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

PHOTO BY Berry Sangao

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