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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, September 24, 2018
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with Errol A. Gatumbato
OPINIONS

Working for Mindoro’s biodiversity
(Last of two parts)

Rock & Refuge

Mindoro is not only biologically important, it is also an island where numerous tribes of indigenous people, collectively known as Mangyan, are living, making it a cultural site, too. Most of the sites considered as Key Biodiversity Areas in the island are known as well as ancestral domains of the IPs.

The Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park in Oriental Mindoro province is the remaining stronghold of the Tamaraw, and yet there are also Mangyan groups that are claiming ancestral rights over it. Within this site, there is still a tribe of Mangyan that remains isolated and continues to live and practice their own culture away from the lowlanders. The MIBNP requires protection as a habitat of Tamaraws and other wildlife, and at the same time as an ancestral domain of IPs.

Unfortunately, a large part of the MIBNP is already used for other purposes. The existence of agriculture and cattle ranching in the protected area is competing with the space supposedly intended for both the IPs and Tamaraws. The MIBNP covers more than 75,000 hectares. As counted this year, the population of Tamaraws in the MIBNP is roughly 500 individuals that are confined in relatively smaller area of only about 1,500 hectares.

Another interesting site is the Mount Halcon in Oriental Mindoro province. This is another KBA where numerous endemic species are found. Since Mount Halcon is not a declared protected area, the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., in partnership with the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro, had proposed that this site shall be managed as a conservation site using the co-management approach.

The co-management system shall be established between the provincial government and the three Mangyan groups that are claiming ancestral rights in the area. Under the proposed scheme, the management council shall be formed with a representative from the IPs as chair and the governor as co-chair.

Such proposal shall make sure that the provincial government would be able to provide necessary assistance to the IPs. The proposal is still pending, as the IPs still have concerns on the awarding of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title in Mount Halcon.

The Ilin and Ambulong Islands in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro are another important conservation sites. Along with Lobo in Batangas, these two islands are known to contain the endemic Philippine teak, a species of tree that has never been recorded in other parts of the country. In addition, the island of Ilin is the only known locality for the endemic Ilin cloud rat. The species has never been recorded after its discovery several years ago.

The world’s second largest contiguous coral reef system, the Apo Reef, is also found in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. It is a declared natural park and one of the most popular diving destinations in the Philippines. The coral reefs cover approximately 34 square kilometers, making it next to the Great Barrier Reef n Australia, in terms of coral cover.

The Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro is not only a national park, but also a declared wetland of international importance. It is a critical freshwater fishing ground for lakeshore communities covering four municipalities in the province. The lake serves as a refuge to thousands of migratory birds, while the terrestrial part of the national park inhabits numerous endemic species.

These are only few of interesting biodiversity sites in Mindoro. In fact, there are still other areas in the island that await discovery, and who knows, there might be other natural treasures that can be considered. Although I am not a resident of Mindoro, it is a privilege for me to work with its people on biodiversity conservation, along with the officers and staff of the MBCFI.*

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