Art raffle raises funds for forest rangers in Philippines' biggest critical habitat

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Art raffle raises funds for forest rangers in Philippines' biggest critical habitat
Composite photo shows a forest ranger and the Cleopatra's Needle Critical Habitat in Palawan.
Aubrey Padilla and Solomon Calago

MANILA, Philippines — The indigenous Batak and Tagbanua communities in Palawan play an important role in managing and preserving the largest critical habitat in the country by defending it from the threats to its survival. 

They protect the 41,350-hectare Cleopatra's Needle Critical Habitat (CNCH), one of the oldest and most diverse forests in the Philippines, from the growing threats of deforestation, illegal agricultural expansion, land grabbing, poaching of wildlife and other natural resources, and small-scale mining. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic is making it harder for them to defend one of the country’s last wild places and the species that inhabit it.

Due to funding woes and other challenges exacerbated by the health crisis, the indigenous rangers have not received any allowances for their efforts to patrol the critical habitat since 2020. 

“They work even though they don’t have salaries. They have continued to patrol when they have the time after their other livelihood opportunities,” KM Reyes, co-executive director and co-founder of the Palawan-based Centre for Sustainability Philippines (CS), told Philstar.com

“They’re generously volunteering their time,” she added. 

To support the work of the indigenous Batak and Tagbanua forest rangers in patrolling their ancestral lands, CS is raffling off art pieces to raise money for their allowances. 

Ranger raffle

The raffle aims to raise P942,240 to support 24 indigenous rangers who will patrol CNCH on a rotating basis for a year. The total also aims to cover costs of patrol equipment, quarterly monitoring meetings with government agencies, and community organizing. 

“We decided to do the raffle because we wanted a fun and creative way to raise awareness on what is happening with our rangers.... In a fun way that people can get involved and win some really beautiful art,” Reyes said. 

The public can participate by purchasing raffle tickets to win artworks such as paintings and drawings generously gifted by artists at home and abroad. The art pieces are posted on CS’ Facebook and Instagram accounts. 

“The generosity has been really overwhelming. It’s such a great sign that so many people are interested in contributing and being part of supporting our indigenous communities to be the frontliners in their work,” Reyes said.

As of April 14, CS has raised over P130,000, which can cover two months of patrolling. 

People can also donate here

Guardians of the forest 

The Philippines is one of the world’s megadiverse countries as it is home to two-thirds of the Earth’s biodiversity. But it is tagged as a biodiversity hotspot with at least 700 threatened species. 

Cleopatra's Needle Critical Habitat is home to countless unique and threatened flora and fauna such as the Palawan pangolin, one of the highly poached species in the world. CS initiated the efforts to secure additional protection for the area through critical habitat designation, which was granted in 2016.  

“The importance of protecting this area is not just for the Philippines although it’s incredibly important because it’s one of the last repositories of our biodiversity, it’s one of the last carbon sinks. This is also an area of international importance,” Reyes said. 

CNCH is also the ancestral domain of the last 200 members of the vanishing indigenous Batak community. 

The land management skills of indigenous communities are crucial in combating climate crisis and achieving conservation goals such as protecting biodiversity and maintaining the ecosystems that sustain people. 

To protect the critical habitat and defend their ancestral domain, the indigenous Batak and Tagbanua rangers, through the help of CS, have developed skills such as biodiversity data collection, wildlife photography, smartphone patrolling and science communications. The organization is also helping the communities secure land tenure. 

“These areas will not exist if not for their guardianship over the area. We must be very thankful that we still have an ecological frontier because of their efforts in sustainable guardianship of the area,” Reyes said.

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