Checking how climate change is affecting the sustainable dev't of Davao Oriental
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven () - November 12, 2009 - 12:00am

MATI, Davao Oriental, Philippines — An early morning flight via Philippine Airlines brought the UNESCO Philippine NatCom team of 14 marine scientists and six secretariat personnel to Davao City. This is our 18th annual Marine Science Outreach Programme (2-6 November) organized by the National Committee on Marine Sciences (NCMS) to popular islands and coastal sites in the Philippines, which are vulnerable to climate change.

Cynthia “Ging” Rodriguez, Tourism Consultant of Davao Oriental, escorted us to Mati, a three-hour drive. We stopped for lunch at San Isidro, the municipality where Mt. Hamiguitan stands.

Mt. Hamiguitan aspires to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Over lunch with Governor Corazon Malanyaon and San Isidro Mayor Apolinar Ruelo, we also discussed the possibility of Mt. Hamiguitan as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Although Mt. Apo was first proposed much ahead of Mt. Hamiguitan, the study of the team of its geology, flora and fauna, as well as its heritage revealed that the five municipalities surrounding the mountain could not make a common agreement in the plan and program. However, the PNOC thermal site could be of help in funding it.

In contrast, the full commitment of Davao Oriental Governor Malanyaon with Mayor Ruelo, Congresswoman Thelma Almario, and Mati Mayor Michelle Rabat – a team of dynamic and dedicated ladies – has helped speed up the required documents of the unique and universal appeal of Mt. Hamiguitan. Ging Rodriguez reiterated that “A major advantage was the prompt documentation of one dozen rare pitcher plants (nephentes), ferns and orchids, butterflies, and mountain animals by the Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology.” Thus, instead of a serial nomination of both mountains, Mt. Hamiguitan is being proposed as a simple site.

Mati, Davao Oriental

Mati, the capital of Davao Oriental, is located in the easternmost part of Southern Mindanao. It is bounded by the Pacific Ocean in the East, Davao Province in the West, Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur in the North, and Davao Gulf and Celebes Sea in the South. Mati is in District II, which includes the municipalities of Governor Generoso, San Isidro, Banaybanay, and Lupon.

Davao Oriental, subdivided into 183 barangays, has nearly 500,000 people. The province’s labor force participation rate is at 72.7 percent while employment rate is at 94.7 percent.

Dr. Miguel Fortes, NCMS Chairman stated that “Mati is richly endowed with unique, natural and cultural assets. But these assets are at risk or could be compromised in the next few decades, by both human activities and natural events. The climate is changing, and Davao Oriental has to mitigate and adapt to its impacts if it wants to survive and sustain its environment and tourism. The best way is to put climate change mitigation and adaptation within an integrated coastal management framework.”

NCMS Outreach Marine Programme

Billeted first in the lovely “Kanakbai” (our house) beach resort of the Sibalas, we joined our marine scientists at Casa Rosa Hotel, the rest of the week since the workshop took place in the town proper of Mati. Governor Malanyaon, Mayor Rabat, Congresswoman Almario and Davao Oriental State College President Grace Lopez took turns in hosting our lunch and dinner for a total of 60 participants.

The second day was spent on site visits to the Balite Bay, Badas, Mati Park and Baywalk, Guang-Guang Mangrove Forest, as well as Masao, Mayo, Dahican and Kanakbai beaches. Meantime, the workshop proper was held on the third and fourth day.

The group was divided into three. Group 1 (Coastal and Marine Environmental Concerns) had nine participants, which included: Ernesto Santa Cruz (famous as a Marine Turtle Specialist); Kares Villaflor (representative of Councilor Andrada); Lea Jimenez (Director, Davao Oriental Science and Technology State College); Lolita Salgado (Forester, DENR-CENRO Mati); Mark Pineda (President, Pujada Foundation); Eddie Cobacha (MENRO-LGU); George Paglinawan (Interfaith for Peace Empowerment); Rogelio Holoyohoy (Fisheries Aquatic Resource Management Council), and Jeruel Aguhob (Coastal Resources Management focal person, who made a PowerPoint presentation on the environmental status of Mati).

Marivene Manuel Santos of the Philippine National Museum stated that Mati is a rich marine site with 15,000 species but has meager documents. She proposed a “thorough assessment of Mati, particularly Pujada Bay.” This will generate tourists and scientific exploration. “Species will decrease if not recorded.” This related to climate change which causes coral bleaching, invasive species, harmful alga blooms, etc. Therefore, change in livelihood is needed.

Socioeconomic and legal concerns

Group 2 (Socioeconomic and Cultural Concerns) were led by Bernardita Pogosa of DOST, and included Juancho Serrano (Mati Tourism Office), Camila Pusta (Mati Planning Office), Joselito Dapitanon (DepEd), Jean Paul Abayon (Seaside Restaurant), and teachers from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Academy. They noted lack of sewer system, as well as illegal shoreline and shanties. The Macambol loggers have uprooted old mahoganies that damage the watershed, which provide water supply. They added that laws on endangered species need more public awareness. They concluded that red tide is usually caused by siltation from cement quarry and informal settlers.

Group 3 (Infrastructure, Design and Legal Concerns) participants were: Christine Mae Saco (Municipal Engineer of Mati); Noradyl Tutor (Rescue and Monitor Station); Lt. Ramil Palabrica (Philippine Coast Guard); Annie Uy (Municipal Planning Office); Ma. Eden Thelma Quinones (National Housing Office), Pedro Raagas Jr (DPWH); Arnold Rosete (Planning Officer); and Barangay Kagawads Dolorosa Cortez and Helen Lopez.

The groups agreed that Inter-sectorality is important. All sectors should be tapped in order to assist in the mitigation of climate change. The UNESCO National Committee on Marine Sciences has been using the process of uniting the efforts of all stakeholders: mayors, the municipal board members, police and coast guards, tourism groups, such as hotels, restaurants, and tour guides, including educators from elementary, high school, colleges and universities.

Harmonization of policies and updating of national laws with the local laws and vice versa is essential in order to come up with an effective way to adapt to climate change since DENR laws often conflict with local legislations. With the advent of the Local Government Code of 1991, LGUs are empowered to pass a zoning law. Some LGUs are confronted with problems in terms of full implementation of the law since most owners of infrastructure does not want to conform. Lack of political will of the LGU to implement the law is also one of the factors that deter proper zoning in different LGUs.

Conserving whales, dolphins, and whalesharks

Dr. Mudjekeewis D. Santos (named after Hiawatha’s father), Chief of the Vertebrate Section, BFAR-NFRDI (Bureau of Fisheries and Agricultural Resources – National Fisheries Research and Development Institute), is a molecular biologist who trained in Japan for eight years. His PowerPoint presentation entitled, “Conserving Whales, Dolphins, and Whalesharks”, focused on one of the tourist gems in Mati – the huge Pujada Bay.

Mayor Rabat explained that “pujada” means refuge. The name is very apt since the bay is actually visited constantly by most of the 27 species of whales and dolphins that frequent the Philippine waters: 5 species of Mysticeti (Baleen whales); 1 specie of sperm whale; 2 pygmy or dwarf sperm whales; 3 beaked whales; and 16 dolphins. Some of these are uncommon, while others are rare.

Moreover, the Philippines has the largest fish in the world – the whale shark or Butanding.

Protection and management

Dr. Santos cited protection and management codes: Republic Act 8550 (Fisheries Code of 1998) provides for the development, management and conservation of the fisheries and aquatic resources; while Republic Act 9147 (Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act) provides for the conservation of the country’s wildlife resources and their habitats for sustainability.

Jurisdiction is divided between the Bureau of Fisheries and the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. The Department of Agriculture (DA) – BFAR takes care of all declared aquatic critical habitats, all aquatic resources including but not limited to fishes, aquatic plants, invertebrates and all marine mammals except dugong. Meanwhile, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (DENR-PAWB) is in charge of all terrestrial plants and animals, all turtles and tortoise and wetland species, waterbirds and all amphibians and dugongs.

What can Mati do?

The Pujada Bay can be a marine eco-tourism site with whale, dolphin, and whaleshark watching. Regular tourist attractions are in Bais, Negros Oriental; Pamilacan, Bohol; and Donsol, Sorsogon. In 2005, whaleshark watching in Donsol earned P35 million, while the whale watching worldwide had a revenue of $1 billion in 2007.

What can Mati do? Survey and assessment studies can be carried out, and its results published. A feasibility study should be done as to whale, dolphin, and whaleshark watching. Training should be conducted on stranding rescue and response.

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