A forum was organized recently to discuss the upcoming implementation of a five-year medium-term strategy focused on the revival of the depleted forests in Palawan, driven by persistent obstacles and difficulties.

The activity also aims to determine the technical assistance that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), in partnership with the Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscapes (SIBOL) project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), can provide.

The high-level forum was spearheaded by the provincial government through the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Prov’l ENRO) and the Committee on Environment of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, chaired by Board Member Ryan Maminta, on September 1.

Subsequent to the enactment of Provincial Ordinance No. 3160, environmental preservation groups in Palawan established the Forest Landscape Restoration Network and planned the specifics of a five-year restoration program.

The PCSDS divisions focused on Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) zones presented the five-year action plan for the restoration of the province’s forest cover. They also shared a municipality-specific priority map highlighting critical areas for reforestation in detail.

The LGUs would carry out the reforestation initiative on a local level, according to Jovic Fabello, the PCSDS spokesperson.

He explained that the comprehensive five-year strategy included details such as designated planting zones, native species selection, seedling planting and nurturing guidelines, a budget for maintenance and associated expenses, and the execution and oversight methodology to be used throughout the five-year period.

Present during the forum were representatives from LGUs across different municipalities in Palawan, including Vice Mayor Mary Jean Feliciano of Brooke’s Point, who expressed her dissatisfaction with what she deemed a “band-aid solution” to the loss of Palawan’s forest cover.

In the discussion, Feliciano emphasized that the assembled groups ought to address not only the revival of diminished forests but also the preservation of existing woodland areas. She urge the representatives of PCSDS and Provincial ENRO to cease issuing logging and mining licenses to enterprises operating within the ECAN zones.

“Ayaw na sana [nating] pabawasan pa yung natural forests. Hindi naman lingid sa iba na kung susukatin lahat ng mga [areas ng] mining companies, lalo na sa Brooke’s Point, ay halos 3,000 hectares na. Yung restoration napakahirap gawin, yung destruction napakadaling gawin,” said Feliciano.

Levita Lagrada, Director II of the PCSDS, concurred with the statement, while also highlighting that municipalities bear the ultimate responsibility for enforcing the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEF) law and conducting conservation initiatives within their respective territories.

The reforestation plan and priority maps are components of this delegation of responsibility, as the PCSDS is exclusively responsible for establishing ECAN zones and does not have the authority to endorse the final actions of companies aiming to conduct operations.

Atty. Noel Aquino from the Provincial ENRO acknowledged that the five-year restoration plan falls under the medium-term category.

He emphasized the importance of creating a single, comprehensive plan for the provincial government, which is achievable by utilizing a 5-Year Forest Restoration Map that highlights the high and medium priority locations of mountains or timberlands in various municipalities. These designated areas will then serve as a directive for the government regarding the specific mountains within the province that demand careful consideration.

He reaffirmed their intention to step up the reforestation program over time, but he acknowledged the lack of backup plans in the event that a natural disaster similar to Typhoon Odette’s devastation occurred during that five-year period.

“Ito na po ang finale kaya tinawag natin itong high-level presentation kasi kasama natin dito ang ating mga local chief executives. After the discussions, considerations, and study, we will now present the final restoration map that will be adopted in the entire province of Palawan. Ito po ang magiging gabay natin kung ano po ang mga areas na dapat bigyan natin ng priorities pagdating sa forest restoration,” he said.

Aquino additionally expressed that the Provincial ENRO would strive to address such a situation should it arise, and would reconsider the reforestation program as needed.

Moreover, he mentioned that aside from this, it’s also crucial to establish a Forest Landscape Restoration Network. This network will unify the programs and environmental initiatives implemented within the province, in collaboration with various offices, NGOs, and LGUs. This collaborative effort aims to expedite and enhance the effectiveness of the restoration plan.

In total, the government needs to prioritize no less than 60 percent of the mountains in the province, as claimed.

“Tanggap natin sa Palawan, continuous yung ating challenges sa environment, pero ang bagyo ang pinakamatindi. In a matter of hours, halos giba ang ating kalikasan. (…) Kaya meron tayong tinatawag na climate change adaptation, ito yung adaptation ang kailangan natin since we cannot fight nature,” added Aquino.

Just last month, Global Forest Watch, a worldwide research nonprofit, reported through satellite imagery that Palawan experienced a loss of 44,000 hectares of natural forest from 2002 to 2022.

At the conclusion of the forum, everyone signed a pledge of commitment.