Mt. Mantalingahan (Photo courtesy of Karen Madarcos)

Five municipalities in southern Palawan have pledged P2.5 million to ensure the continuous protection and conservation of what is considered as the largest protected area in the province, the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL).

During the 15th en banc meeting of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of MMPL held in Puerto Princesa City on December 16, Brooke’s Point, Quezon, Dr. Jose Rizal, Sofronio Española, and Bataraza each committed to allot P500,000 from their respective funds to support forest protection activities and stricter enforcement of environmental laws in the main protected area and its buffer zone, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in MIMAROPA said in a statement.

This was after reports from the Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring System (BAMS) held in the area highlighted the urgency to step-up forest protection efforts, which include procurement of equipment, supplies, and materials, and augmentation of monitoring and patrol personnel.

At present, there are only three (one permanent, 2 contractual) park rangers under the Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) deployed to guard the vast area of MMPL, which measures 120, 457 hectares.

“Ideally, it should be one forest ranger per 500 hectares. For MMPL, we are in need of 240 more rangers to cover the entire area,” Protected Area Superintendent Mildred Suza explained.

It is perceived that the financial support coming from the LGUs would soon address inadequacy in the number of forest guards, as well as the grant of other benefits that they can avail of.

DENR MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado, who serves as PAMB Chair stated that besides regular compensation, the allocated funds could also provide the forest guards medical and accident insurance should unfortunate incidents happen while they are on patrol.

“The rangers’ job to protect Mt. Mantalingahan against poachers and other violators exposes them to serious threats and danger. They are constantly risking their lives every time they monitor the mountains. It’s about time we take action to ensure their safety and protection,” the director said.

He added that a strong and adequate workforce leads to strengthened forest guardianship, and this he attributed to the concerted efforts of various stakeholders of MMPL.

RED Adornado commended Mayors Mary Jean Feliciano of Brooke’s Point and Marsito Acoy of Sofronio Espanola, both of whom were present during the PAMB meeting, as well as Mayors Abraham Ibba (Bataraza), Otol Odi (Rizal) and Joselito Ayala (Quezon) who sent their representatives, for their relentless support and cooperation.

“Your efforts manifest your commitment to uphold what’s best for Mt. Mantalingahan and the people protecting it,” he expressed.

“We at the DENR are glad that our partnership with the LGU is cemented by our shared aspiration and duty to protect and conserve Mt. Mantalingahan, for us and the generations to come,” the director concluded.

The meeting held at the Legend Hotel was also attended by other members of the Board, such as the Punong Barangays in MMPL, representatives from the academe, non-government organizations, National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), Philippine National Police, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), and other indigenous peoples groups.

Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape is a protected area by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1815 dated June 23, 2009. It is included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is vying to be inscribed as such for its exceptional biodiversity and endemism.