Gov’t seeks urgent protection, management of peatlands

Gov’t seeks urgent protection, management of peatlands

2 July 2008

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Phillippines — The national government has launched a massive and sustained use and Protection of Peatlands in the Philippines, through the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (PAWB-DENR).

Along this line, the PAWB-DENR has initiated the development of a National Action Plan (NAP), in collaboration with other concerned government agencies, local government units, the academe, non-government organizations, as well as the international groupings.

It has also directed the move within the framework of the ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI), which is intended to attain the following objectives, awareness raising and capacity building; protecting peatlands with high conservation values; setting-up of appropriate institutional structure; and developing sustainable peatland management strategies.

The National Action Plan lays out the operational objectives to serve as guide for implementing agencies to ensure the protection and sustainable use of peatlands in the Philippines.

Meantime, PAWB-DENR will assist the implementation of the action plan in the national level to make sure that the goals and objectives are met on time. It is also tasked to prepare and follow-up the issuance of an Executive Order by the Office of the President to ensure the integration of the NAP activities in the sectoral plans and programs of the various agencies and local government units involved in the implementation of the National Action Plan.

Peatlands are wetland ecosystems which are recognized by the pile of organic matter called “peat” coming from decaying leaves and branches of trees, and under very wet condition. Peats may sometimes accumulate to a heap of about 20 meters high. They are very important to ecology and the environment as a whole, as they serve as a sponge during the rainy season, absorbing as much water, and releasing it slowly during the dry period, thus, maintaining the base flows of rivers, as well as the ground water level. Peatlands are also believed to have significant role in preventing the penetration of sea water up river. Although comparatively little as compared with other countries, peatlands in the Philippines plays an important role in the storage of carbon from the atmosphere.

According to available information, the biodiversity values of Philippine Peatlands are very high considering the Philippine flora’s high level of endemism, peatland areas may yet yield a number of undescribed species. It will be noted that of the ecosystem level biodiversity, there appears to be a unique collection of vegetation in the Caimpugan (Agusan Marsh) peat dome, which is different from the nearby northwest Borneo.

Peatlands also have socio-economic values. They are important to local communities as a source of timber and firewood for domestic needs. They are also important as a source of non-wood products like the Frimbistyles globulosa, locally known as “tikog” used for mat-making and other livelihood purposes.

It is very unfortunate that there is, at present, a very limited capacity for a wise management of peatlands, since there is also the absence of a national institutional framework for peatland management.

These conditions lead to the degradation of peatlands through activities that do not take into consideration the special properties of peats. Hence, large areas of the peatlands in the Agusan Marsh and the Leyte Sab-a Basin have been burned and cleared for agricultural purposes. However because of poor yield, due to lack or limited knowledge of the special properties of peatlands soil, these were abandoned after a few years.

Large scale development projects, including irrigation, also threaten peatlands in the Agusan Marsh and Leyte Sab-a Basin Areas. There are also the problems of substantial migration from other parts of the country, the occurrence of fire, the continuous clearing, and the continued issuance of Certificate of Land Ownership Agreement (CLOAs) over peatland areas by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

To arrest these developments, a National Goal of promoting the sustainable management and wise use of peatlands through awareness raising, capacity building, and enhanced inter-agency cooperation for the conservation of biodiversity, climate change mitigation and the benefit of the local community, had been set.

New policy measures, such as: declaration of peatlands with high biodiversity as protected areas; local level measure against reclassification of peatlands as alienable and disposable lands; and reversion of peatland areas covered by Certificate of Land Ownership Agreements (CLOAs) which are found to be unsuitable for agriculture back to forest land, have also been declared urgent.

The presence of peatlands has been confirmed in two sites in the Philippines. These are the Agusan Marsh and the Leyte Sab-a Basin. However, peats may also be present in the following areas: Ligwasan Marsh in Mindanao, the largest marsh land in the Philippines; Dolongan area in Basey, Western Samar (Bureau of Soils, 1975. Soil Survey of Samar Provinces, Philippines Reconnaissance Soil Survey and Soil Erosion Survey); Southern Leyte (Whitmore/1984) as cited in Draft Philippine Plant Conservation Strategy; Mt. Pulag in Northern Luzon (Leonard co, pers.comm.); Surigao del Norte, Northeastern Mindanao (areas overlying ultramatic rocks, Edwino Fernando, pers.comm.); Naujan Lake Marshland; and Pangasinan Floodplains.

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