Philippines — A forest fire is raging in a recently designated protected area in the southern portion of the mainland of Palawan.
Local sources who have witnessed the fire in the western portion of the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape bordering the municipality of Rizal said it has affected over 100 hectares already and is continuing to spread with little intervention being made by local authorities.
Initial police reports indicated that the fire was started at least five days ago by illegal slash-and-burn farmers who had intended to clear a portion of the forest for planting.
The fire reportedly began in the upper portion of Mt. Gantung within the Mantalingahan Range, near the village of Iraan.
“I could see it from a far distance and it looked to me like it had already wiped out entire blocks of forests,” Job Lagrada, a native missionary working in Rizal, told the Inquirer.
The municipality of Rizal convened the other day its local disaster coordinating council to implement measures aimed at curtailing the spread of the fire. Mayor Clara Degillo has ordered all barangays in the municipality to immediately organize their respective forest fire brigades.
Other municipalities straddling the Mantalingahan Range are instituting their own measures to prevent the fire from spreading.
In the adjascent municipality of Brooke’s Point, Vice Mayor Jean Feliciano told the Inquirer the onset of the summer has paved the way for rampant slash-and-burn activities in their forested areas.
“It’s now a cause for concern, as you could see smoke billowing from everywhere,” Feliciano said.
The 120,457-hectare Mount Mantalingahan Range was recently declared a protected area through a Presidential decree issued by President Macapagal-Arroyo.
The range has attracted numerous scientific expeditions after several discoveries of new species of plants and animals.
The US-based Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF), which has assisted the formulation of management systems in the park, described the area as having 33 watersheds that are critically linked to the marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the western flank of mainland Palawan.
CEPF, in a study, has valued the forest resources of Mt. Mantalingahan at $5.5 billion.