Philippines — The rainforest has a way of healing itself, drenching a scorching grassfire that has threatened Palawan’s largest single bloc of virginal forest with at least two consecutive showers over the weekend.
Residents of Rizal town where the forest fire began early this week reported that rains Friday and Saturday night put out some of the fire in the high elevation area of Mt. Gantung, where the fire was believed to have started.
As of Sunday, smoke was still reported in pockets of areas around the protected area of Mantalingahan range south of the province.
A missionary pastor who trekked to the site Sunday told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that at least in the area of Barangay Iraan, Rizal, the fire has been snuffed, with only the smoke from burned standing trees remaining.
“The rains last Friday night and today (Sunday) may have helped stop the spread of the fire,” Job Lagrada, a native missionary, told the INQUIRER in a text message.
Lagrada, however, expressed concern that the fire might not have been started by kaingin (slash-and-burn) farmers as the police initially suspected but the trees might have been deliberately burned.
“Kapansin-pansin dito sa area na sinadya ang pagkasunog ng gubat at hindi dahil sa kaingin (It is evident in the area that the fire was deliberately done and not caused by kaingin farmers),” Lagrada said.
“We saw several paths of fire by the river banks,” he quoted natives as saying.
The natives noted that the fire did not spread, indicating, they claimed, that it was intentionally set.
The 120,457-hectare Mount Mantalingahan Range was declared in June 2009 a protected area through a presidential decree issued by President Macapagal-Arroyo.
The mountain range has also been a subject of conflict between communities supported by environmental groups and mining companies who have mining rights and applications throughout most of the protected area.
Prior to its declaration as a protected area in June 2009, some barangay (village) officials in the five municipalities sharing boundaries with Mt. Mantalingahan tried to block its declaration as a protected landscape by issuing a joint petition, a move that nongovernment organizations claimed was instigated by mining companies.
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.