Philippines — DESPITE warning on the fast-receding level of the Angat Dam water reservoir due to the summer heat, illegal settlers continue to set on fire the forest cover of Ipo Watershed, a downstream watershed of Angat Watershed.
On Saturday Angat Dam officials urged residents of Metro Manila to conserve water because the water reserve of the dam is fast drying up.
This even as members of the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society Inc., chaired by Bro. Martin Francisco, BSMP, and Sagip Kagubatan started to conduct a two-day ocular inspection on the deliberate forest fire being detected inside the Ipo Watershed.
Francisco told the BusinessMirror after their documentation that their inspection was focused on Mount Maranat, Sitio Sapang Munti, Barangay San Mateo in Norzagaray town where they documented around 40 patches of burnt forest cover, with each patch having a land area of 3,000 square meters to a hectare.
Aside from the burnt forest cover, Francisco said they expect more forest fires to occur within the watershed as they also counted at least 23 dried and cleared areas ready to be burned.
I think the burnt areas were primarily made as an open area for the reforestation of the NGP [National Greening Program] contract. The charcoal-making and slash-and-burn farming are only secondary causes, because based on information gathered, there is more money in reforestation for those who have rights on the area, Francisco said in Filipino.
Citing the recent independent report of the UP Mountaineers Environment Committee, the 2004 joint study by the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), showed that 60 percent to 70 percent of the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed is denuded.
The report also pinpointed illegal logging, slash-and-burn farming or kaingin, charcoal-making, and the encroachment of illegal settlers as the causes of the deforestation.
Francisco said they have counted at least 40 child laborers together with 14 of their elders transporting charcoal passing through Mount Balagbag and delivering it in Barangay Macabud, Rodriguez town in Rizal.
In his assessment, Francisco said illegal charcoal-making inside the Ipo Watershed cannot be prevented unless those responsible are charged, indicted by the court and experience jail terms.
If the deliberate forest fires being made inside the Ipo Watershed are not immediately stopped, a bigger portion of the remaining 30 percent of virgin forest of the 6,600-hectare watershed will be lost by the middle of the month of May, Francisco said.
He said, Tulad pa rin ng aming panawagan nuong una pa na habang ipinangangalandakan ng DENR at MWSS na may pera sa non-governmental organizations at reforestation ay lalong lalawak ang gawak o sira ng kagubatan ng Ipo Watershed.