BUNAWAN, Agusan del Sur, PH, April 20-26 — Taking their various roles in the conservation of the biodiversity in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary seriously, stakeholders who participated in the Participatory Governance Assessment (PGA) on April 20-26, 2017 conducted under COSERAM Programme’s IP4BIODIV module proposed several ideas for action to address the challenges confronting the Philippines‘ most important wetland.
To address the lack of quorom for decision-making in Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) meetings, the stakeholders proposed that the Board must require each of the mayors of the six municipalities surrounding the marsh to attend the meetings. If mayors send representatives, they must ensure that these can decide on their behalf. They also brought up the idea of sanctioning members who do not attend; this must be further discussed. Stakeholders also urged the DENR regional director to do his duty/responsibility and preside over the meetings along with the provincial governor, who is co-chair of the Board.
It was pointed out that mayors know the importance of the marsh but they are just “torn between two lovers: development and conservation.“ To address this, development projects should be presented at and endorsed by PAMB before implementation.
The stakeholders reiterated the importance of harmonizing the line agencies‘ land titling policies and tenurial instruments. The implementations of JAO 2012 and JMC 2007 were suggested ways forward and must go hand in hand with the timely dissemination of agreements to affected communities in the Agusan Marsh.
“Relevant line agencies must meet regularly to harmonize their overlapping regulations and policies in the protected area because land disputes are taking a very long time to resolve because it is not clear which agency is in charge in solving the dispute,“ one participant said, which was agreed by all the other participants.
Recognizing that national agencies lack personnel on the ground and taking into account that the community/barangay is the first line of defense in the protection and conservation of the marsh, each of the six municipalities surrounding the protected area formed their respective Bantay Danao (Lake Guards). However, threats to their lives and weak coordination, recognition and support from agencies, the PNP and LGUs have discouraged many Bantay Danao members. Some of them claim that they are not being taken seriously by authorities and that persons they caught doing illegal activities in the marsh are released without filing the appropriate charges.
“It would be best if other barangays copy what we in Buenasuerte is doing: community members were given the mobile numbers of our barangay officials and Bantay Danao members so they can report immediately any illegal activities they have observed going on in the marsh and barangay officials and Bantay Danao members can immediately take the appropriate action,” said a Bantay Danao member from Buenasuerte, San Francisco, Agusan del Sur.
To encourage the Bantay Danao, the stakeholders proposed that BLGUs give a seat to Bantay Danao in the Barangay Council; Bantay Danao, together with DENR, NCIP, M/BLGU, and the provincial government of Agusan del Sur (PGAS), to finalize and implement the Bantay Danao Operational Plan; and regularize budget allocation for honorarium through legislative action.
The Agusan Marsh superintendent especially appreciated the PA Governance Assessment tool, since its participatory character allowed for an internal perspective while the external facilitation triggered honest answers and provided structured results. A lot of findings were not new, but since they have been validated on the ground and were presented in a simple yet analysed way, they have not been heard by all relevant stakeholders.