DAVAO City, PH, November 21-22 — To support the thrust of local government units (LGUs) in developing their environmentally- and indigenous peoples- friendly ecotourism programs and projects and land use planning regimes in the Mt. Apo Natural Park (MANP) area, the COSERAM program initiated a consultative dialogue with the seven LGUs surrounding the country’s highest peak.
Participants to the dialogue who were their respective LGUs’ Planning and Development Officers (PDO), Environment and Natural Resources Officer (ENRO) and Tourism Officer (TO) all agreed that ecotourism is the way to go for the development of MANP and the communities therein as it holds vast potentials in both decongesting the Mt. Apo trails towards the summit and in providing alternative destinations and income for the local communities.
Thus, they showed eagerness in developing their respective ecotourism projects in multi-use areas within the MANP. The cities of Kidapawan and Davao and the Municipality of Sta. Cruz, meantime, are presently completing their respective ecotourism project design.
The MANP, already proclaimed Natural Park by President Manuel Quezon on May 9, 1936 and – after excluding several thousand hectares for logging and geothermal uses – was eventually declared a protected area under Republic Act 9237 on February 3, 2004 with actual size of around 64,000 hectares. The MANP is acknowledged as an ASEAN Heritage Site being one of the Philippines’ Key Biodiversity Area. It is home to over 272 bird species, 111 of which are endemic, including one of the world’s largest eagles—the critically-endangered Philippine Eagle or monkey-eating eagle. MANP is also included in the UN List of National Parks and Equivalent Reserves.
Biodiversity and ecosystems feature prominently in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because they directly contribute to human well-being and development given that biodiversity is at the center of many human and economic activities like crop and livestock agriculture, forestry and fisheries. And the Conflict Sensitive Resource and Asset Management (COSERAM) Programme, implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in cooperation with the Philippine government, supports the German Sustainable Development Strategy that was formulated in 2016 to achieve the 2030 Agenda or SDGs.
Dialogue participants also agreed that the power of ecotourism as a conflict resolution tool must be harnessed.
“When local people, particularly those who consider themselves as indigenous stakeholders, begin feeling alienated and dislodged from the local socio-economic loop, they may begin to have resentments either towards outside investors or their own local government perceived to be representing outside investment interests, or towards both. However, if their interests are securely embedded in any ecotourism program or project, or when their welfare is sufficiently enhanced, they tend to take care of any investments in their area. This is particularly achieved through local employment, local outsourcing of materials and tools and ample recognition of their local control and influence in the direction of any program,” one participant opined.
While not all of the seven LGUs were represented — primary reasons given was the communication gap brought about by incomplete and outdated contact information — the dialogue was still able to gather many lessons learned that other LGUs can emulate and apply. Among these were (1) ecotourism together with accompanying measures (such as tourism packages like organic agro-tourism, tree planting/green fencing/nurseries, wellness/senior/retiree market, tribal/cultural activities, local souvenir/pasalubong production, tribal eco guides/forest guards/porters, payment for ecosystem services [PES], hill foot touristic development besides trekking to the peak, publicity/online booking, business linkages, LGUs cross boarder cooperation, etc.) can be an appropriate means to get environmentally-friendly and sustainable land uses to the MANP and be a profitable enterprise for the IPs/ICCs and the LGUs at the same time; (2) there is already an existing cross boarder cooperation in ecotourism among several LGUs, particularly between Kidapawan, Magpet and Makilala [KMM Alliance] and between Sta. Cruz and Davao City; (3) Davao City, Sta. Cruz, Kidapawan (Magpet and Makilala) already have set up a working criteria and best practices for ecotourism in their areas of jurisdiction/responsibility, which they presented during the workshop; and (4) the NCIP in Region 12 (SOCCSKSARGEN) is already applying very interesting indigenous forest management practices that are ready to be acknowledged by the DENR.
To address the “communication gap”, participants to the dialogue agreed to set up a database to ensure better attendance and more productive participation during meetings in the future.
Because the Dialogue was also a venue for sharing and caring, it was recommended that (1) MANP LGUs strengthen their linkages and networking through mutual benchmarking in their respective ecotourism and conservation projects and programs. Sta. Cruz and Kidapawan City were particularly mentioned as a sort-of “mentor” in designing other LGUs’ development strategies and action plans because of their higher level of commitment and active work in MANP; and (2) conduct follow-up activities to strengthen the alliance among the LGUs. And for this alliance to succeed, LGUs acknowledged that they must not rely entirely on government agencies for its success but have to operate on an LGU-to-LGU basis. (With Rudolph Elmo dela Cruz and Mach Alberto Fabe)