BUNAWAN, Agusan del Sur, PH, April 20-26 — Stakeholders, mostly from the Agusanon Manobo tribe from the six (6) municipalities comprising the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS) conducted the Participatory Governance Assessment (PGA) of the protected area on April 20-26 in order to guide efforts at strengthening the area’s governance and any associated conservation and development activities so that it can better achieve its social and conservation goals.
Protected Area (PA) governance refers to decision-making, allocation of authority and responsibility, and accountability said Phil Franks of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), who served as a consultant to the AMWS PGA.
In the frame of the Sector Network Natural Resources and Rural Development (SNRD) Biodiversity Working Group (WG), Carina van Weelden, junior advisor for the SMP Project of GIZ Bangladesh, supported the process in the AMWS and shared her experiences of using the tools in assessing the governance of the Sundurbans Reserve Forest, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world.
Stakeholders who participated in the assessment identified the main governance challenges and issues: Limited participation of PAMB members during meetings lead to the postponement of decision; deficiencies within government agencies such as limited qualified staff, but especially lack of coordination among agencies and LGUs reduce the efficiency of achieving conservation results; lack of power and support to the Bantay Danao hinder proper implementation of the law; overlapping titles in and around the marsh lead to land conflicts; lack of awareness regarding conservation and on the rights and responsibilities of IP living in the marsh result in the conduct of illegal activities.
These main governance issues and challenges provide nourishing grounds for other threats: urbanization as unregulated in-migration and its attendant problems such as pollution, erosion and siltation (mostly from mining), poor management of solid wastes, lack of proper sanitation facilities, and lack of potable water supply are putting adverse pressure to the marsh ecosystem; wildlife and timber poaching and the (intentional and unintentional) introduction of exotic and invasive species, and deforestation; evangelization, which is also taking a toll on the Agusanon Manobos‘ culture as traditional beliefs and practices are slowly being chipped away by the influx of migrants and other religions‘ prozelytization.
The AMWS PGA was conducted under the COSERAM Programme’s IP4BIODIV module. It used tools such as Focus Group Discussion (FGD) and Key Informant Interview (KII) to assess the governance of the marsh based on six (6) Priority Governance Principles, namely (1) Effective Participation of Relevant Actors in Decision-Making; (2) Recognition and Respect for the Rights of all Relevant Actors; (3) Fair and Effective Processes for Dispute Resolution, and Recourse of Justice; (4) Transparency Supported by Timely Access to Relevant Information; (5) Achievement of Conservation and other Objectives Efficiently and as Planned; and (6) Effective Coordination of Policies and Plans with those of other Sectors and Levels.
After the 6-day scoping, information-gathering and stakeholders‘ workshop (synthesis and validation), the stakeholders held a one-day Action Planning Workshop on how best to improve AMWS governance (address the issues, challenges and problems affecting the AMWS gathered during the previous days) using their own planning processes and implementation mechanisms.
President Fidel V. Ramos established the 19,000-hectare AMWS on October 31, 1996 through Presidential Proclamation 913. The AMWS, which contains nearly 15% of the country’s fresh water resources, is listed as Site No. 1009 on November 12, 1999 as a “Wetland of International Importance“ under the RAMSAR Convention, an intergovernmental, international treaty committed to maintain the ecological character and plan for the wise and sustainable use of wetlands. It is also listed as Site No. 180 of the Philippines‘ Key Biodiversity Area. It is bounded by the municipalities of Bunawan, La Paz, Loreto, Rosario, San Francisco, and Talacogon, in the Province of Agusan del Sur. The AMWS is also one of Asia’s most important transit points for wild migratory birds from as far away as Japan, China and Russia.