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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
July, 2000 Vol.3 No. 7

This is our call

Based on "Report on the State of the Environment in the Province of Masbate," delivered for Hon. Governor Antonio Kho by Provincial Administrator Raul Estrella at the opening of the First Provincial Conference on Environment Towards the Formulation and Installation of the Masbate Provincial Environment Code, June 26, 2000, Bituon Beach Resort, Mobo, Masbate.






Click map for a bigger image

he islands of Masbate lie exactly in the center of the Philippine archipelago. Relative to mainland Bicol, the province faces the southwestern coasts of Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon.

The province of Masbate is composed of 21 municipalities; it has 39 islands and islets. The total land area covers roughly 23% of the Bicol Region, and over 1% of the national land area. It consists of three major islands: Burias Island, with 2 municipalities; Ticao has 4 municipalities; and Masbate Island, with 15 municipalities.

Population in 1995 was 653,641, or a growth rate of 1.77% over the 1990 figures. The municipality of Masbate registered the highest urban population at 32,532; Aroroy accounted for the greatest number of rural settlers at 52,133.

Some environmental issues

Masbate has serious agrarian problems and has the lowest private ownership of agricultural land in the Bicol Region. Insurgency is also active in the hinterlands. Farmers moved to the coasts and shifted to fishing as a last recourse.

Fishing off Monreal, Ticao Island, Masbate (A.Sia 2000)

Thus, rural population increases in 1995 were most accelerated in the coastal barangays. Mangrove areas are under heavy population pressure. Some areas have been reduced into dumpsites, many have been converted into fishponds and settlement sites.

We've also seen the degradation of our forest resources. Human intrusion into Protection Lands has adverse environmental impacts

A pot of gold - and pollution threats

The province of Masbate is considered one of the richest in mineral resources in the country. Copper, silver, gold, lead, iron, manganese and chromite deposits abound in most parts of the province. Also in abundance are guano and rock phosphate.

Extraction and exploitation at levels significant enough to affect the environment are so far confined only in Aroroy. From the concentration processes, tremendous amounts of tailings are produced. Mine wastes and tailings present the greatest pollution threats from the mining industry. Natural calamities such as typhoons and earthquakes cause impounded materials to be washed out or carried to bodies of water.

Cattle-full, forest-poor

Cattle production is a traditional source of livelihood, and Masbate has sustained a substantial inventory of cattle through the years. In 1998, commercial, semi-commercial and backyard operations registered a total number of 76,030 cattle head. Among the provinces of Bicol, only Masbate showed an increasing cattle production by an average of 3,790 head per year.

The cattle industry also gave birth to the most popular annual tourism event in the province: the Rodeo Filipino.

The cattle industry shows a lot of promise, but it also accounts for over 50% of forest denudation in the province. From 828 square kilometers, forest cover was reduced to 608 square kilometers a few decades ago and is now down to zero.

About 5% of forestry plantations and production forests were cleared in favor of coconut plantations. In 1992, the province had more than 16 million coconut trees.

Rich fisheries
Masbate is predominantly a fishing province. All 21 municipalities are coastal. A total population of 402,971 in 270 barangays live along the coast. Masbate has a total coastline of 968 kms.

Click map for a bigger image

The province is rich in fishery resources, thanks to the marine fishery areas surrounding its three major islands. These include Masbate Pass, Asid Gulf, Samar Sea, Sibuyan Sea, Ticao Pass, Burias Pass, and the Visayan Sea.

There is one existing fish sanctuary in the municipality of Palanas.

Masbate's coastal resources are varied and diverse, providing food and employment for over 2/3 of the population. However, pollution and overexploitation, population pressure, sedimentation, and destructive fishing techniques threaten this valuable source of living.

For the period 1990-1995, toxic red tides were recorded in the waters of Masbate. Paralytic shellfish poisoning cases were reported in the years 1991 and 1995.

A plan for a sustainable future

The province of Masbate does not have an environmental plan. But environmental considerations have been incorporated into the Provincial Master Plan and the Physical Framework Plan. Since its approval in June last year, the government has been vigorously implementing the provisions of the PPFP. What we lack in expertise, we make for in enthusiasm. We realize that we have a lot of work to do, and the time to begin is now.

Imagine an economically stable province playing a major role as a component of the newly industrialized Filipino nation where people enjoy a better quality of life in a peaceful and ecologically balanced environment.

For the province, the preferred development strategy is Ports and Agricultural Development Restructuring. Cataingan will be developed as the Integrated Area Development (IAD) center for the Third District; San Jacinto will serve as the IAD center for Ticao Island; and San Pascual will be the IAD center for Burias Island.

This strategy has the following components:

  • Under the Ports Development Program, Masbate will be developed as a port of call offering convenient passage from the Bicol Mainland in the east to the western islands of Luzon and Visayas, from Metro Manila in the north to the southern centers of Visayas and Mindanao.
  • Watershed Development and Rehabilitation Program calls for massive reforestation and rehabilitation of watershed areas. Matangtubig, Diwata and Tugbo Watershed Reserves are priority areas for development and rehabilitation. Severely degraded areas have been identified and prioritized for reclamation, rehabilitation and protection. Most of these are mangrove areas. If these plans are implemented in the five-year period 1997-2002, Masbate's present fishpond area will be drastically reduced while timber stand in mangrove areas will dramatically increase.
  • Under the Agricultural Intensification, Expansion and Diversification Program are the following investment projects: post-harvest facilities in Aroroy, Mandaon, Milagros, Cawayan and Pio V. Corpus; livestock auction markets in Cataingan and San Pascual; artificial insemination center for large cattle in Masbate; slaughterhouse and breeding center in Ticao Island.
  • The Infrastructure and Utilities Development Program covers the establishment of major road networks within the province and the provision of support facilities and utilities to the major economic centers and settlement areas. This includes construction of irrigation facilities in Milagros and Mandaon and the construction and rehabilitation of San Pascual-Claveria national road. Research will focus on biodiversity inventory and mapping in Monreal.

This island life

So deliberate, so unhurried, so inexorable are the ways of nature that the stocking of an island may require thousands or millions of years.

Perhaps not many of us appreciate the fact that, isolated from the great masss on the continents, with no opportunity for crossbreeding that tends to preserve the average and to eliminate the new and unusual, island life has developed in a remarkable manner.

Rock formation at Borobangcaso Island, Monreal, Masbate (A. Sia, 2000)

On these remote bits of earth, nature has excelled in the creation of strange and wonderful forms. As though to prove her incredible versatility, almost every island has developed species that are endemic - that is, they are peculiar to it alone and are duplicated nowhere else on earth.

You may have noticed a picture of a bird in the departure area of Masbate airport. It reads:

"Sa katunayan, ang Penelopides panini ticaensis, isang uri ng tariktik na makikita lamang sa pulo ng Ticao, Lalawigan ng Masbate, ay maaaring tuluyan nang maubos at mawala. Ang pagkaubos ng ibong ito, kung ito man ay mawawala, ay kauna-unahang pangyayari na may mawawalang kalaw o tariktik sa alinmang dako ng daigdig. At ang pagkawalang ito na sanhi ng kagagawan ng tao ay nakakahiyang pangyayari at batik sa karangalan ng ating bansa."
(Click here for English translation)

We tried to get a picture of Penelopides panini ticaensis, to no avail. We were informed that 3 German researchers tried to look for this bird three or four years ago in Kumawit. They failed. We are still hopeful, though, because some people claim to have seen this bird. It is most probably a variation of the species. So, if any of you has seen a tariktik (hornbill) recently, please tell us. If they're gone, they're gone forever. Isn't it dreadful to think that we are accountable to all of creation for their extermination?

Sonneratia ovata or kalong-kalong, a kind of mangrove, has so far been sighted only in three or four provinces, including Masbate.

The tragedy of our islands lies in the uniqueness, the irreplaceability of the species they have developed by the slow processes of the ages.

In a reasonable world, we would have treated these islands as precious possessions, as natural museums filled with a beautiful and curious works of creation, valuable beyond price because nowhere in the world are they duplicated.

The provincial government has on-going negotiations with an NGO to assess our resources. We have opted for participatory resource assessment; communities within the vicinity of the area will be included in the research process to ensure that they will appreciate and value the resources in their area.

Putting our hearts where home is

We cannot overemphasize the pivotal role of local communities to realize our goals.

Who will care for these remote bits of earth but us? Home, they say, is where the heart us. Is Masbate home to us? Hardly, if we consider our rates of environmental degradation and outmigration. For so long, we have been unmoved by the reckless exploitation of our resources. We have become over-confident in our belonging; we wear Masbate like a second skin. We claim it as our right, our inheritance, forgetting that it is a gift entrusted to our stewardship.

We ravage our resources and escape the wreckage. We dream of lands flowing of with milk and honey across the seas, beyond our horizons, so we can knock on the doors of other people's homes. But if it were known how we left our homes in ruins, who would open their doors to us?

First Masbate Provincial Environmental Conference,
June 26-27, 2000, Bituon Beach Resort, Mobo, Masbate
(A. Sia, 2000)

This conference would have accomplished much even if it only inspires us to put our hearts where home is.

It's up to us. This is our call. The buck stops here.

There is no time but now
No place but here
No one but us.
Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

View from the century-old lighthouse
on Jintotolo Island, Balud, Masbate.
(A. Sia, 2000)

In fact, the Penelopides panini ticaensis, a kind of hornbill found only on the island of Ticao, may soon become extinct. If this happens, it will be the first time that a hornbill will become extinct anywhere in the world. It will be a tragedy, an embarrassment and a blemish to our reputation and honor as a people.



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