The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
September, 2003 Vol.6 No.9
By Asuncion Sia
The Masbate CRM Showcase opens on September 30, 2003 in Masbate City in central Philippines. It includes an interpretive center dedicated to coastal resource management, and a “CRM Showcase Tour” featuring CRM best practices being implemented in Masbate Province. This article describes the CRM Showcase Tour.
Education is already late in its revision, but we can expect that it will in the future be extensively altered. Education might well be defined as knowing the story of the universe, of the planet Earth, of life systems, and of consciousness, all as a single story, and recognizing the human role in the story. The primary purpose of education should be to enable individual humans to fulfill their proper role in this larger pattern of meaning.
The Universe Story
No, the sea-story you hear and live as you explore Masbate is not always happy. At times it is solemn, sometimes funny, and on occasion, downright sad. But amidst spectacular vistas and the visible local efforts to enliven coastal communities through ecology-based resource management, it inspires introspection. It offers hope and many useful lessons. And it delivers a strong reminder that sustainable development can only result from the perspective that the Earth’s web of life and natural environment are fundamental ingredients in meeting the needs of society.
As the story unfolds, it describes nine perspectives that are slowly transforming the way Masbateños regard their place in nature, and their vision of how they should go from there.
Development must be ‘eco-centric’
Here you learn the earth processes that shaped and continue to shape not only the islands, but also life in and around these islands. You see eye-catching images of diverse landforms that make up the provincial terrain, which tell you these islands are in a highly dynamic patch of Earth.
Masbate is in the typhoon belt, and parts of the province rest on top of the Philippine Fault. These and other geophysical features are key referents for the province’s planners and development managers – the Provincial Physical Framework Plan (PPFP), which translates provincial development goals, objectives and policies into a spatial plan indicating the manner in which land shall be put to use, is anchored on the environment as the basis of all policy, investment and management decisions and actions.
The underlying message: Masbate is so situated that it is unwise to plan its development outside the ecological context. Planners here have done so for the longest time, and everyone is paying the price.
In a foreword to the Masbate PPFP 1993-2002, former Governor Emilio Espinosa Jr. mused, “Are we on bivouac here? Some bivouac: denuded forests, decimated coral reefs, polluted coastlines... It is futile to make anyone accountable for past misdeeds. Whether by omission or commission, no one is above reproach. It is imperative, however, that everyone take responsibility for the future. Now that the facts are laid and the plans are drawn, there is no excuse.
“Simply put, (the) PPFP tells us two things:
“Start doing things right: put vital infrastructure where there is room and potential for growth; rehabilitate seriously degraded areas...
“Stop doing things wrong: overuse the land; degrade the environment; waste scarce resources.”
Significant successes have been achieved in the implementation of the PPFP across the province’s one component city and 20 municipalities. The CRM Center is a great resource for those who want to learn about these efforts, particularly those that relate to protecting and managing the province’s vital coastal and marine resources. But to truly appreciate the full meaning and context of CRM to Masbateños, you must see and hear their sea-story where it happens.
Unsustainable resource use is a quality-of-life issue
The timberland area currently used for cattle grazing in the province is almost four times the 518 square km deemed suitable for the purpose. Masbate is said to have had zero forest cover since at least 1989 – trees were first harvested extensively to build galleons during the Spanish regime, and various activities have eaten up whatever remaining forest cover the province might still have today. In recent years, conversion of forestland to livestock production – mainly cattle production – accounted for more than 50% of forest destruction and degradation.
A growing number of Masbateños are beginning to realize what that means: More than 400 square km of the provincial land have been severely eroded, affecting soil fertility, and impacting overall food production. Forest-dependent communities have lost resource access and sustainable income support. Because land conversion has largely benefited a small elite of pasture leaseholders, many upland dwellers have been pushed to coastal areas, where land is ‘free’ and the gifts of the sea theirs for the taking.
Coastal residents, most of them dependent on fishing, make up anywhere from 60% to 80% of a typical Masbate town, putting tremendous pressure on coastal and marine resources. Although surrounded by some of the country’s richest fishing grounds, the province is presently producing just enough fish for its increasing population, in contrast to only over a decade ago, when it posted a remarkable surplus of over 50% sufficiency level in fish production. Encroachment by commercial fishers on municipal waters has contributed greatly to overfishing and habitat destruction, making the situation particularly desperate for provincial fisherfolk. Poverty among coastal residents has become a tremendous – and still growing – challenge to Masbate LGUs.
Make no mistake: Masbate’s development planners are proud of their province’s long-held acclaim as the ‘Rodeo Capital of the Philippines’ and one of the country’s major cattle-producing provinces. But they freely admit that provincial pasture areas have expanded too far to the point of unsustainability.
This is why, under the Masbate Provincial Environment Code, the province upholds a DENR order for current holders of pasture leases on forestland not suitable for grazing to “phase-in reforestation activities” until the expiration of their lease agreement or permit, or risk losing their leases permanently. Cancelled and expired leases that have not been renewed and have no new applicant will be reverted to forest tree production.
Since 1994, the Province has been taking measures to improve the living conditions of fishing communities through the enforcement of fishery laws, habitat rehabilitation and alternative livelihood development.
But they know the long-term solution requires more than these topical remedies. Beyond socioeconomic concerns, they must look for answers from a broad perspective that encompasses all the earth sciences, psychosocial knowledge and humanities.
There is much to learn from Earth’s history
On the northeast tip of this geologically complex area, limestone cliffs rise almost perpendicularly from the waterline, painting an enchanting panorama for those traveling by sea. You can almost see in your mind the earth processes that created such natural wonder – limestone forming deep under the sea through the accumulation of the calcium-bearing remains of various marine species, then slowly rising out of the sea through geologic time.
There is no better place to contemplate nature’s power – or its fragility.
You see on the face of each cliff cuts and notches that indicate weathering due to wave action. You learn that there are no surface streams in the area. Instead there are numerous “sinkholes” – holes formed in the limestone by the action of water, serving to conduct water to underground passages.
You realize that the process never ends – new limestone is continuously formed under the sea, while water constantly dissolves the limestone developed through the same process that happened millions of years ago.
And you understand why the provincial government has put Kalanay under the ‘protection land’ category with limited or no sustainable use. This is not only to conserve the area’s unique physical features, but also to reduce possible loss of life and property damage from hazards that can be expected to occur naturally in the area. Sinkhole formation, common in this limestone region, is especially hazardous – when the roof of a cavern formed by solution collapses to create a sinkhole, the ground can swallow up an entire building and everyone and everything in it! It is a natural process that has been happening for ages, and will continue to happen for ages more. Building infrastructure in the area can only hasten – not stop – it.
For the same reason, nobody who understands the consequences will want to build a house on one of Kalanay’s wave-cut cliffs next to the ocean, never mind the fantastic view.
Work with nature (not against it)
For a place so naturally blessed, Tinigban is a rarity; the beach remains open, with no structure of any kind in sight. No doubt its remoteness has saved it from haphazard development — the locals know better than to build their homes close to the shore; their nipa huts will not withstand the strong waves and winds that frequent this place during the typhoon season.
The municipal government of Aroroy is keen on developing Tinigban for tourism, but it is equally determined to protect it from any high-impact activities that could mar its natural beauty. To underscore its intent, it established a CRM Field Office in the area, and turned the 10-minute trail to the office from the beach into an occasion to explain its stricter-than-standard shoreline setback regulations. Starting from the highest high tide level, signs mark the trail, indicating what types of activities are allowed within each “zone.”
Tinigban has three of four zones designated by the LGU – Zone 2 or Recreation Zone extends up to 30 meters landward from the highest high tide mark, where only outdoor recreation and no infrastructure is allowed. Zone 3 or Limited Use Zone starts from the end of Zone 2 up to 100 meters landward, where only temporary structures are allowed. Zone 4 or Multi-use Zone covers all areas landward (except those designated for strict protection) from the end of Zone 3; permanent structures are allowed in Zone 4.
Locating facilities away from the shoreline frees up prime space for more suitable and environment-friendly uses, prevents pollution of nearshore waters, and reduces the chance of storm and wave damage and the ultimate loss of the beach.
Tinigban does not have a Zone 1 or Protection Zone, which refers to those portions of land and water identified by the local government for strict protection. But you are promised a visit to Majaba Island, a part of which is a locally legislated marine sanctuary, and falls under the LGU’s definition of Zone 1.
Meanwhile, there’s time to soak in Tinigban’s pure air and sea, or bask in its glorious sunset.
We can’t expect to reduce the dangers from most hazards to zero, but
the risks can be greatly reduced
The development-conservation equation is not always straightforward, however. On the way back to Masbate City, you note some structures along the Kalanay shoreline – these are what remain of a failed aquaculture venture of a company called Crown B.
The company has transferred its operations upland, easing pressure off the coastal area. It has also set up a modern prawn hatchery to reduce its dependence on wild caught fry. To address waste disposal concerns, the company has installed a facility to treat wastewater before it is discharged to the sea.
The LGU regularly monitors Crown B’s operations for compliance with environmental standards, aware that any improper expansion or new economic activity can have such huge impact on the environmentally sensitive Kalanay area as to negate past and current protection efforts.
At your next stop, you witness on a grand scale how human activities, backed by modern technology, can change the face of the earth – literally. Open-pit mining operations by Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corporation between 1980 and 1994 created valleys where mountains used to be, and mountains on what were once plains and valleys. The environmentalist in you may scream in protest, but the pragmatist understands there is no easy solution to the mining dilemma.
Modern civilization needs mineral resources; minerals are the foundation on which modern civilization is built. But extracting these resources exacts a heavy toll on the environment – mining is certainly one of the most environmentally damaging human activities of all time.
If there is a way to extract gold without the environmental damage, Aroroy obviously wants it. The town is gold-rich, thanks to its location near the Philippine Fault (it is believed that movements along the fault and its numerous subsidiaries contributed to the development of gold veins in the area). But it is still only a third-class municipality, despite large-scale mining by the Americans before WWII, and Atlas’s 14-year operation.
Since 1994, mining activities have been mainly small-scale, with poor waste disposal facilities. Local officials say they are closely monitoring these activities, fearing contamination of rivers and the sea from mine tailings. So far, water tests have not shown any major contamination, but the LGU wants more assurance that no accident in the mine site will turn into tragedy.
As a new company, Filminera Mines, prepares to open the gold mines again, there are high hopes for a new boost to the local economy. To the local government, Filminera also offers hope for a painless solution to the small miners’ waste disposal problem. The company has pronounced it will exercise environmental responsibility. The local government hopes that while doing so, Filminera will provide jobs for the small miners and take them off their risky occupation.
In the meantime, local officials have their work cut out, monitoring the small miners, and knocking on doors ‘upstairs’ for much need assistance to reduce mining’s environmental hazards.
Every species has a specific role to play in nature
After a restful night in Masbate City, you head for Ticao Island, 45 minutes away by motorboat.
Ticao lies on top of the Philippine Fault. Signs of this are evident all over the place. Vertical cliffs, imposing as Kalanay’s, line the island’s coast. These are “fault trace scarps,” formed by the faulting or fracturing of the earth’s crust. Below is an ocean trench, plunging more than 1,000 meters in its deepest part.
Your boat takes you around Matabao Island, where a landslide caused by a recent earthquake (August 2003) is still visible, then around the odd-shaped Tapus Island (also known as Tatus or Minalayo). Tapus has a number of openings of various sizes that lead to an underground lagoon, where sea snakes and bats reign.
South of Matabao is Black Rock Pass, where currents can reach a velocity of 5 knots. The most skilled boatmen know better than to sail these waters during bad weather, and local people have endless tales about numerous encounters with “waves as high as a church”.
Thankfully, around Matabao, coral reefs are still generally intact, providing a natural ‘sea wall’ that protects the island from the elements. Here you cannot doubt that corals, mangroves and seagrass – indeed, the entire sea ecosystem — are vital support systems for life on land. The place shows clearly why the PPFP classifies Masbate’s coastal zone as an “environmentally constrained area,” and seeks to diminish soil erosion by increasing the provincial “mangrove belt” to 100 meters.
You look forward to setting foot on Bongsanglay, where Bicol’s only remaining primary mangrove forest is located.
The buck stops everywhere with everyone
If the sight of the old trees does not leave you awestruck, the richness of the forest will. At least 23 of the 47 “true” mangrove species known to occur in the Philippines occur naturally in the 168-hectare natural park. The forest holds the rare distinction of having all three species of the family Sonneratiaceae – S. alba, S. caseolaris, and S. ovata, said to be the rarest.
The natural park has a trail designed to get you acquainted with many of the forest’s mangrove species, and the ecosystem that supports them. The trek’s highlight is lunch by a century-old piapi (Avicennia lanata), said to be the biggest mangrove tree in all of Bicol. Here you will meet the people who have made it their life’s work to protect the forest.
Declared a mangrove reserve in 1981 by presidential proclamation, Bongsanglay is administered by the DENR-Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer of San Jacinto, Masbate. For many years, protection of the forest fell on the shoulders of the few forest wardens assigned in the area. Local residents say the wardens did their best, but there were too few of them, “they could only really guard small parts of the forest at a time”.
The local folk could only watch helplessly as a boat laden with logs would leave Bongsanglay almost daily. “We didn’t think we could stop them, or that we ought to,” they relate. At one point, they even suspected the forest wardens of allowing the cutting.
Today, thanks to a concerted effort by the local government, DENR, and the World Bank-funded Community-Based Resource Management Project (CBRMP), they have begun to feel at ease with their role as resident custodians of the forest, serving as extra eyes and ears of the forest wardens, rehabilitating denuded patches in the forest, and even taking an active role in enforcing the law.
“It is also up to us,” they say.
Beyond knowledge, we need love of the sea
You ask why.
San Jacinto, the second oldest town in Masbate, is just the right setting to delve into the dynamics of human-sea relations, to look back in time for insights on how human behavior can be shaped by history and circumstance.
A past fraught with attacks from Muslim pirates, and countless encounters with natural forces such as typhoons and rough seas, have not instilled in the people of San Jacinto a love for the sea. To the people here, home is land, and the sea, even as it is a source of food, can be a threat to home and family. Consequently, the people do not necessarily value the sea, or want to care for it. Over many years, they took what they could out of the sea in the fastest way they knew how, using destructive fishing methods, intent only on getting home safely.
There is hope for change, as the local government spearheads a campaign to promote coastal resource management, and encourage the people to view the sea in a new light: The sea is not the enemy – it is an integral part of the place they call home. But more than a change of perspective, they want people to have a change of heart – to be able to see the sea more clearly, as well as to learn to love it. Without this new ethic, they say, people will continue to try to ‘conquer’ the sea, to abuse and overexploit it.
But let them tell their story, in the way only San Jacintohanons can – teasing and entertaining, yet thought-provoking.
The LGU must take a lead role in CRM
On a clear day, the scenery is delightful: fishers and paddleboats, a rainbow of colors on calm waters. Towering above them are cliffs and other landforms of various shapes and sizes, linking sea and sky, painting a vivid picture of the interconnectedness of everything on earth – past, present and future.
A brief glimpse of majestic Catandayagan Falls, dropping directly to the sea from a 60-foot vertical limestone cliff, underscores that land and sea — and people — are integral parts of each other, a constant reminder that the only way to sustainable development is to protect and sustain nature.
How people could lose their way in a place like this, it is difficult to imagine. But it is easy to understand why the local government must take the lead.
At the Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary, local officials from Masbate City relate what it took for them to get ahead in their fight against the rapid destruction of the city’s coastal resources.
City development planners saw Buntod’s ecological importance, not only as a habitat of various marine species, but also as a barrier island protecting the mainland from wave attack, storm surge, tidal range, and sediment transport. They worried as it appeared to be vanishing right before their eyes – years of destructive fishing had decimated the once extensive coral reef. They knew that Buntod must be protected, because its disintegration could significantly accelerate the deterioration of Masbate’s coastline.
The Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary, which covers more than 60 hectares, was initiated, and is managed, by the LGU. The sanctuary’s early days were stormy — fishers, anxious about losing their fishing ground, loudly protested. Today, among fishing communities in the city, awareness of coastal management issues and solutions has translated into active involvement in coastal management and protection efforts. Fish are abundant once more in Masbate Bay, thanks to the city government’s relentless campaign against illegal fishing. Buntod Reef, guarded round-the-clock by fish wardens belonging to the Bantay Dagat, is thriving under protection.
Those who are involved in the implementation of the Masbate PPFP have no doubt they are on the right track, but it will take many more stories like this to convince others that the plan’s premise is truly sound. They vow to continue the work, and by the constant retelling of their story, they hope to make Masbate’s transformation to an earth-caring society complete.
The Masbate sea-story continues. Come back soon for the next chapter.
(More information about the Masbate CRM Interpretive Center and the Masbate CRM Showcase Tour: Masbate City Planning and Development Office, Tel/Fax (63-56) 333 5608)
/1/ Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1992). In Howard Clinebell in Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth (New York: The Hayworth Press, 1996).