The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
October, 2003 Vol.6 No.10
Davao’s Diverse Menu of Best Practices
As part of its exit strategy and to facilitate future sharing of lessons in coastal management, the Coastal Resource Management Project (CRMP) developed “CRM Showcases” that feature in a study tour or interpretive program successful coastal resource management practices by local government units and other groups working with coastal communities. On November 10-12, CRMP will launch its second showcase (after Masbate), the Davao Provinces CRM Showcase Tour. This article describes the tour. – By Asuncion Sia
The tour takes you to five Davao Gulf towns and cities, where you will see different applications of CRM as practiced by diverse groups from both government and non-government sectors – all with that distinct Mindanao flavor.
Many LGUs bordering Davao Gulf are veterans in CRM, with at least three years worth of experience behind them. The showcase tour features but a few, in three fun-filled days along a scenic route that spans much of the Davao Gulf coastline.
The tour covers the region called “Davao Provinces”: Davao City; Digos City, Davao del Sur; Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur; Mati, Davao Oriental; and the Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte.
As an added treat, you can travel on to Sarangani and General Santos City, where the presence of the influential tuna industry gives the resource management picture an extra dimension not seen in many places in the Philippines.
If the tour has a surprise, however, it is in its wealth of CRM best practices. Some are borrowed, others are homegrown, but all have proven effective and replicable across the diverse milieu that characterizes the region.
On the right track
The province has gone through the full cycle of the CRM process adapted for Philippine LGUs, from resource assessment and planning, through implementation, monitoring and evaluation, to information, education and communication. (Fig. 1)
Key to its success is the Provincial CRM Council, an inter-agency coordinating structure designed to forge greater partnership and collaboration among the various sectors and agencies involved in CRM. The Council was responsible for formulating the Davao del Sur Provincial CRM Plan, and ensuring that it represents the broad range of issues affecting coastal resource use.
What will stand out are the dedication of those involved in pushing CRM forward, and their passion for the CRM cause. They are visibly proud that Davao del Sur has one of the first two CRM-certified municipalities in the Philippines, the municipality of Hagonoy, where the LGU has successfully turned a conflict between the community and a banana plantation into a cooperative effort at rehabilitating the area’s mangroves. (Three more Davao del Sur LGUs have since been certified for CRM.)
Hagonoy used to have at least a few hundred hectares of mangroves – all but three hectares have been converted to fishpond or cut for housing and fuel. Residents tried unsuccessfully for years to rehabilitate the mangrove area. They said pollution from chemicals used in a nearby banana plantation operated by the Malalag Ventures Plantation, Inc. (MVPI) was the culprit. To resolve the issue, the LGU facilitated a dialogue that subsequently resulted in a partnership between the community and MVPI. This partnership is responsible for the on-going rehabilitation of nearly 45 hectares of the town’s mangroves. The MVPI Mangrove Planters Cooperative is the first recipient in Davao del Sur (and only the second in Mindanao) of a Community-Based Forest Management Agreement for mangroves from DENR.
Hagonoy is not on your itinerary, but you get to see firsthand another of Davao del Sur’s CRM jewels – the headquarters of the Provincial Anti-Illegal Fishing Task Force (PANIF-TF) in Bgy. Bato in Sta. Cruz town.
The site is a spit of sandbar that used to be a one-hectare island – years of sand quarrying and other destructive activities shrank it to its present size. To get there, you must cross a 545-meter footbridge that connects the island to the mainland.
For so small a place, the PANIF-TF headquarters is packed full of lessons in resource use issues and management. It is the nerve center of the province’s law enforcement initiatives against illegal fishing. Here you will meet the men and women who have committed themselves to safeguarding Davao del Sur’s coastal resources. From them you will hear stories about ordinary folks taking extraordinary actions for the common good.
On the site you will also find projects aimed at protecting and rehabilitating the area’s coastal habitats, including mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. Different agencies and organizations are involved in maintaining these projects, giving substance to the province’s multi-sectoral, multi-agency approach to CRM.
Before you leave, stop for a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of majestic Mt. Apo. From this vantage point, it is easy to imagine how activities way up the mountain can ultimately impact coastal habitats. You are headed upland next to see for yourself what is being done to prevent that.
View from the top
It has also driven to near extinction Davao City’s most famous avian resident – the Philippine Eagle. Yes, you will get the chance to meet Pag-asa and his kin – the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) is only a short walk away from the watershed entrance, and it is your next stop.
The eagles are confined in separate cages within the sprawling PEC. The cages are huge, the birds obviously well taken care of, and one knows keeping them captive is the only hope for saving them from extinction. Still, the thought that these magnificent animals are unable to roam their forest territories freely is sobering, one more reminder that something is terribly wrong with our environment.
The Philippine Eagle, as well as its less famous cousins, the sea hawks and sea eagles, play a very important role in the ecosystem. They are called ‘top bio-indicators,’ because they prey on smaller, weaker and aberrant animals, thereby keeping the ecosystem healthy. Their loss can have irreversible impacts on ecological balance, ultimately affecting all species, whether on land or in the sea.
The PEC is operated by the Philippine Eagle Foundation, a group dedicated to saving the eagles not only through captive breeding and similar work, but also through the rehabilitation of their habitats. Its success is testimony not only to the dedication of its staff, but also to the contributions of various organizations and individuals who have been touched by the Philippine Eagle’s plight. It is comforting in that it shows that environmental programs do work if people support them – if the support does not come too late.
A family effort
Mati is a three-hour scenic drive away from Davao City, along a mostly coastal highway overlooking picturesque Pujada Bay. The trip will take you to Balite Bay, a 725-hectare ‘pouch’ within Pujada Bay, where you will meet the people of Bgys. Dawan and Mamali.
Balite Bay used to be regarded as the food basket of Davao Oriental, because of the abundance of fish and other seafood there. Over the years, the bay’s productivity has been severely affected by population pressure and land-based activities such as deforestation and silica mining, which have caused heavy siltation.
Siltation has become so severe that since the 1990s, Balite Bay has been plagued by the red tide. The now regular outbreaks of the red tide – so-called because the proliferation of the red diatom Pyrodinium gives the water a reddish or pinkish color – has affected the villagers’ already meager income. Illegal fishing using dynamite, poison, electric current and other destructive methods has further marginalized Balite Bay fishers, reducing their fish catch to 1-2 kg a day.
In the early 1990s, some fishers organized themselves and lobbied to get the LGU to stop illegal fishing, including commercial fishing, in Balite Bay. They faced stiff resistance from illegal fishers, who made up more than half of the community.
In 1995, the Parokya ni Birhen de Guia was established, and the Interfaith Movement for Peace Empowerment and Development Inc. (IMPEDE), a church-based NGO, became a parish partner. IMPEDE’s work involves mainly organizing and strengthening the people’s organizations, while building alliances and networks among government agencies, academe and private group. They call this the bibingka approach, because “it fires up people both at the top and bottom.” Using this approach, the group succeeded in uniting the community, and expanding its support structure through a multi-agency, multi-sectoral organization called the Balite Bay Biodiversity Conservation and Coastal Resource Management (BBBCRM) Council.
The story is inspiring, and the landscape is charming. But what lingers in your mind is the uplifting sight of people of different political persuasions, religions and cultures working as one community, united by a common cause.
Saving our sea species
A primary function of the Center is to rehabilitate the area’s once extensive mangroves – it currently maintains about 300 hectares of residual mangrove forest and plantation. In addition, it operates a marine turtle rehabilitation center, where sea turtles surrendered by fishers or seized by authorities from their captors are treated for injuries and nursed back to health before they are released in the wild.
As in Balite Bay, the effort is largely community-based, and involves the participation of fishers and their families in CRM planning and implementation. DENR’s education program, however, targets a larger audience – the general public – hoping to engage them in conservation. To this end, DENR plans to set up in the area a marine museum for scientific and educational purposes. The museum will feature specimens of the different marine species found in Pujada Bay – sea turtles, dugong, dolphins, and whale shark, as well as various shells, starfish and other marine organisms.
Also on the drawing board is a mangrove trail that will allow visitors to explore the area’s mangrove forest and plantation while learning about mangroves and their role in the coastal ecosystem.
The trail may not be ready when you visit, but take heart – your next stop is the Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS), where you will explore a mangrovetum, a field laboratory focused on the study and conservation of mangroves.
The project is located in Bgy. San Isidro in IGACOS’s Babak District. IGACOS is only 10 minutes from Davao City by ferryboat; the mangrovetum is at least another 45 minutes overland from the Babak pier.
When the project started, there were only 11 true mangrove species and 20 mangrove associates in the area. Today, the count is up to 27 true mangroves and 23 mangrove associates – and increasing. The DENR technicians maintaining the mangrovetum are determined to propagate all of the 47 true mangrove species known to occur in the Philippines. There are five people’s organizations under the Coastal Environment Conservationists of Samal, Inc. (CECSI) who are helping them, providing the extra manpower needed to ensure that they achieve their goal.
CECSI members have more than the conservation of mangroves as motivation – they are also motivated by their concern that the increasing pressure to develop their island’s coastline into capital-intensive beach resorts will result in their dislocation from their homes and traditional fishing grounds. By their active involvement in the protection of the mangrovetum, they are laying claim on their right to participate in the use and development of their island’s resources, and thus have a hand in the determination of their future.
The power of one
Maestro has been the key figure in the remarkable social transformation that has saved the future for his largely fishing village.
Some ten years ago, Aundanao was like many other coastal communities in the Philippines – the largely fishing population was caught in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, habitat destruction and dwindling catch. He was a teacher, not a fisher, but Maestro understood that the only way out would be to stop the habitat destruction.
Knowing that his neighbors respected him and valued his opinion, he started a campaign to designate a 5-hectare portion of Aundanao’s coastal waters off-limits to fishing. In 1994, the barangay council adopted a resolution declaring the area a fish sanctuary, and in 1998, the resolution was affirmed through an ordinance passed by the municipal council.
Today, Aundanao fishers take pride in the fish sanctuary that has earned for them accolades from outside, and brought in assistance from various government agencies. They have taken on the responsibility for protecting their sanctuary, and Maestro, now retired, remains their inspirational leader.
Maybe it’s the stories. Or maybe it’s the place – the beach, the clear water, the quiet charm. You realize things could not have changed much in the three days you were here – coastal management problems remain, the issues as difficult as ever. But there’s something about this trip that says: all is well, after all.
Or could be.
(More information about the Davao Provinces CRM Showcase Tour: Davao City Tourism Operations Office, Tel. (63-82) 222 1956-57)