by Delfin Laforteza, Public Information Officer, Municipality of Los Baños
In order to effectively manage, conserve and protect Mt. Makiling, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) spearheaded the organization of the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve Stakeholders Advisory Council (MMFR-SAC) through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). The signing ceremony was held at the Nicolas Lansigan Auditorium at the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources on July 30. It was also highlighted by the unveiling of the 33rd ASEAN Heritage Park Marker.
The signatories to the agreement include UPLB; provinces of Laguna and Batangas; City of Calamba; municipalities of Los Baños, Bay, and Sto. Tomas; Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – Region 4A; Department of Tourism (DOT) – Region 4; DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau; Laguna Lake Development Authority; Laguna Water District; Calamba Water District; Philippine National Police – Region 4A; and Alab Makiling-Farmers Association.
Under this agreement, the 24 stakeholders acknowledge their responsibilities and will initiate more collective efforts to ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem services and protection of Mt. Makiling.
To assist the council in accomplishing their objectives, different committees were created, namely, biodiversity protection and law enforcement; ecotourism; water resources and sustainable use; communication, education and public awareness; resource generation; legal concerns; and research, development and monitoring.
A technical working group was also formed composed of the heads of the following offices: Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems (MCME); the Municipal/City Environment and Natural Resources Offices of Los Baños, Bay, Sto. Tomas and Calamba; DENR Region 4A; and DOT Region 4A. MCME will serve as the secretariat while the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and GIZ of Germany will serve as advisers.
The stakeholders council was created after a series of meetings initiated by MCME and ACB with the municipalities of Los Baños and Sto. Tomas following the declaration of Mt. Makiling as an ASEAN Heritage Park (AHP).
Mount Makiling’s nomination as an AHP was approved in 2013 during the 14th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment held on September 25 in Surabaya, Indonesia. The mountain became the 33rd ASEAN Heritage Park and the 5th for the Philippines which include Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park, and Mt. Malindang Natural Park. It is the first for Luzon and the first managed by an academic institution. The approval of Mt. Makiling’s nomination as an ASEAN Heritage Park was due to its use as a natural laboratory for scientists, and a favorite destination for tourists with its peaks and hot springs as attractions.
Manuel Gerochi, Undersecretary for Planning and Policy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), who represented Secretary Ramon Paje during the opening ceremonies of the 4th ASEAN Heritage Park Conference, announced the declaration. On October 3, 2013, the certification of declaration was presented by the officials of ACB to the officials of UPLB and the surrounding towns and park managers during a ceremony held in Mt. Makiling Botanical Gardens in Los Baños, Laguna. Also present were officials from DENR. In a statement by ACB Executive Director Roberto V. Oliva, he said that the AHPs are a network of national protected areas of high conservation importance that aims to create greater awareness and appreciation for ASEAN’s rich natural heritage.
The declaration of Mt. Makiling as an AHP and the formation of the MMFR-SAC are welcome developments. Although it is not a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Law but a forest reserve under the management of UPLB, this title together with the MMFR-SAC MOA will open opportunities for more local and international support.