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Kapihan Unites Upper Agno Watershed Stakeholders

The Upper Agno River Watershed Area Team (UARWAT) in partnership with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) conducted an awareness campaign and forum dubbed Kapihan sa Benguet on July 4 at Poblacion, Bokod, Benguet.

Aimed at enhancing partnership for the protection and conservation of the Upper Agno River Watershed Reservation, the activity was attended by barangay chieftains, various stakeholders, and other members of the community.  Officials from the barangay to the municipal Local Government Units led by the town Mayor Thomas K. Wales Jr. sat together and knocked their heads answering the queries of radio reporters and newspaper journalists. The forum which was radiocast live on different local stations was facilitated by PIA personnel and local broadcasters/media.

With the mayor as panelists were Forester Onofre Castro, UARWAT Section Chief; PSI Vicente Tamid-ay, Bokod PNP Chief of Police; SFO2 Walter Paleng, Bokod BFP Chief Fire Marshall; Pancho Esnara, Shakilan Ni Ikolos - IPO Chairman; and Arthur Solano, Barangay Forest Protection Team (BFPT) representative.

The campaign is to raise awareness on the current status and challenges face in the protection and preservation of the watershed reserve and to harmonize the forest management and conservation plans among the different stakeholders. The assistance of other agencies like the PIA, DENR, SNAPBI, PNP, LGU and the local barangay is being sustained and strengthened enjoining the said stakeholders in the protection and awareness campaign to protect/conserve the remaining resources of the watershed.

Partnership for the protection of the forest is a must. Thus to heighten regular patrolling, apprehension and confiscation operations, the Memorandum of Partnership between NPC and PNP for the protection of the watershed is annually renewed not to disrupt the sustainability of the protection and management plan, said Nilda Cadio, UARWAT Forest Guard.  

In the situationer presenting the watershed's current forest condition over the past years, Castro stressed that the most occurring are the illegal activities such as illegal logging, illegal land conversion, and the heavy siltation of Binga and Ambuklao dams.

Guazon Garcia, UARWAT Sr. Watershed Management Specialist  pointed out that most threats to the health of the natural forest of Upper Agno River Watershed  are related to human activities such as slash and burn farming, fire, mining, non-timber forest products poaching,  among others.

Moreover, Castro informed the public that the watershed reserve is supplying three hydroelectric power plants namely the Binga Hydro Electric Power Plant, the Ambuklao HEPP, and the San Roque HEPP, at the same time serving economic and domestic purposes.   These reservoirs provide economic livelihoods in local communities and are used as flood control infrastructure that benefit the provinces of Pangasinan and Tarlac.

The Upper Agno River Watershed shelters an approximate area of 86,674.99 hectares covering the municipalities of Itogon, Bokod, Kabayan, Buguias including portions of Atok, Bakun, La Trinidad, Kibungan, and Tublay in Benguet; Bauko in Mountain Province; Tinoc and Hungduan in Ifugao; and portions of Kayapa in Nueva Vizcaya.

Given the area to protect and to nurture, our team implements forest conservation and rehabilitation projects such as tree planting, nursery establishment, seedling dispersal program and other agro-forestry and reforestation activities?, said Josephine Tayoco, UARWAT Community Relation Officer - Indigenous People Program.

Also, programs for the Indigenous People were conceptualized to involve them in the management and conservation of the watershed reserve. One of the established livelihood projects for them is the coffee plantation where NPC forged a memorandum of partnership with the Cobabeng-Bobok Arabica Planters Association, Ekip Indigenous Farmers Federation, Inc., and Karao-Ekip Tribal Regreening Movement?, added Tayoco.

Further, the Upper Agno River Watershed encompasses the catchment basins of the Ambuklao Dam in Bokod, Benguet and the Binga Dam in Itogon, Benguet, both of which are used mainly to generate hydroelectric power. The main purpose of protecting the natural forest of the Upper Agno River Watershed is to ensure the sustainable production of quality water for continues operation of the two (2) Hydroelectric Power Plants, namely Binga HEPP that generates 130 MW and Ambuklao HEPP with a capacity of 105 MW. Also, it provides sufficient water supply for both domestic and agricultural uses without endangering the watershed?s health.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Meanwhile in the watershed updates, According to COP Tamid-ay, illegal harvesting of lumbers is the alarming case in Bokod especially at Bobok-Bisal. Thus, more checkpoints are needed to be installed along the Nueva Vizcaya road and at other passable routes of illegal loggers.

We have been instituted to apprehend illegal loggers but we are not totally equipped and effective on the task since cellular phone signal in Bokod is weak. As a result, information and intelligence report on any illegal activities cannot reach us on time. Due to this communication delay, no perpetrators are caught in the area especially that they are alert, organized, high tech and as slippery as eels, added Tamid-ay.

For the first quarter of their joint operations, NPC and PNP-Bokod confiscated mostly pine lumbers measuring 2,800 board feet and costing a total of PhP 42,000. It was noted that illegal cutting of trees was reduced since January because of regular patrols conducted in the area. The confiscated logs are turned over to the NPC-UARWAT while some are still stored at the Bokod PNP office.

The local government is one with you in preserving the remaining natural resources and we are committing in intensifying our efforts in stopping illegal logging activities within the hotspot barangays, stated Mayor Wales.

Castro lauded also the efforts of the Bantay Watershed Task Force, Barangay Forest Protection Team, NPC-SNAPBI technical Cooperation and other volunteers in assisting, reinforcing and augmenting the UARWAT forest guards during patrol operations and forest fire suppression.