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BLGUs pledge as BWTF

As the most valuable assets in the management of watershed resources, around fifty-two Barangay Local Government Units (BLGUs) from various municipalities covered within the Upper Agno Watershed Reservation were tapped as volunteers in the Bantay Watershed Task Force (BWTF) Program of the Upper Agno River Watershed Area Team National Power Corporation.

The BWTF is an effort to address the worsening degradation of the Upper Agno Watershed Reserve. There is an imperative need, not only for the concerned agencies mandated to protect the watershed reservation like NPC-WMD, DENR, and PNP, but also for all stakeholders whose survivaldepend on the watershed resources, said For. Onofre S. Castro, UARWAT Section Chief.

BWTF was conceptualized as a community-based approach program which eyed watershed inhabitants who are mostly indigenous peoples as partners in addressing environmental problems by revivingtheir volunteerism and activism in forest protection and environmental preservation, furthered Josephine F. Tayoco, UARWAT CRO IP Program.

During the month-long summits held per cluster area last August at different venues, the barangays of Atok, Tublay, La Trinidad, Itogon, and Kabayan committed to be part of the barangay-based BWTF and pledged to be designated as Deputy Forest Officers. The summits for Buguias and Bokod are set on Sept. 13, 14, respectively.

As stated in REPUBLIC ACT NO. 7160:Local Government Code of the Philippines, Section 447, the Local Government Unit which includes the Barangay and Municipal LGU shall protect the environment and impose appropriate penalties for acts which endanger the environment,such as dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing, illegal logging and smuggling of logs, smuggling of natural resources products and of endangered species of flora and fauna, slash and burn farming, and such other activities which result in pollution, acceleration of eutrophication of rivers and lakes, or of ecological imbalance.

Further, in Section 20 of REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9275: Philippine Clean Water Act, mandates that the Local government units shall share the responsibility in the management and improvement of water quality within their territorial jurisdictions.

All stakeholders are requested to look into ways of preserving and protecting the remaining natural resources for the future generation to enjoy the same privilege we are enjoying today, said For. Guazon H. Garcia, UARWAT Sr. Watershed Management Specialist.

We, the officials starting from the barangay to the municipal level, including residents, young and old, must join handsto contribute for this important task entrusted to us, statedHon. OrlanKelcho, Councilor of Kabayan.

With proper training, the Indigenous Peoples could be the best watershed managers and appointing them as Deputized Forest Officers will give them authority to exercise their expertise in handling and enhancing our forest protection efforts in their areas, added Garcia.

The organized BWTF are endorsed through barangay resolution and shall take effect immediately. Part of the Task Force is the Quick Response Team which is under the Incident Command and Control System. As the arm and eye of UARWAT in the barangay level, these volunteer members shall assist in patrolling operations, setting up of checkpoints, confiscation of illegally harvested forest products, forest fire suppression, among others. They shall be provided with non-monetary benefits such as priority in employment, livelihood training/seminars, food during operations, uniform, ID card, group insurance, etc.

The BWTF program is part of the regular program of WMD under its Watershed Protection and Law Enforcement pursuant to Executive Order 224, which gives NPC complete jurisdiction, control and administration over the watershed reservations supporting hydro and geothermal power installations.