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Harmonized Environment Efforts Set for Atok, Buguias

Combined efforts for the protection and rehabilitation of the remaining forests in Buguias were laid out for convergence during the harmonization meeting set recently by the National Power Corporation- Upper Agno River Watershed Area Team (NPC- UARWAT) with the Community Environmental & Natural Resources Office (CENRO)- Buguias, Benguet Environmental & Natural Resources Office (BENRO), and the Local Government Units.

?Aimed at harmonizing environmental policies, mandates, plans and programs at Buguias including Atok as part of the Upper Agno Watershed Reservation or the Upper Agno River Basin Resource Reservation, we convened  to identify convergence operations/activities themed on forest protection and environmental conservation which we the concern agencies shall work out hand in hand?, said Onofre S. Castro, UARWAT Section Chief.

The harmonization dialogue is to strengthen forest protection with the assistance of PNP- Buguias and PNP- Atok and to expand rehabilitation programs (especially in its diminishing communal forests) of the said government agencies without duplication of projects. An output through a proposal shall be endorsed to the top management of each agency for further discussions, review, and approval.

Also, the discussion provided an avenue for open forum in which issues and concerns were identified and were given recommendations. Such challenges were fast land conversion to farm gardens, occurrence of forest fire, illegal activities (particularly timber poaching), erosion/earth movement, small mining scale, and improper waste disposal.

NPC- UARWAT and CENRO- Buguias initial agreements are the following: to identify number of needed forest guards for strategic deployment in Buguias and Atok, to conduct joint operations and projects, to resolve issues in the issuance of permit at the regional or national office, to create interconnection/link for easier coordination especially in implementing forest protection, among others.

Further, said agencies shall undergo joint endeavor on the fencing of Mt. Natoo and other barangay watersheds, establishment of an eco-tourism project (enhancement of the Highest Point/Peak spot to include an environmental view deck), installment of a look-out tower at a hotspot area, conduct of interagency/multi-agency IEC on forest protection and environmental laws, among others.

According to Buguias Mayor Ruben Tindaan, Mt. Natoo and Junior Pulag are the only standing communal forest in Buguias but they are being threatened by the expansion of commercial gardening, thus fencing them to avoid illegal entry is the town?s priority.

?As an alternative measure for now, what we can do is to strengthen Municipal Anti-illegal Task Force and to perform constant IEC and regular patrolling?, stated Guazon H. Garcia, UARWAT Sr. Watershed Management Specialist.             

?I envisioned UARWAT and CENRO-Buguias forest rangers in their complete uniforms and gears patrolling together. To make this mutual dream a reality, our office fully commits in providing technical expertise to UARWAT in the proposal-making?, said CENR Officer Rabindranath P. Quilala.

?There is a need to restore Buguias and Atok before all the trees will be gone and all its source of water will dry up. These agricultural towns were paradise way back in 1980s during my first assignment here?, stated Onofre S. Castro, UARWAT Section Chief.

According to Julius Kollin, BENR Officer, ?To accommodate more projects and programs for the environment, we need to amend the EPIRA LAW and increase the one fourth of a centavo share to one half.?

?The existing environmental share is not enough to support projects being implemented by authorized agencies due to the present degradation status of our environment?, ended Kollin.