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A hindsight: Marginalization of a protected area and local watershed of Zamboanga Sibugay town

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ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, PHILIPPINES

In the northwestern part of the municipality of Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay lies the 2,533-hectare Protected Area and Watershed considered by many as the town’s last frontier. Although much of the land area of the watershed is within Barangay Josefa, one of the town’s 28 barangays, it traverses through two barangays of the nearby towns of R.T. Lim, and one barangay of Titay.

The area traverses the bounaries of the three municipalities, namely: Ipil, 1,214.515 hectares; R.T. Lim, 495.5915; and Titay, 382.5576.

The area is considered as a vital resource for irrigation to farmlands in nearby barangays and supply of water to residents of at least five barangays of the town, namely: Buluan, Makilas, Tomitom, Dona Josefa, and Caparan.

According to the hydrologic map of the Department of Agriculture, the ground water availability of the areas surrounding the watershed area is moderate while those far from the area is low (see map below).

The map indicates that the watershed area has played an important role in keeping the ground water availability desirabl

Aside from its important role as the source of ground water, the watershed is also home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the province.

The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) dubbed the twin waterfalls as “Coufalls” but residents referred to it as the Busay Falls.

Cognizant of the importance of the watershed, on March 21, 2012, the Sangguniang Bayan of Ipil passed a measure, Ordinance No. 03-301-2012, declaring the area as the “Protected Area and Local Watershed of the Municipality of Ipil,” to preserve the area from destruction due to incursion of small farm cultivators and slash and burn farming.  

TRIP to Dona Josefa Watershed

In 2014, according to the Regional Office of the Department of Tourism (DOT 9), House of Representatives member Dulce Ann Hofer (2D, Zamboanga Sibugay) had requested the construction of a tourism road leading to the watershed under the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP) purposely to boost tourism in the area.[1] TRIP is a program of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) in cooperation with DOT.

The DOT 9 officer said the provincial government had certified the area as a tourism site while the Local Government of Ipil had complied with all the requirements for the tourism road project to proceed.

The actual road construction started in 2015 and ended in 2016 with a total road length of five (5) kilometres[2], which ended up right outside the watershed area.

There was no road construction activity in 2017 as the approved fund was “intended only to cover the Phase 1 and Phase 2”[3] of the tourism road project.

In 2018, however, the tourism road project resumed. Referred to as the Phase 3 of TRIP, the tourism road went inside the watershed leading to the Busay Falls with a total road length of 739 meters.

A portion of this area, particularly near the Busay Falls, was reported damaged in December 28, 2018 due to the construction of the Phase 3 of the tourism road project leading to it.

While the Local Government of Ipil had called out the reported damage and convened the Dona Josefa Watershed Management Council to look into the report, an independent group, Dona Josefa Watch had conducted a parallel investigation.

Dona Josefa Watch is an ad hoc body spearheaded by Gitib, Inc., and Ipil Press Club.

Facts

The group has tried to answer the questions on when the tourism road project was started, who requested for it, implementing agency, and funding.

The Department of Tourism Regional Office 9 (DOT 9) through its Chief Regional Tourism Operations Officer, Marilan Silorio, offered the following information in an interview:

  1. Rep. Dulce Ann Hofer (2nd District, Zamboanga Sibugay) was the one who requested the tourism road project in 2014 to start from the national highway of Barangay Makilas, Ipil going to the Dona Josefa Watershed purposely to boost local tourism.
  2. The provincial government certified the area as a tourism site.
  3. The Local Government of Ipil was tasked to comply with the requirements from the DOT 9.
  4. The project was funded under the Tourism Road Infrastructure Project (TRIP) of the Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH) in coordination with the DOT.
  5. The tourism road construction commenced in 2015 and ended in 2016 covering Phase 1 and Phase 2. The first two phases of the project ended outside the watershed area. No further road construction activities in 2017.
  6. In 2018, with new funding the Phase 3 was started. This time the road construction went inside the watershed area going to the Busay Falls.

Towards the end of 2018, several reports indicated a “damage” of the area leading to the Busay Falls, which is within the watershed area.

This reported destruction was mentioned by CENR Officer Dionisio B. Rago in his letter dated December 28, 2018 addressed to Engr. Najib D. Dilangalen, District Engineer of the DPWH 2nd Engineering District. The same letter was also sent to Mr. Eric Lim, Mindanao Rock, Attention: Atty. Marlo C. Bancoro.

In this letter Mr. Rago said:

  1. There was an actual inspection and assessment conducted by the combined personnel of DENR-CENRO, DPWH, and Local Government of Ipil on the “on-going road concreting leading to Dona Josefa Falls at Barangay Dona Josefa, Ipil,” referring to the Phase 3 of TRIP which commenced at the end of Phase 2 and to end 50 meters away from the Falls.
  2. The area is within the Dona Josefa Watershed.
  3. The road construction should “adhere specifically PD 1586 otherwise known as ‘Establishing an Environmental Impact Statement System including other Environmental Management-related Measures’.”
  4. To refrain temporarily from conducting further construction activities until a dialogue will be conducted. The dialogue was set January 9, 2019.

It can be gleaned from the succeeding letters of Mr. Rago that the dialogue was conducted.

In his letter to February 7, 2019 addressed to Engr. Dilangalen and another letter dated February 13, 2019 addressed to the Regional Executive Director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office 9 (DENR 9), Mr. Rago outlined the following findings:

  1. It was found out that the tourism road project has no Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) prompting the CENRO to “order the stoppage of the said project for failure to secure necessary requirements pursuant to PD 1586.”
  2. It was also found out that the Contractor has no permit on the “removal and relocation of trees affected by the construction per DENR Administrative Order 2018-16.”

Gitib, Inc., a non-government organization, and Ipil Press Club had conducted a multi-stakeholders’ forum on February 8, 2019. The forum was attended as resource persons by Mr. Felix Badon, MENR Officer of LGU Ipil; CENR Officer Rago; Mr. Job Algupera, a staff of the planning division of the DPWH 2nd Engineering District; a representative from the Environment Management Bureau Regional Office (EMB 9). Mr. Edgar Araojo, professor of Western Mindanao State University and regional officer of Akbayan Partylist was present as a member of the panel of reactors together with Sister Jocelyn Alado, representing the Social Action Ministry of the Diocese of Ipil; and representatives from Silsillah Foundation, and school organizations.

Ticking timebomb

The purpose of the forum among others was to independently ascertain what has happened that led to the destruction of the part of the watershed leading to Busay Falls and who was responsible for it.

During the forum, the following facts were ascertained:

  1. The DPWH, the implementing agency, and LGU Ipil had failed to coordinate with LGU Ipil in implementing the tourism road project as admitted by the DPWH representative.
  2. Only the Phase 1 of the project had the required ECC.
  3. It was also admitted by the DPWH representative that the Phase 3 of the road project was designed to end 50 meters away from the Falls but the actual implementation of the project goes beyond the Falls.
  4. Big stones were either removed or relocated while the big trees, especially the old Balite trees near the Falls, were cut down by the contractor.
  5. MENR Officer Badon admitted the destruction of flora and fauna, risk of landslides due to the cutting of mountain soil, erosion and siltation of the area, potential adverse impacts to coral reefs in nearby Buluan Island Marine Sanctuary, loss of water supply downstream, destruction of natural habitat, and destruction of the natural beauty of the area.
  6.  Mr. Badon reiterated that LGU Ipil had no knowledge of the destruction until December 28, 2018.
  7. The Dona Josefa Watershed Management Council, according to Mr. Badon, was tasked to formulate a technical plan how to rehabilitate the area, which has to be submitted 15 days after the January 9 meeting.

As the result of the forum, Akbayan Partylist Rep. Tom Villarin filed House Resolution No. 2513 directing the House Committee on Natural Resources to conduct the investigation in aid of legislation. The resolution cited that the tourism road project had caused the destruction of “fauna and flora, heightened the risk of landslides, caused erosion and siltation, and loss of water supply.”

The investigation did not materialize. Akbayan lost in 2019 elections.

The same forum was conducted on March 15, 2019 in Barangay Makilas, Ipil which was participated in by community leaders and barangay officials. The officials of the Water and Sanitation Association, which had its source for water in the watershed area, were also present.

Among the concerns aired during the forum were:

  1. Risk of landslides to the immediate community.
  2. Adverse effects to the gardening livelihood of the people in the area, particularly Barangay Tomitom.
  3. Siltation of Tomitom and Buluan rivers, the tributary rivers of the watershed.
  4. Possible loss of water supply to the community.

To date, the DPWH has yet to implement the rehabilitation of the watershed area while the area continues to deteriorate. The area is a ticking timebomb, a disaster in waiting, if the rehabilitation will be delayed.

Antonio Manaytay is the co-convenor of Dona Josefa Watch.


[1] Interview with Marilan Silorio, head of DOT 9 Regional Tourism Operations conducted by Dona Josefa Watch,

[2] Referred to by DPWH as the Phase 1 and Phase 2 of TRIP.

[3] Engr. Rommel Duran, head of the Provincial Poverty Reduction and Allevication Office of the provincial government, told the members of the Dona Josefa Watch in a forum held on 21 June 2019.

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