Bantay Bukid Volunteers: Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Frontliners in Panigan-Tamugan WatershedPosted on November 19, 2020
Watersheds play a vital role in sustaining our communities and the biodiversity within. They provide drinking water, food, air for humans and wildlife, and support habitat for plants and animals. Additionally, watersheds affect everyone’s lives especially on the health aspect. Hence, it is important to protect, preserve, and rehabili- tate the watersheds.
In Davao City, the Talomo-Lipadas Watershed in Toril District provides the drinking water supply of its people. Yet, the population of the city is increasing and the lone watershed cannot suffice the needed water of the people. To ease that, the adjacent Panigan-Tamugan Watershed in Baguio District, a sub-watershed of the Davao River Bantay Bukid Volunteers: Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Frontliners in Panigan-Tamugan Watershed Basin, has been selected as the next source of drinking water wherein surface water from Panigan River combining with Tamugan River will be tapped.
However, there are realities in the upland areas affecting the health of the watersheds. Both the Talomo-Lipadas and Panigan-Tamugan Watersheds are continuously affected by various unsustainable economic activities such as monocrop agri-business plantations, massive deforestation, and conversion of forest lands into other land uses. Some people continuously violate the existing national and local environmental policies such as the basic implementation of required buffer zones in between conservation areas and plantations that resulted to further soil erosion, triggered landslides, and flooding in the lowlands and urban areas affecting both water quality and quantity. Agricultural farms are rampantly using synthetic pesticides through aerial or boom spraying that further heightened the risk of contaminating river systems, local aquifers, and water tables. Violation of proper waste disposal is also observed that poses threats to river waters and other ecosystems. Lastly, there are increasing numbers of poultry and piggery farms that operate around the conservation areas without permits. Some of them are directly throwing their wastewater into the river.
With these man-made destructions in the watersheds, it did not only affect the drinking water supply of Dabawenyos but it did contribute to increasing the im- pacts of climate change. Climate risks will continue to be exacerbated if destructions will not be stopped. While environmentalists advocate different ways to end these environmental issues, a lot of people are also making itworse and acting nonchalant about it.
While advocates are in the frontline of lobbying for environmental policies, whether for passage or implementation, the local communities are also in the frontlines of protecting, conserving, and rehabilitating the watersheds. Their active participation is important so policy recommendations are based on issues and concerns that affect them. Hence, actions and solutions will also benefit them. In 2011, the Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS) has partnered with the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) in implementing the project Upscaling Community Action and Response (UCARE) in Talomo-Lipadas and Panigan-Tamugan Watersheds. The project led to the development of the Bantay Bukid Program (BBP) in support of the implementation of the Davao City Watershed Code and recognized by the city government the following year. Since the implementation of the program, Bantay Bukid volunteers has apprehended people in violation of environmental policies, specifically the Watershed Code and Forestry Code. Violations ranged from illegal poultry farming, illegal quarry operations, improper wastes disposal, to illegal fishing and illegal climbing/trekking at Mt. Tipolog. There were also violators of the Forestry code apprehended by the BBP. Illegal activities reported include cutting of trees and use of chainsaws.
In 2017, during the Watershed Stakeholders Summit, IDIS lobbied for the recognition and inclusion of Bantay Bukid Volunteers, and called for support from the LGU. In response, Mayor Sara Duterte ordered the concerned local government agencies such as the Public Safety Security Command Center and Watershed Management Council to partner with IDIS and Philippine Eagle Foundation in developing the guidelines on Bantay Bukid Program. Major functions of Bantay Bukid identified include watershed monitoring, biodiversity monitoring, river monitoring, and disaster early warning, preparedness, and response. It was also during that year that they started to receive a monthly allowance of Php2,000 each. In 2019, the LGU increased their monthly allowance to Php2,500.
The Bantay Bukid does not only limit its functions to watershed protection. They also participated in the conduct of educational campaigns to people through press conferences (Kapehan sa SM and SM Connect), media feature on Byaheng DO30, seminars, and installation of warning signs inside the conservation areas. They also participated in policy lobbying and mobilizations in support of various environmental issues such as urban greening and illegally shipped foreign wastes in Mindanao. They also actively conducted reforestation/rain- forestation activities, river monitoring, water monitoring, disaster monitoring, clean up drives, and free seminars for the volunteers. They participated in trainings such as Basic Life Support and First Aid Training, Paralegal Training for Environmental Laws, and LAWIN Biodiversity Monitoring System.
As of 2019, the Bantay Bukid volunteers together with various stakeholders in Davao City have reforested a total of 95.8 forest and riparian areas which can be considered now as a functional carbon sink. From 36 Bantay Bukid volunteers in 2011, IDIS is now monitoring seventy-one (71) of them and more than two hundred are being monitored by the Philippine Eagle Foundation who are also recognized and being supported by the LGU. Most importantly, their rehabilitation of the watersheds help in continuing the supply of clean and potable water for Davao City’s current and future generations. Another good effect of reforestation around the conser- vation areas of Panigan-Tamugan Watershed is that it minimizes surface run-off during heavy rains. The slopes around the watershed were once highly vulnerable to soil erosion which also contributes to flooding in the low lands. Yet, since the reforestation started, the Bantay Bukid volunteers at the conservation areas observed minimal surface run-off, soil erosion, and that less or no more flooding incident happened particularly in the Panigan River.
However, this program does not always experience rainbows and cupcakes. Along its way, some storms and thorns challenge the community volunteers. Starting a project or program is easy as counting numbers but sustaining it is difficult. To make the program going, it needs financial assistance for the volunteers and their families. They also need to assure that volunteers have access to clean drinking water since the water source is already there. Ironically, up to now, they do not have adequate access to it. Moreover, challenges of the program also include sustaining the commitment and interest of volunteers to protect and rehabilitate the watershed and the assertion that they also continue to follow the environmental laws while they ensure that their families are fed and fully supported.
Some of these challenges were already addressed and acted upon such as the financial benefits for the volunteers from the City Government of Davao. IDIS through financial assistance from FPE also provides support to the Banta Bukid as partners in nursery establishment and maintenance, tree planting, and monitoring. Support for the livelihood is also gradually being addressed. On the other challenges, IDIS continues to find possible solutions especially in addressing their direct access to drinking water. The concern was already lobbied to Davao City Water District and LGU. Accordingly, it is still in the process.
With continued implementation of the Bantay Bukid Program, we hope that the Panigan-Tamugan and all other watersheds in Davao City will continuously be rehabilitated and illegal activities that may harm them will be controlled, if not prevented. Also, we hope that this program will continue to contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change and develop more ways for people to adapt to it.