Women help conserve biodiversity in Antique
MANILA, Philippines – Some women are making headway in championing the conservation of biodiversity in Antique province.
Grandmothers, mothers and sisters are pitching in efforts to protect the Sibalom Natural Park, a protected forest area about 12 kilometers away from Sibalom town proper. Heavily denuded after World War II, the tourist attraction is situated on the island of Panay.
For many years, women rangers are keeping loggers at bay, planting both upland crops and native trees and on some occasions, extinguishing the deadly brush fire.
For more than 40 years, Villa Abagon, a 70-year-old forest warden from Barangay Cabladan, has been patrolling the woods and planting native trees.
“We have planted over 10,000 seedlings in those mountains,” Abagon said, adding their nurseries shelter various native trees such as Adlawan, Labnog, Narra, Nato and Tabuyog.
“I’m near the end of my days and know that I won’t see many of the trees we plant grow tall,” Abagon said. “I won’t see them, but my 15 grandchildren will. What we plant today connects our generation to theirs. Like our kids, these new forests are our legacy.”
Lumen Tiongco, another forest ranger, said she and her fellow rangers were regularly clearing the bushes to create fire lines, to make the park safer for visitors, hoping to avert a fire incident in the forest.
Tiongco recalled the scariest moment in her stint as a “bantay gubat” when she had to put her life on the line to extinguish a raging fire.
“Even today, I can feel the searing heat, hear the crackling of dry leaves, the sizzle of timber. That was a long time ago – but I can still see flames eating up part of a mountain,” she said.
They also prevent honey collectors from smoking out bees from their hives. “As we learned the hard way, forests and fire can be a fiery combination,” she added.
People’s Organization president Fe Geraldes Lonasco, for her part, said their group was actively participating in the protection of forests and sending out volunteer wardens not only to safeguard the trees but also to “help keep useful forest products flourishing.”
Lonasco said they could craft “an endless array” of non-timber products using the woods found in the park.
“We can harvest vines and leaves like bakan, balud, bulo, pandan, rattan and tapuyay to fashion hats, bags, baskets, hammocks, twine and anything else we can sell to augment our families’ incomes,” added Lonasco.
To date, the majority of farmers and rangers are in their 40s or older; yet there’s a new generation of young women wanting to continue their work in Sibalom Natural Park.
“Today, we study and protect breathtaking areas like the Sibalom Natural Park, home to giant rafflesia flowers and endangered birds like walden’s and tarictic hornbills. It’s just as I always dreamed. Biology!,” shared Sibalom Protected Area Management Office staffer Elizabeth Ann Daquipil.
Anabelle Plantilla, national project manager of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and United Nations Development Program Biodiversity Finance Initiative (Biofin), recognized the women’s great contribution to conservation efforts despite having little time to juggle household chores, farming and other income-generating work.
“These women put great value, time and effort into protecting forests. This is their avowed commitment,” Plantilla said.
Biofin is working to mainstream gender equality in all aspects of governance and decision-making across 41 countries.
At present, most of the country’s bantay gubat and bantay dagat (forest and coastal wardens) are men.
Among its initiatives is helping Sibalom Natural Park develop its tourism products under the “Year of the Protected Areas” or YoPA campaign to raise public awareness of protected areas as well as encourage people to visit and increase revenues from tourism.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No.5 underscores real and sustained gender equality. It recognizes that truly sustainable human development can never be achieved unless women are able to contribute on an equal basis with men in their respective societies.
“Promoting gender equality in all projects is just one aspect of BIOFIN’s work to develop and implement inclusive funding mechanisms to sustain biodiversity conservation,” said UNDP resident representative Selva Ramachandran.