Supporting the protectors of our watersheds


    Most Filipino probably recognize the European Union’s EU initials and the EPIRA shorthand for Electric Power Industry Reform Act with reasonable ease, but I dare say that they are not familiar with the abbreviations PES. MIPPEG, IPRA, IWRM and NIPAS.

    PES stands for payment for ecosystems services. PES systems are officially defined as schemes seeking to support positive environmental externalities through the transfer of financial resources from the beneficiaries of environmental services to those who either provide, or are fiduciaries of, environmental services. PES services are in existence in many developing and developed countries.

    IPRA, which is short for the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (Republic Act 8671), provides for the rights of indigenous peoples (IP) to ownership and possession of their ancestral domains (AD). These rights are deemed to include bodies of water traditionally and actually occupied and protected.

    NIPAS stands for the National Integrated Protected Areas Act of 1992 (R.A. 7856). NIPAS was enacted to provide financial benefits to the IPs and for that purpose the Integrated Protected Areas Fund (IPAF) was created. IPAF resources come from the proceeds from leases of multiple-use areas, tourism concessions, exports of flora and fauna and donations.

    IWRM is internationally defined as “a process that promotes the coordinated development and management of land, water and related resources in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner, without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.” All proposals for financing of watershed management projects must be supported by an IWRM.

    MIPPEG stands for Mainstreaming Indigenous People’s Participation in Environmental Governance. A four-year (2010-2014) project supported by the EU, MIPPEG seeks to empower the IP committees and to provide livelihood options and other sustainability mechanisms at both the household and the community level. The implementation partners of MIP are the Spanish non-governmental organization Fundacion de Desarrollo Sostenido (Fundeso) and Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), the largest Philippine grant facility for the environment. MIPPEG has been working in partnership with four IP communities: the Maeng of Tubo, Abra, the Mangyan Tagabukid of Sibuyan Island, Romblon, the Bukidnon Higanon of Malaybalay, Bukidnon and the Mandaya and Mansaka of Maragusa, Compostela Valley.

    The foregoing descriptions of concepts and institutions can be seen to be concerned with one subject matter: the indigenous peoples and their role in the protection of this country’s watersheds.

    Whenever a lowland-living Filipino hears the phrase indigenous Filipino, the images that immediately comes to his mind are things and people like the Rice Terraces, Igorots, loincloths, loom-woven textiles and a multiplicity of tribes with different cultures, languages and social structures. These images are not irrelevant to lowlanders’ overall image of their upland-living countrymen. But the IPs are, and should be seen as, much more than that.

    The IPs are, and should be seen as, the protectors of this country’s numerous watershed. Protectors don’t just exist and thrive by themselves. They need to be protected from both man and Nature. Think illegal logging and the resultant destruction of precious flora and fauna and the point is driven home. Who better to protect and defend the watersheds and their resources them those who within and around them?

    Over the years, and particularly since the 1980s, the government has come around to the view that one cannot profess concern for the IPs’ watershed-protection role and then not do anything about it. After repeatedly paying lip service and making motherhood statements, the Constitution-makers finally got down to taking the steps necessary for the protection of this nation’s ecological system. Congress took the cue and passed IPRA and NIPAS and made provision in EPIRA for financial support for the IPs protecting the watersheds.

    Unfortunately, laws don’t always work out the way they were intended to, and the IPs have not receiving the compensation that the above-cited laws intended them to receive. Hence the advocacy of FPE and Fundeso, with the support of EU.

    The principal IP-benefitting amendments to the law and regulations being advocated relate to the definition of ‘watershed’, the definition of ‘host communities’ and the allocation of financial benefits under EPIRA’s Energy Regulation 1-94 among the downstream—including farms, homes and hydro/geothermal power plants—and upland communities.

    Under EPIRA, only local government units from the barangay to the regional level are given preferential access to the government subsidy. Electrification accounts for 50 percent of the subsidy; all the other uses account for the other 50 percent. The non-electrification 50 percent is shared among ‘host communities’ as follows: barangay, 25 percent, city or municipality, 35 percent, province, 30 percent and region, 10 percent. It is proposed that the share of the upland communities be increased, the increase to be taken from the shares of the province or region.

    FPE, Fundeso and their EU supporters believe that the laws should be amended so as to that ‘host communities’ will come to mean not only LGUs but also the upstream IP communities protecting the headwaters and the downstream communities, where water is utilized by hydro-geothermal power plants.

    Above all, the IP communities’ advocates are pushing for government adoption of a watershed perspective, i.e., recognition of both the upland and lowland territories is part of the same ecological system.

    If the government is serious about supporting the protectors of our watersheds, these changes should be approved expeditiously.


    Source: Opinion Manila Standard Today