PRIETO DIAZ, Sorsogon, Philippines -- BICOL'S biggest mangrove forest in
Prieto Diaz town in Sorsogon is being threatened by fishpond developers, who
have already cut down thousands of mangrove trees, and the alleged indifference
of government officials tasked with protecting it.
Nineteen mangrove species grow in 1,006 hectares of wetlands in 11 barangay of
Prieto Diaz, 30 km southeast of Sorsogon City, fronting the Pacific Ocean.
The forest serves as the town's natural protection against weather disturbances,
ocean surge and soil erosion spawned by big waves, said forester Anabel
Barquilla of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office.
A big portion of the area is covered by a reforestation program initiated by the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the late 1980s. According to
the DENR, the remaining mangrove forest is now nearly equal in size to the 950
hectares of fishponds in the area.
Eco-Developers, an organization which holds a mangrove stewardship agreement
with the DENR.
Some of the fishpond developers have secured permits from the Bureau of
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, which approves applications for fishpond lease
agreements (FLAs), while others possess authority from the Development Bank of
Many of them come from outside Sorsogon, some even as far as the Visayas, Mayor
Benito Doma said as he expressed dismay over the sad state of affairs.
The municipal government has repeatedly invited BFAR regional officials, who are
based in Pili, Camarines Sur, to a meeting to discuss the problem, but the
agency has ignored it, Doma said.
Doma said the local officials wanted to know from the BFAR how the FLAs were
being granted to fishpond developers so that they could act accordingly. The
bureau, he said, did not consult them before it granted the permits.
Worse, the officials did not know that some of the fishpond projects were within
mangrove plantations, he said. By the time they learned about it, the mangrove
trees had already been cut down.
Pete Vela Cruz, a member of the DENR team implementing the reforestation
project, said the approval of an FLA normally went through a multi-layered
process in order to ensure environmental protection.
First, the land should be classified by the DENR's Forest Management Bureau as a
national park, timberland or forest. Once classified as timberland, it must be
declared alienable and disposable.
The DENR must then determine whether the land is suitable for fishpond purposes.
If it declares the area as such, only then can a prospective developer apply for
Vela Cruz said the DENR has not classified the mangrove forest as suitable for
fishpond purposes, so the granting of the lease agreements by the BFAR was
Doma said those wielding only an authority from the DBP were operating fishponds
that were foreclosed by the bank after the original developers failed to pay
their obligations to it.
He doubted the legality of the foreclosure since fishponds acquired through the
FLAs cannot be used as loan collateral. Theoretically, the fishponds are
government property that are only leased to the operators and thus should have
not been accepted by the bank as collateral, he said.
Doma said he had consulted with DENR lawyers about the legality of a local
executive order that he plans to issue, which, he added, would pave the way for
the demolition of the illegal fishponds.
The mayor said fishpond operators in the area did not show up in the meeting
called by the local government.
Doma said his administration had initiated the filing of criminal cases against
some of the fishpond developers, but not one case has prospered in court. A lot
of the cases were dismissed even before these could even reach the court.
Rene Camacho, community environment and natural resources officer (Cenro), said
the officials were aghast at why they lost all the cases. They had hoped that
the prosecutor's office would advise them on how to file the cases properly and
what evidence to present since they were all working for the government, he
Camacho said all their cases were anchored on the provisions of Presidential
Decree No. 705.
The Provincial Multi-Sectoral Forest Protection Committee (PMFPC), headed by the
Cenro, has created a special sub-committee to look into the problems besetting
the mangrove forest and recommend actions to stop the environmental abuse.
According to the DENR, the mangrove forest supports a diverse ecosystem. Data
from the department's Coastal Environment Program shows that it is helping the
continued existence of at least 836 hectares of sea grass, 800 hectares of coral
reefs, and 1,200 hectares of tidal mud flats.
Researchers have identified at least 19 varieties of mangrove trees in the
wetlands. These are the pagatpat, nilad, bakawan-bato, bakawan-babae,
bakawan-lalaki, malatangal, pototan, langarai, busain, pototan-lalaki,
tinduk-tindukan, saging-saging, tabigi, bantigi, buta-buta, taban, bungalow and
At least eight species of sea grass abound, covering an area of as far as two
kilometers from the shoreline. Among the species are the tropical eel grass,
dugong grass, round-tipped sea grass, toothed sea grass, fiber strand grass,
syringe grass and the spoon grass.
Judy Doma, a DENR biologist and the mayor's wife, warned that the destruction of
the forest would also adversely affect the habitat of 22 species of birds.
They include the tree sparrow, chestnut manikin, little mangrove heron, glossy
swiftlet, pacific swallow, white-collared kingfisher, ashy minivet, amethyst
brown fruit dove, white-breasted wood swallow, Richards pipit, Philippine flower
pecker, yellow-vented bulbul, barred rail, cattle egret, Kentish plover,
whimbrel, terek sandpiper, green shank, Pacific Reef egret-dark face, Pacific
Reef egret-white face, and the wandering whistling duck.
The biologist said the ecosystem supported other animal species, such as
reptiles, fish, crustaceans and seashells.
Mayor Doma said the people would be the biggest loser if efforts to save the
mangrove forest failed.
Hundreds of families in Prieto Diaz, a fifth-class municipality (annual income:
P7 million to P13 million), depend on the mangrove forest for livelihood, he
The LGU, in tandem with the DENR, has initiated at least six alternative
livelihood projects like seaweed farming, shellcraft, crab fattening, nipa
plantation, prawn culture and sale of propagules.
The DENR has declared the mangrove forest the pilot showcase for Bicol and has
been attracting hundreds of tourists yearly.
Seamancor Eco-Developers have almost 200 members, most of them with families who
derive livelihood from the mangrove forest.
One of its officers, Manuel Domdom, said town residents would earn more by
selling food and offering services to visitors, while Seamancor members would
serve as guides and lecturers.
For a boat ride for 10 passengers around the forest, a guide is paid P100, which
includes boat rental, Domdom said.
Domdom said visitors from as far as Ilocos had been to the place and even bought
mangrove seedlings, which were planted in their coastal towns.