One island ecosystem

When the Negros Island Region (NIR) was declared as a unit separate from Regions 6 and 7, a lot of us in the environmental groups were glad for the island’s natural resources.

Finally, the island, the fourth largest in the country, can be managed as one whole ecosystem, with better coordinated efforts for sustainable agriculture, wildlife conservation, ecotourism, and a green economy.

Despite differences in dialect, the people of Negros were ready to build and sustain the connections between the Occidental and Oriental sides.

We’ve seen that dream shot down again. This is not an essay attempting to unravel the political complications of both the establishment and the dissolution of the NIR. In the movement for sustainability, one can be overwhelmed with politics at play, sometimes at the expense of our environment.

What we could talk about now is how the current generation of Negrosanons from the two provinces (and now two separate regions) see that even though we are divided in administration, we could still definitely continue to work together for our shared goals.

People will ask why there would even be a divided Negros. This is a question we could start with. Perhaps for a long time, has it been difficult to travel through the terrain in the middle of the island?

Roads were not well-paved, safety amid insurgency was an important concern, and it took more than half of the day to get to the other side of Negros. I grew up in Bacolod City and honestly I wasn’t able to memorize what cities and municipalities are in Negros Oriental. When I was learning more about geography, the farthest in my memory of Negros were Hinoba-an in the south and San Carlos City on the other end.

It was only in the last three years that I’ve come to truly appreciate connecting with Negros Oriental. The millennial trends in social media have brought us the stories and images of the beautiful “other side.” It does hit you: How come we’ve traveled to other islands when we haven’t fully explored our own?

My questions to fellow young people from Negros Occidental: Have you been to the caves of Mabinay? Have you enjoyed the air in Canlaon? Have you seen the beauty of the Balinsasayao? Mt. Talinis? There must be a lot more to appreciate in Negros Oriental.

And with the better road system now, and information easier to find through the Internet, we have to encourage the visiting exchanges between Occidental and Oriental. The travel routes in between will hopefully usher new businesses, products, and experiences for the locals of Negros Island.

In terms of ecology, even if NIR is no longer an entity, our island remains to be an ecosystem we all need to take care of, even if it is divided into two different jurisdictions.

The NIR team of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was one of the very active NIR-borne agencies that I was optimistic about.

I was disappointed with Regional Director Al Orolfo’s departure and now even more with the dismantling DENR-NIR just when we were starting to gain momentum in the continued fight for our protected areas. But then again, we must continue to protect our island’s ecological wealth, even through changes in political landscapes.

Our meager three to four percent primary forest cover is delicate, and as Negrosanons we need to be aware of all the efforts past and present to conserve Negros forests and reefs.

Barely scratching the surface of Negros Island’s environmental concerns, I am aware there are readers here who are passionate and eager about the status of different projects that may affect our island’s resources.

As stewards of our one island ecosystem, valuing interconnectedness of our remaining forests and reefs, we need to have a discourse that’s not an all-or-nothing for any side. I invite different parties to send this newspaper letters about issues you care about – so that there’s a space for these participatory discussions.

***

In Dumaguete City last weekend for the Students’ Environmental Writing Initiative (Camp SEWI), I had a meaningful time with 15 young and aspiring environmental journalists.

Organized by Silliman Mass Communications magna cum laude and TOSP finalist Val Vestil with the support of Kennesaw State University in Georgia, USA (where Vestil was an academic fellow earlier this year), the US State Department’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), and the American Studies Resource Center of Silliman University Library, the event provided training to improve budding journalists’ skills in reporting environmental stories. More of this workshop and its outputs in my next column.
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