THE Provincial Government of Negros Occidental is further capacitating upland people’s organizations (POs) in the province to become frontliners in the protection and conservation of the environment, an official said.
Executive Assistant to the Governor for Provincial Environment Management Office (Pemo) Affairs lawyer Julie Ann Bedrio, on the sidelines of the 3rd Upland People’s Organization Summit at the Provincial Capitol’s Social Hall in Bacolod City on Monday, August 2, said it is the Provincial Government’s role to capacitate upland farmers.
Bedrio said people in the forest areas are assisted in terms of growing their crops, making them aware of their rights and responsibilities as certificate of stewardship contract (CSC) holders, and enabling them to interact with the people in the community, as well as how to improve their organizations.
“We are also empowering them as partners of the province in environment protection and conservation,” she said, stressing that “there’s a need to further involve upland communities as they are the frontliners in the protection of our forest covers and forest lands.”
Organized by Pemo, the one-day summit aims to gather POs from the upland areas mainly to present the current situation, and underscore and address prevailing issues and concerns currently hounding the upland communities.
Among which, included conversion of most Integrated Social Forestry (ISF) area located within the Northern Negros Natural Park (NNP) to agricultural land use such as sugarcane, pineapple, rice, and mango plantation.
The Provincial Government has also identified as issues and concerns the rampant selling and waiving of rights over the area, construction of permanent structures within the CSC covered area, canceled CSCs being occupied by the holders, CSCs found to be within a titled property, and boundary conflict between farm lots, among others.
Recognizing these issues, Bedrio said efforts toward addressing environmental degradation in the province have to be continued despite the prevailing threat of coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
“Though we are currently facing a health crisis, our responsibility to protect our natural resources stays,” she said, adding that “environmental catastrophes like the recent floods in the province and the Covid-19 pandemic are all interrelated.”
This is our intergenerational responsibility to protect our environment, the official said, as she pointed out that the summit is timely and relevant.
This, she said, also serves as a venue to exhibit the products of the upland farmers, and discuss the updates in the law including those for community-based special agreement for protected areas, among others.
Speakers from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) and Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) discussed the Integrated Social Forestry Program Devolution to Local Government Units (LGUs), and the Protected Area Community-Based Resources Management Agreement (Pacbarma), Special Use Agreement for Protected Areas (Sapa) and other tenurial instruments.
To provide participating upland farmers with livelihood opportunities, the summit also included talks on topics like Best Farm Practices on Cacao Growing, Processing and Marketing, and Innovation for Upland Communities.
In Negros Occidental, there are currently 69 POs composed of at least 8,300 members. All are holders of CSC under the ISF Program of the government.
The Provincial Government is banking on their cooperation and help in the protection of the environment particularly in the upland areas.
For his part, Governor Eugenio Lacson said as the world is now in the second year of battling a relentless pandemic, the need to contain the incessant environmental degradation must also be given its due focus.
“As we have this Third Upland People’s Organizations Summit, we need to revisit the importance of upland management and development, and its crucial role in the achievement of our twin objective for ecological stability and improvement of the socio-economic conditions of upland communities,” he said.
The governor, in a video message, said that when the ISF Program was devolved from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to the Provincial Government in 1993, the latter remained committed to the task of rehabilitating and protecting the environment by providing developmental projects to all 69 ISF sites.
As this summit aims to be a venue for the deliberation of strategies and innovation, Lacson said there’s a need to accept that the task is now beyond the recovery and the conservation of the ecosystem.
“Our task has now escalated to reversing the trend of distraction that has been prevalent for years,” he said, adding that socio-economic development can never be viable if the state of the environment continues to decline.