BROOKE'S Point, a first class southern Palawan municipality, could be an eco-tourist or backpacker dream destination. It's close to the Mainit and Sabsaban Falls, and Oring-oring-the source of the world's largest natural pearl. It also hosts a significant portion of the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape Area.

Too bad, I'm not here to do anything of that. I'm at the Mt. Maruyog Farm and Garden Resort, a mountainside resort close to the protected landscape, to attend an annual partners' meeting of the Non-Timber Forest Products-Task Force. We are eight kilometers away from the town center that's it hard to connect to the internet. At that distance, dial-ups' 50 kbps are faster than Tattoo's 2.12 kbps!

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We converged on the resort from all over the country to share our experiences the past year on how the respective mountain communities we work with conserved the country's rainforests by developing non-timber uses of its resources. Most came from indigenous communities of the Ikalahans, Mangyans in Luzon, to the Higaonons of Mindanao, to our hosts, the Palaw'ans and Tagbanuas of Palawan Island.

In my case, I shared our rainforestation experiences in the western flank of the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park, and the promotion of food security on the basis of organic agroforestry and wild and uncultivated crops. "Rainforestation" is basically "reforestation," except that the emphasis is on planting not exotic "fast-growing" species but Philippine hardwoods, usually found in our country's tropical rainforests.

I also updated my colleagues on the recently-passed Republic Act 10068, otherwise known as the Organic Agriculture Act of the Philippines. I have been involved with the Visayan consultations on proposed Implementing Rules and Regulations.

A highlight of the meeting was the presence of Tran Van Tiep and Pham Van Xiem, Vietnamese environmentalists working at the Nui Chua National Park who are here to learn about the Philippine system. I envy how their protected area covers ecotones, that is, two ecosystems linked together. Nui Chua's forest rainforest ecosystem adjoins the marine ecosystem.

That of course is a strange concept in Negros Occidental. Linking the few remaining rainforests of MKNP and the Northern Negros Forest Reserve with its sea coasts are vast seas of sugarcane monocultures. Once you've seen a sugarcane plantation along the Negrense highway, the scene becomes boring. You feel like you've seen 'em all. Unlike here in Palawan, where I got enthralled seeing many of its coasts just a stone's throw away from the nearest rainforests.

However, as an NGO worker, I'm a bit disconcerted that Nui Chua's management board consists solely of government personnel. It's like a single stakeholder autistically holding a dialog with itself. Although lately, I noticed that it's the DENR, the LGUs and the EDC who attend meetings of the MKNP's Protected Area Management Board are also doing the same thing.

I'm clueless on how the MKNP PAMB operates nowadays. I used to attend Board meetings as the representative of my organization, the Broad Initiatives for Negros Development. Is the government talking to the corporate world, but civil society is excluded? I asked my friends at the Park Superintendent Office about this. They told me to wait. Wait. And wait...

Anyway, here at the resort I got to talk to Nerto Colili, one of the Palaw'an participants, who is attending the NTFP-TF meeting. Colili is considered a community historian, who learned about his tribe's stories from his great grandfather.

He shared with me the Palaw'ans distrust of outsiders. During the Spanish colonial rule, the authorities forbade the local farmers to keep sacks of rice harvests in their houses. All harvests have to be turned in to the local authorities.

To drive home its lesson, the Spanish local authorities herded a family who "hoarded" their rice harvests inside their home. Then after nailing every exit to prevent escape, theauthoritiesw torched the house, burning everyone inside. Whether the incident happened or not, the story spread like wildfire. Being a peace loving people, the Palaw'ans left their homes in the plains and relocated to remote areas of Mt. Mantalingahan to avoid further persecution.

That distrust now seems to belong to history, however. Colili himself is married to a Negrense migrant from Manapla. In fact, many of the tribe intermarried with migrants from Luzon, Visayas and Muslim Mindanao. One of their main sources of livelihoods are NTFP-based handicrafts sold in mainstream markets, and are even exported. Please email comments to bqsanc@yahoo.com