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Parañaque Protects City's Winged Visitors

Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 31, 2006
p. A 23

Paranaque protects city's winged visitors
City gov't plans birds sanctuaries

By Jocelyn Uy
Last updated 05:09 am (Mla time) 08/07/2006
Published on page A23 of the August 7, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THOUSANDS of transients in Paranaque City are in need of a permanent home.

The homeless, however, are of the feathered kind -- birds frequently sighted in the city like the Chinese Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Kentish plovers, Curlew Sandpipers and Siberian Ruby Throats, among others.

According to Jo Orozca, city tourism officer in charge, Paranaque has been eyeing two mangrove areas that could serve as a haven for its "guests". These are in Barangay La Huerta and the mudflats in Barangay Tambo called "Freedom Island", just off the Coastal Road.

"The one in Barangay La Huerta has been officially declared as a bird sanctuary," Orozca told the Inquirer in an interview.

The property, donated by the Public Estates Authority (PEA) to the city government, covers around five to seven hectares, she added.

Bird Haven

It would soon be developed into a bird haven, complete with viewing towers, boardwalks, educational centers and a park where bird lovers, watchers and photography clubs could meet, that is, if plans of the local government would push through with the help of the Wild Bird Club (WBC) of the Philippines.

Freedom Island as seen during sunset
Freedom Island as seen during sunset

A similar plan has also been drawn up for the 25-ha "Freedom Island," where more than 82 species of birds have been sighted, as recorded by the WBC, since January 2003.

The property, however, has yet to be placed under the care of the local government. "The PEA has yet to identify which part of the land will be turned over to the government so the property rights is still with them," Orozca said.

The WBC, in a letter to the city government's Special Services Office, has suggested that Paranaque, jointly declare the island, with the Las Pinas government, a protected area.

"We have learned that Las Pinas Representative Cynthia Villar has plans of declaring the part of the island that lies in Las Pinas as a protected area," said Michael Lu, the club's president, in his letter dated Oct. 21, 2005.

Over 80 species

Terns and gulls share a mudflat
Terns and gulls share a mudflat

Out of the 82 bird species on Freedom Island, 46 were classified as a water birds, 28 belonged to the grassland variety and the rest were associated with wetlands.

About 30 percent of the bird species were rare, said the project proposal prepared by the Coastal and Marine Management Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-National Capital Region.

"This is considered as a relatively high percentage for a very small urban locality like Barangay Tambo. Among the rare birds that could be found in the area include the globally threatened Chinese Egret and the famous Siberian Ruby Throat," said the agency.

It is also said that the sanctuary was a very important stopover fot the hundred thousand or so migratory water birds during winter in neighboring countries. The agency also identified the area as one of the remaining portions of Metro Manila that has maintained its mangrove cover, which serves as a nursery for various marine organisms such as fish, crabs and shrimps.

Natural Shield

"Without mangroves, our shorelines and coastal communities would lose their natural shield against typhoons and other natural calamities," the agency said.

In 2004, the city council, led by Councilor Carlito Antipuesto, came up with an ordinance declaring the area as a bird sanctuary, reiterating the power of local government units to enact ordinances to protect its environment under Republic Act 7160.

The proposed law prohibited the "cutting and harvesting of mangroves and other plant species; the killing of wildlife species; the collecting, hunting or possession of wildlife, their by-products and derivatives; squatting and occupying any portion of the sanctuary and the gathering or destroying of active nests in trees."

Any person caught violating the law will be fined P5, 000 or face imprisonment of one to six months.

However, the proposed ordinance has been gathering dust after the councilors passed it on first reading two years ago.

"When we followed it up with the city council, they said the ordinance was still on the committee level," Orozca said, adding that the ordinance, if approved on final reading, would help expedite negotiations with PEA.

Recently, the City Tourism Office has discovered that a fishpond at the back of SM Sucat has become a feeding ground for egrets and raptors.

As early as 5 am, the pond would be dotted with nearly a hundred egrets that feed on crustaceans coming from the Las Pinas River.

Erick Ferrer, city tourism operations assistant, said the fishpond was part of the roughly 300 salt beds that dominated the coastal communities of Paranaque and Las Pinas.

But the salt beds that were converted into fishponds during the rainy season have been swallowed up by buildings and subdivisions over the years.

Construction threatens egrets

Ferrer said that the ongoing expansion of C-5 Road, linking the cities of Paranaque and Las Pinas to other localities, might encroach on the fishpond, a privately-owned property. The road construction is just a few meters away from the egret sanctuary.

"Development really poses a great threat to these birds' natural habitat," he pointed out as he hoped that city council would speed up the approval of the ordinance in order to protect "Freedom Island" from hunters and other persons who may damage the bird sanctuary.

"We can't shoo them away because sometimes, even our personnel are not allowed to enter the property," Orozca said.

Ferrer added that he was optimistic that the council would soon act on the ordinance "because we want future generation to see birds in the skies rather than in cages."