Posted at Inquirer.net 1:10
pm August 17, 2010
By Anna Valmero
Prop Gerry de Villa (R) gives a lecture
while Fred Ochavo (L) looks on
NORZAGARAY, BULACAN – For environmental
advocate Fredd Ochavo, the Ipo Dam watershed is a symbol of
hope that the Philippines can be green again despite years
of rampant illegal logging and wildlife poaching.
Last weekend, a group of birders joined Ochavo
on a trip to Ipo Dam and to see the rare grey-headed fish-eagle
(Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), slender-billed crow (Corvus enca)
and tarictic hornbills (Penelopides manilla), among others.
“Nung nakita ko yung 50 tarictic hornbills,
nabuhayan ako ng loob. Unang beses na nakakita ako ng ganun
karaming hornbill sa tagal ng punta ko dito. Nasabi ko sa
sarili ko may pag-asa pa ang Pilipinas. (When I saw 50 tarictic
hornbills, I was encouraged. It was my first time to see so
many birds. I said to myself that there is still hope for
the Philippines ),”says Ochavo, a member of the UP Mountaineers
(UPM) and Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP).
Kuya Fredd, as he is aptly called by the
kids in a small village here, visits the Ipo Dam watershed
monthly and invites fellow mountaineers and birdwatchers to
see the avian wildlife in the area. His other purpose there
is to teach the kids and locals about the importance of environment
conservation and reforestation.
Colasisis also called Philippine
Hanging Parakeets, caught by the
residents to be sold to the illegal
Over a decade ago, informal settlers came
to Ipo Dam and lived at the ancestral domains of the Dumagats
by planting crops inside the watershed. These settlers cleared
the fields by kaingin (slash-and-burn).
Others were catching local wildlife such
as the green-feathered Philippine hanging parrot or colasisi
(Loriculus philippensis) and sell them for P60 or barter the
animals for two kilos of NFA rice.
Since then, patches of forest cover have
been reduced to barren land or plantation of crops such as
mango, banana and vegetables that do not grow naturally at
the habitat, Ochavo says as he points to a huge area recently
cleared by kaingin.
“Kaingin is an unsustainable practice
as settlers need to clear huge tracks of land. It only allows
one sustainable harvest and because this erodes the topsoil,
informal settlers often use chemical fertilizers, which could
pollute the water and harm the wildlife in the watershed,”
He also notes the houses sprouting along
the riverbanks pose danger to the river because the lack of
sewerage system only mean that human waste go directly to
Ipo Dam, which is located some seven kilometers
downstream from Angat Dam, is managed by theMetropolitan Waterworks
and Sewerage System (MWSS).
Together with the Forest Management Bureau
of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, MWSS
issued a report in 2004 stating that 70 percent of the forests
of Ipo Dam watershed is already denuded.
This report was cited by the UPM in its independent
report on Ipo Dam watershed, concluding that reforestation
efforts would be worthless without forest protection.
Ochavo’s group taught 40 children and
adults about the consequences of destroying the forests and
poaching of wildlife.
One of the settlers, Joey Dela Cruz, 38,
who came from Pampanga, says the lack of jobs in the area
forced him and other residents of the sitio to engage in kaingin
and poach wildlife. In fact, there were nine colasisibirds
under his mango tree that will be sold to interested buyers
visiting the area.
“Hangga’t wala akong trabaho
para suportahan yung pamilya ko, manghuhuli ako ng ibon. (As
long as I do not have a job to support my family, I will have
to catch birds),” says Dela Cruz, who also guards the
trees planted by UPM in the area.
A 17-year-old participant in the lecture,
who was carrying a bolo, molded a chainsaw instead of animals
during one of the activities, which Ochavo interprets as the
youth’s way of telling that he is fond of cutting trees
and might be using one already.
This is where Ochavo sees his role as a catalyst
of change: by starting with education to get the community
involved about the fight for a greener Philippines .
When asked if he plans to report poachers
in the area, Ochavo says authorities such as MWSS have to
step up to make the settlers know that it is illegal to cut
trees in a forest reserve such as Ipo Dam or to poach wildlife.
Converting people like Dela Cruz from not
poaching will take a long time, says Ochavo. Presently, he
visits the site monthly and pays Dela Cruz P150 for taking
care of the trees planted by UPM.
“Education is the first step to make
people understand environmental issues and how our actions
have consequences in our future. I just hope more people will
do their part, including the authorities, because we don’t
need another Ondoy to remind us how badly we need to help
save our forests here,” he says.