The city government through City Administrator Zuleika Lopez vowed more support for the Bantay Bukid volunteers or forest guards during the two-day 4th Watershed Stakehol-ders Summit, which concluded yesterday.
“Our mayor will continue to implement projects aimed at protecting the watersheds,” Lopez said.
She said a program that will provide additional assistance to the forest guards is already being prepared by the Watershed Management Council (MWC).
The city’s Bantay Bukid (forest guards) volunteers, which has increased to 255 from only 42 upland farmer-volunteers three years ago, reiterated their commitment to continuously guard Davao City’s forests and watersheds during the Summit.
“Concerned ra mi sa kalasangan nato kay daghan mamutol ug kahoy ug magsunog sa bukid mao padayong kami magbantay (We are concerned about the continuous violations against our forest including the cutting of trees and burning),” said Gina Sicao in an interview.
Sicao, who tills a two-hectare land planted to cacao and coffee in Barangay Salaysay, Marilog District, is one of the many forest guards who took their oath of commitment during the Summit. Most of the forest guards come from the barangays Carmen, Tamayong, Sibulan and Salaysay, where most of the city’s agricultural lands and watersheds are located.
“Almost 90 to 95 percent of our forest guards are Indigenous Peoples because they actually live in the communities which they protect,” said Chinkie Golle of the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS).
Golle said they have asked the city government for additional assistance for the volunteers.
In 2013, the WMC originally deputized 42 Bantay Bukid volunteers from Barangay Tawan-Tawan in Baguio District specifically to monitor and report activities harmful to Mt. Tipolog which is home to the Panigan-Tamugan watershed which is one of the sites of the “Upscaling Forest Restoration Efforts in Key Biodiversity Areas” project which the USAID funded.
The forest guards were organized and trained as environment protectors by IDIS in partnership with the Foundation for the Philippine Environment through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Since then, many agencies have provided funding support for the volunteers.
Among the benefits of the volunteers are subsidized Philippine Health Insurance Corporation contributions, training and medical assistance, equipment such as radios, digital camera, rain coats and boots. However, some volunteers had Philhealth coverage only until 2014.
IDIS Executive Director Mary Ann Fuertes said the forest guards will help in the enforcement of the Watershed Code rules and regulations and in governing environmental forest lands, conservation areas, and agro-forestry areas covered by the code and other environmental laws. They will also serve as informants in case there are violations in their respective areas. (Lovely A. Carillo/Mindanao Daily Mirror)