City government to compensate volunteer forest guards

July 2nd, 2017 by

Mayor Sara Duterte vowed to provide financial compensation for the forest guard volunteers who have been in the frontlines of protecting Davao city’s watersheds.

“Thank you to the Watershed Management Council for their policy work but thank you very much to those people working on the ground, our bantay bukids (forest guards) and bantayo aweg (water watcher),” said Mayor Sara in a statement sent to City Administrator Atty. Zuleika Lopez during the 5th Watershed Summit held on June 29 at the Ritz Hotel.

Mayor Sara arrived soon after to personally thank the volunteers who help the City Government in the “important work of protecting the watersheds.”

The mayor came in during the open forum when Lipatuan Joel Unad, leader among the datus of the Obu Manuvu indigenous community, raised the issue of sustainability of community initiatives on watershed protection when NGOs like Interface Development Interventions Inc. (IDIS) or Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) no longer have funds (upon end of projects).

“This is a problem that the City Planning needs to work out. Because we have funds but NGOs cannot use them with the documentation requirements of the Commission on Audit. But for the funds needed for the forest guards, you can go directly to Atty. Raul Nadela of the City Mayor’s Office,” the mayor said in response to Unad’s concern.

The mayor admitted that given the many problems of the city, she was not able to closely watch the reduction of Watershed Management Council’s budget last year. But that the protection of watersheds has always been important for the City Government.

The mayor candidly went on to say that she will give P10,000 per month for the volunteers. “So how much do you need? P10,000? But that is already above our minimum-wage workers. So you’ll be like consultants.” The mayor said that a minimum wage is more likely, but called on the environmental groups to coordinate with her office to set the final arrangements.

“We have committed to Mayor Inday to help the preparation of project design which will include the masterlist of our forest guard volunteers, their accomplishments and their needs to help them perform their jobs better, especially in forest monitoring,” said IDIS Acting Director Chinkie Peliño-Golle.

Peliño said her group will coordinate with CPDO and City Mayor’s office and submit the design with budget before the end of July so it can be included in the 2018 Annual Investment Plan of the city. The compensation will then be processed and released next year.

Forest guard volunteers of the Mt. Tipolog Bantay Kinaiyahan Association (MTBKA) expressed delight to have an opportunity to talk to Mayor Sara in person. When asked by the Mayor which institution they are under, they proudly said “under you, Mayor” while showing their deputized forest guard IDs signed by the Mayor herself.

Ernie Baratas, volunteer MTBKA forest guard who acts as cluster leader in Panigan area, welcomed Mayor Sara’s commitment but guaranteed their continued forest guard duties, with or without compensation.

Davao city’s watersheds are currently being guarded by about 200 forest guard volunteers, organized by environmental groups IDIS with City ENRO and PEF, and then deputized by DENR.

Some of their accomplishments presented during the summit include continuous clean-ups of mountain trails and rivers, tree growing, and most importantly, regular monitoring which has successfully halted illegal logging, treasure hunting and other destructive activities in our watersheds.

The watershed summit aims to provide a venue for stakeholders from ridge to reef to talk things over and come up with solutions to prevailing issues on water. The summit is co-organized by the City Government’s Watershed Management Council, DENR Region XI, Interface Development Interventions, Philippine Eagle Foundation, and Davao City Water District. #