To engage communities to protect the environment is no easy feat especially if it is for the longest mountain range of the Philippines, the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Those who choose to be part of a more hands-on involvement have a mountain to climb, literally and figuratively speaking. However, thirty participants accepted the challenge and joined the Wildlife Enforcement Officer (WEO) Training last June 3 -5 at the Training Center in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija.
The WEO Training focused on equipping the volunteer forest guards with the basic knowledge on the different environmental laws and the paralegal and metalegal strategies in environmental protection and conservation. This is part of the process to install citizens as deputized volunteer partners of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Municipality of Gabaldon to assist them in monitoring and protecting hundreds of hectares of remaining forests as well the threatened wildlife in the country.
The Gabaldon volunteers came from different backgrounds. There were farmers, tricycle drivers, vendors and even loggers and bulldozer operators who have admitted clearing out forests years ago. However, they all want the same thing and that is to protect the forests in Mt. Mingan, which is part of the biodiversity-rich Central Sierra Madre Mountain Range.
This desire was further kindled when in 2014, Gab-e (short name for “Gabaldon eagle”), a juvenile Philippine Eagle, was at last seen and confirmed in the area.
“Isang karangalan ang pangalagaan ang isang pambansang simbolo para sa lahat ng mga Pilipino (It is a privilege to protect a national symbol for all Filipinos)”, a participant commented during the training when asked about his motivation for joining.
Mr. Jordan Somera, one of the aspiring WEOs, summed up his motivation by extending a series of question: “Kung hindi tayo, sino? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan? (If not us then who? If not today then when?)”.
These rare individuals have a one-of-a-kind patriotism and care for the Philippine wildlife. Hopefully, their actions would ensure the conservation of Mt. Mingan and the Central Sierra Madre Mountain Range for the Philippine Eagle and the Filipinos.
This training was made possible through the funding of the German International Cooperation (GIZ) under the Protected Area Management Enhancement (PAME) in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Municipality of Gabaldon, Birdlife International, TOYOTA, Zoological Society of London (ZSL)- EDGE Program and Haribon Foundation.
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