First ever in Mindanao: Mt. Hamiguitan inscribed as World Heritage Site

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

THE feeling of pride and fulfillment was palpable among the crowd of provincial workers and officials as the guests joining the motorcade at the stopover café at the border of Davao Oriental started to arrive, Thursday noon.

It’s not everyday that a province gets an inscription from the Unesco as having a world heritage site, and they are there to welcome the delegation coming from Doha, Qatar where the 38th Session of the Unesco World Heritage Committee headed by Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hammad Bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar was held last June 23, thus the excitement and beaming pride.

It’s the first ever World Heritage Site in Mindanao and the first mountain range and wildlife sanctuary World Heritage Site in the Philippines.

The five other World Heritage Sites in the country are:

As if by providence, the inscription came just when the province was all set to celebrate its foundation day on July 1.

Thus, at the heat of preparations for the foundation day, Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon and her team had to fly out just to present (and possibly defend) their application to have Mt. Hamiguitan Range and Wildlife Sanctuary inscribed as the country’s 6th World Heritage Site.

The five others in the World Heritage List are the Baroque Churches of the Philippines composed of the Miag-ao Church in Iloilo, Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, San Agustin Church in Manila, and the Sta. Maria Church in Ilocos Sur; the Historic town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur; the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan, the Rice Terraces in Igugao, and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Sulu Sea.

Hamiguitan’s presentation and acceptance took the shortest time. It was grainted inscription by the committee within 8 minutes and 14 seconds that already included the presentation and the acceptance speech, the shortest among all presentations.

“It was a proposal without any amendment, without any objection, passed within eight minutes,” Governor Malanyaon said.

“This has been an exemplary process wherein the state party has responded in a timely and effective way to the committee’s recommendations that ahs brought forward an improved nomination of consideration and decision of the committee,” the advisory body International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said of Mt. Hamiguitan’s inscription.

The few minutes it took to get the inscription, however, is but a testament to the long hours spent doing and redoing the proposals, ordinances, required documents, and stringent requirements of Unesco for the last five years.

The governor recalled that they had to redo the documents over and over again, and these have to be done in 24 copies, with tourism consultant Cynthia Rodriguez being the focus person for the task of ensuring that the required documents are submitted. It also involved the expansion of the area covered by the protected area, and the incisive study of its flora and fauna by the Philippine Eagle Foundation and the Philippine Foundation for the Environment and the expertise of Dr. Victor Amoroso of the Central Mindanao University, who specializes in pitcher plants, but whose first researches of the mountain range’s flora were among the first documents used to bid for the Unesco inscription. Also credited for doing extensive research on the species found in the range is the Davao Oriental State College for Science and Technology.

The study of its flora and fauna even led to the discovery of a new species of rodent some five years ago by a PEF team lead by Jason Ibanez.
Providing the technical expertise for the declaration of a protected area status on the mountain range is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The greater credit, however, goes to the town officials and residents of San Isidro and Governor Generoso, who through the years have stood up against mining and logging to ensure that Mt. Hamiguitan and its biodiverse flora and fauna are protected and conserved.

San Isidro Mayor Justina M.B. Yu has been at the forefront of protecting Mt. Hamiguitan since 1992 on her first term as mayor as she saw vast potential for ecotourism from the mossy forest, pygmy forest, and the mystical Tinagong Dagat that Mt. Hamiguitan hosts.

“It was an uphill fight against miners and loggers who wanted to ‘develop’ for the benefit of the people of San Isidro… the millions of tons of high-grade minerals in the bosom of Mt. Hamiguitan… and also to cut first-class trees along the mountain’s buffer zone, all for reason of development and progress,” Mayor Yu said in her speech at the Subangan Museum in the City of Mati, Davao Oriental.

On the other hand, Governor Generoso Mayor Vicente D. Orencia is credited for spearheading a sustainable forest-based livelihood program within the buffer zones in his town.

The Governor Generoso local government has allotted and funded the planting of rubber trees in 150 hectares at the foot and another 39,000 hectares for coffee and cacao.

“This is so that our people will not encroach in the protected area,” he said. There are also almaciga stands within the buffer zone that are tapped for its resin. The almaciga resin called Manila copal is highly priced in the global market as main ingredient for varnish, lacquer, reflector paint, and sealing wax.

In this alone, the local government and the people has proven tat they don’t need to cut trees to earn from these.

Hamiguitan’s bid as a World Heritage Site was first taken up as a “rider” to the application for Mt. Apo Natural Park.

Todate, the application for Mt. Apo is still in the tentative list.
Mt. Hamiguitan was inscribed under Natural Properties category along with Great Himalayan National Park, India; Okavanga Delta, Botswana; and Stevns Klint, Denmark.

There were more Cultural Properties inscribed from all over the world. These are:
Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex, Russian Federation; Bursa and Cumalikizik: the Birth of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey; Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey, Germany; Caves of Maresha and Bet-Guvrin in the Judean Lowlands as a Microcosm of the Land of the Caves, Israel; Decorated cave of Pont d’Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardeche, France; Erbil Citadel, Iraq; Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Makkah, Saudi Arabia; Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, USA; Namhansanseong, Republic of Korea; Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir, Palestine; Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape, Turkey; Precolumbian chiefdom settlements with stone spheres of the Diquis, Costa Rica; Pyu Ancient Caves, Myanmar; Qhapaq Nan, Andean Road System, Argentina, Plurinational State of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru; Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat, India; Shahr-I Sokhta, Islamic Republic of Iraq; Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan; The Grand Canal, China; The Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato, Italy; Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites, Japan; and Van Nellefabriek, Netherlands; Under Mixed Properties is Trang An Landscape Complex in Vietnam.

Being inscribed in the list means the province takes it upon itself to ensure the conservation of the whole area for generations to come.
“Once inscribed there is more pressure on us to maintain what a world heritage is,” Malanyaon said. “Mas stricter ang mga conditions and restrictions.”

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. States Parties have the responsibility to protect the World Heritage values of the sites inscribed and report periodically on their condition, the Unesco website on World Heritage Sites states.

With this, more work has to be done to live up to the conditions of conservation that Unesco demands.

This includes ensuring that visitors are given reasonable access without endangering the whole biota. This will mean setting up of areas that will simulate the whole experience of a mossy forest, a bonsai forest, and maybe even the Tinagon Dagat without necessarily bringing the hordes and straining the carrying capacity of the wildlife sanctuary. They are looking at Kota Kinabalu as a model.

In the meantime, Mt. Hamiguitan is closed for recreational trekkers.

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