In the heart of the vast forest of the city of Zamboanga is the Pasonanca Natural Park (PaNP), a 17,000 hectare protected area that provides an important life support system not only to the unique flora and fauna that are there, but also to the people of its surrounding communities.
It was only recently that researchers confirmed the presence of a nesting Philippine eagle, making it home to the Philippine national bird and the world’s largest bird of prey.
With this recent discovery, the city of Zamboanga passed City Ordinance 551, an ordinance declaring the Philippine Eagle and Zamboanga Bulbul as the city’s flagship species.
Richness of biodiversity; only source of water
The PaNP was considered the third highest in the Philippines in terms of level of biodiversity.
Its natural resources are a natural magnet for learners in the field of biology. It is visited by researchers, students and other entities for educational purposes and agencies for their environmental activities
According to the Biodiversity Management Office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-BMB), the PaNP is the only source of drinking water for the city of Zamboanga.
Almost a million people living in the city of Zamboanga depend on the drinking water they get from the park.
The Tumaga River also provides industrial and irrigation water for the area around the city.
There are six streams, a river and 20 perennial springs in the protected area which serve as the main source of domestic water for the city.
Watershed forest reserve
The PaNP, a protected area legislated under the Law of the Republic (RA) 11038, or the Law of 2018 on the Extended National System of Integrated Protected Areas (Enipas) was proclaimed for the first time as a reserve watershed forest in accordance with the 1999 presidential proclamation of December 17, 1989, giving it the name of “Pasonanca Watershed Forest Reserve”.
It was then proclaimed a protected area under the Nipas Law of 1992 and was named Pasonanca Natural Park in accordance with Presidential Proclamation 132 of July 5, 1999.
The PaNP straddles seven barangays, including Bunguiao, Tolosa, Salaan, Lumayang, Pasonanca, Dulian and Baluno.
A natural park is defined as a relatively large area not materially altered by human activity where the uses of extractive resources are not permitted, and it is maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international importance for scientific purposes. , educational and recreational. , which best describes PaNP.
The PaNP Strict Protection Zone, or “no-logging zone”, covers a total area of 12,000 hectares of primary growing dipterocarp forest, while the other 5,000 buffer zones are characterized by growing dipterocarp forest. secondary.
According to the Zamboanga Peninsula DENR office, the Zamboangueño and Visayan tribes occupy and cultivate the buffer zones and the multipurpose area of the park. About 90 percent of total households have occupied these areas since the 1950s.
The main occupation of the residents of the region is agriculture and only a small fraction are engaged as salaried workers, mainly as maintenance workers and glue guards of the water district of the city of Zamboanga which protects the PaNP.
DENR-BMB added that PaNP has the largest block of old-growth lowland dipterocarp forest remaining in Region 9.
Old and secondary forests cover about 60 percent of the area, while the rest is made up of agricultural land, coconut plantations and built-up areas.
Zamboanga’s DENR Peninsula, for its part, reported in the latest PaNP profile that there are around 70 tree species belonging to the Dipterocarpaceae and Palmae families that thrive in the park dominated by white and red lauan.
Other important tree species that thrive in the national park are Mindanao narek, mangasinoro, tanguile, apitong, yakal, almon, and dao.
The PaNP, both an important area for birds and a key area for biodiversity, is home to the most endangered tree species.
In total, 11 of the 96 most endangered and prized species in the Philippines are found in the national park.
Of its estimated 15,000 flora, 50 percent are endemic and about 70 percent to 80 percent are flowering plants. Most of them are threatened outside the PaNP.
Meanwhile, the DENR-BMB said that among the endangered wildlife in PaNP were the Philippine Hawk Eagle and the Red-headed Flameback.
In 2018, Birdlife International reported that many endangered and restricted-range species in the endemic bird area of Mindanao and the Eastern Visayas were recorded in or near the Pasonanca watershed.
It included the endangered Bleeding Heart of Mindanao, the Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher, the Philippine Leafbird, the Lesser Slate Flycatcher, and the Zamboanga Bulbul, which is confined to western Mindanao and Basilan.
The Enteng monitor lizard, one of two endemic Asian monitor lizard species recently discovered in the Philippines, is also recorded in the park.
DENR-BMB stated that PaNP is a potential tourist attraction pole in the city of Zamboanga. Tourist activities on offer include hiking, river swimming, bird watching, nature tours, filming / photo taking, and camping.
It has a total of 30 outposts and seven biodiversity monitoring stations (BMS) around the core area.
The BMS serve as pavilions or dormitories for visitors to the park. Each station has a source of drinking water and five have electricity.
However, PaNP Protected Area Superintendent Domeliza Campaner told BusinessMirror in a telephone interview on November 23 that the park remains closed to visitors due to quarantine restrictions implemented by the local government.
Protect the PaNP
According to Campaner, there is a very minimal threat in the central area of the region due to the presence of wardens from the Zamboanga city water district, but the pandemic is a big challenge.
She said the more than 140 peacekeepers in the Zamboanga city water district are down to 45.
“Since then, the PaNP has been protected by the Blue Guards. But now we need to find a way to strengthen our forest protection program, ”she said in Filipino, adding that they were hoping that by 2022,“ we will be able to have an additional budget for forest protection. forests ”.
While the central zone, strictly a “no-logging zone” is well protected, within the buffer zones, poaching of timber, hunting of wildlife, small-scale mining and agriculture constitute major areas of concern. serious threats to the biodiversity of the national park.
PaNP is a candidate for the separate title of Asean Heritage Park (AHP), which represents the “crème de la crème” of Southeast Asian protected areas.
According to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB), DENR-BMB is pushing for PaNP to become the 10th AHP in the country, due to its ancient virgin forests and its ecosystem function as a source of supply. in water for the whole city of Zamboanga and neighboring municipalities.
Additionally, about three years ago, a pair of Philippine eagles were sighted in the protected area.
“This is the first time that Philippine eagles have been sighted in the area, given that it is very close to the city,” ACB executive director Theresa Mundita S. Lim told BusinessMirror via Messenger. November 24.
What makes PaNP unique is that it “is a main watershed and also habitat for a species of global importance, endemic to a single country”.
“These are the criteria for recognition of AHP,” she said.
According to Lim, once PaNP achieves the title of AHP, various supports will come not only from DENR but also from Asean, further strengthening its protection and conservation.
“AHP is a brand that can help promote recognized protected areas or national parks… as nature tourism sites and mobilize resources to strengthen management. ACB, for example, prioritizes supporting AHP for its programs and projects, ”she explained.
Image courtesy of Zamboanga Peninsula Photo DENR