SOME 30,000 hectares in two major watersheds in Bohol stand to be rehabilitated with the signing Friday of a memorandum of agreement by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. Bantay Kalikasan and the provincial government.
Environment Secretary Jose "Lito" Atienza Jr., Managing Director Regina Paz Lopez of ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. and Gov. Erico Aumentado signed the MOA in rites held at the Loboc Children's Theater in that town's Tourism Center.
Aumentado says he has a bias for trees and forests because these are carbon sinks and therefore climate change and global warming mitigators.
He puts a premium on the Abatan Watershed as it sustains the Abatan River that has given the residents therein livelihood from eco-tourism, food, water for irrigation and household use and forest products.
On the other hand, the Loboc watershed sustains the eco-tourism on the Loboc River, provides irrigation, household and potable water as well as forest products and hydroelectric power.
Aumentado who had taken part in planting mahogany and endemic trees in what is now known as the man-made forest near the boundary of Loboc and Bilar towns observed that people now realize that the more they protect the environment, the more they can expect to get resources from it, and that as long as they do not abuse these resources, they can get sustainable livelihood from them.
He thanked Atienza for designating him chair of Task Force Kabukiran that runs after violators of environmental, mining, quarrying and similar laws penalizing those who mutilate, abuse and destroy the environment, as well as for designating lawyers to prosecute environmental cases in so-called "green courts" in the province.
For his part, Atienza said Bohol has gone a long way in protecting its environment which is a testimony of what the unity of local leaders can do.
He congratulated the Boholanos, saying that the success in protecting the environment spells the success of the local economy and better livelihood opportunities which means improved income, thereby licking poverty.
By protecting the environment, eco-tourism has boomed, he observed.
But Loboc is not the whole watershed, such that he vowed support for the massive reforestation project. The trees are sparse in some areas as checked by a team headed by Mendoza aboard a helicopter.
Aside from DENR's funds, he said he will look for funding – even Official Development Assistance (ODA) and from non-government organizations to make the rehabilitation of the 11,000 hectares of the Abatan Watershed and the 26,000 hectares of the Loboc Watershed "a success."
For having done so much for Bohol, Aumentado presented Atienza with a plaque declaring him an adopted son of the province in recognition of his sustained support for Bohol's development and environmental initiatives through the Land Administration Management Project (LAMP 2) Bohol-2 for the security of land titles, a component of Bohol's poverty reduction strategy;
For rehabilitating the Wahig-Inabanga, Loboc and Abatan Watershed, as well as preserving and protecting Bohol's environment from "ridge to reefs" by empowering Bohol's Task Force Kabukiran as effective instrument to curb, if not, stop previous illegal cutting of trees, mining and destructive ventures in the forest reserves, mangrove areas and fish sanctuaries – all of which contribute much to Bohol's eco-tourism and the general welfare of its people.
Atienza apparently relished the adoption – he and his wife Beng performed a kuradang or jivy native Boholano courtship dance aboard a raft that was one of the floating restaurant's stops.
Meanwhile, it was the third time that Lopez visited Bohol, but it was only her first to take lunch al fresco while on board a floating restaurant cruising along the Loboc River. The daytime cruise allowed her to observe the pristine state of the jade-green waters of the river and the cleanliness of the surroundings of houses on both banks.
"Totally spectacular and beautiful!" she gushed, commending the governor, the local officials and residents themselves for making cleanliness and beautification parts of their culture, and wishing that Pasig – one of her advocacies – could be like Loboc River.
Bantay Kalikasan is the environment arm of ABS-CBN Foundation. In rehabilitating the La Mesa Watershed, Lopez said the going was tough – one of Project Manager Valerio Mendoza's men was beheaded.
But somehow they managed – growing from mere three exotic tree species found in the watershed at the satart, to the current 84 endemic species.
The air is cleaner, the birds have returned because of the trees, and the watershed has become a venue not only for hikers, bikers and picnickers but for educational tours as well, she said.
"ABS-CBN Foundation will support you all the way because you are doing the right thing," she told the stakeholders at the Children's Theater.