One of my Facebook friends, Michael Ocampo, who is also a good photographer, posted last week a poster for the campaign rally of presidential aspirant and Vice President Leni Robredo and her vice presidential candidate, Senator Kiko Pangilinan, on April 20 in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental.
The poster’s title was “Pink Eruption” and sub-title “OneNegRose” with a rose flower instead of o in rose, a trademark of the Robredo’s campaign. I assumed the word eruption simply describes Kanlaon Volcano since Canlaon City is located just in the foothills of one of the most active volcanoes in the country. It is also in Canlaon City where one can see the beautiful panoramic view of the volcano, which is the highest peak of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park.
The other thing that captured my attention is the OneNegRose reminded me of the Negros Island Region established by late President Benigno “Nonoy” Aquino III but abolished by incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte. I viewed the dismantling of the NIR as politically motivated since it was Duterte’s opponent, former Senator Mar Roxas, who was visible in pushing the declaration of the NIR that was approved in an executive order issued by Aquino.
The Negros Island Region was conceived in the 90s by the former leaders of the two neighboring provinces – Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, with the support from various stakeholders. Canlaon is rightly in the position to host OneNegRose because it is there where the first Negros Environment Summit was held, and the idea of infusing the two provinces into one region was floated.
If I am not mistaken, it was during the first term of office of Negros Occidental’s former Governor Rafael Coscolluela who initiated such environment summit. Then Secretary Angel Alcala of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was the guest speaker. I could recall the event as I was one of the participants and I was eventually designated as a member of the Technical Working Group for the creation of the NIR.
Robredo has expressed that once elected as the next president of the country she will reestablish the NIR to bring social and economic services closer to the Negrenses. The creation of NIR would surely boost economic activities since it is expected that regional offices of various national agencies shall be established. In several instances, I also emphasized the need for one island region in Negros to streamline the development paradigm of the two provinces. At present, Negros Occidental belongs to Region VI with regional center in Iloilo City while Negros Oriental is under Region VII based in Cebu.
The other important consideration for the NIR is on the ecology of the island. There are several important conservation sites that cut across the boundaries of the two provinces, and, therefore, it is important that Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental shall be engaged together in the management of these areas.
One of the trans-boundary conservation sites in Negros is the legendary Mount Kanla-on Natural Park, a part of which is within Canlaon City, Negros Oriental. While representatives from Canlaon and the provincial government of Negros Oriental, as well as from Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region VII are involved in the management of the protected area, through their representation to the Protected Area Management Board, it is important that the a cohesive agenda of the MKNP shall be fully integrated into the short and long-term development plans of the Regional Development Council, and this is only possible under the NIR.
The Ilog-Hilabangan River Basin (IHRB) is another trans-boundary site that covers several cities and municipalities in both provinces. This river basin is comprised of numerous watersheds that are vital for the freshwater supply of Negros Island.
The GIZ, a Germany-based development agency that is now implementing a project in the area, estimated the IHRB to cover about 2,118 square kilometers or roughly 211,800 hectares, making it as the largest river basin in Negros Island and the 11th largest hydraulic unit in the country. Himamaylan, Kabankalan, Ilog, Candoni, and Cauayan cover the IHRB in the Occidental side and Jimalalud, Tayasan, Ayungon, Bindoy, Mabinay, Bais, Tanjay, and Bayawan in the Oriental part.
In spite of its importance, the IHRB has no formal administrative body to assume leadership and management functions. Each municipality and city covering it has each own agenda on the area within the river basin that falls under their territorial jurisdiction. The protection of the IHRB is crucial because aside from its watershed functions, it also plays a vital role in mitigating the impacts of landslide and flooding.
Unfortunately, the remaining forest cover of the IHRB is already limited since a large part of it has already been declared as Alienable and Disposal Lands and are now covered with land titles, while most areas classified as forestlands or timberlands have already been converted into settlement and agriculture areas. It should be noted that the low-lying sites of the IHRB were heavily flooded when typhoon Odette hit Negros in December last year.
Since Negros is an island ecosystem, it is only natural that the two provinces covering it are sharing the same habitats and species. Some species found in Negros are known as single-island endemic, meaning the distribution of the species is only restricted in Negros and could not be found elsewhere in the country or other parts of the world. The contiguous forest habitats that connect Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental are crucial for the continuing presence and survival of these species, especially in the MKNP, IHRB, and South Western Negros Key Biodiversity Areas with the latter comprising of Cauayan, Candoni, Sipalay, and Hinobaan in Negros Occidental and Bayawan in Negros Oriental.
When the Negros region was still in existence, the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. partnered with the DENR-NIR in hosting and formulating the Negros Island Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NIBSAP), which serves as a blueprint for the joint conservation agenda of the two provinces. While some cities and municipalities are still implementing the NIBSAP, it would have been best if there was a Regional Development Council and regional government offices that would monitor and assist in the implementation of such action plan.*