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Negros Occidental award for wetlands

Negros Occidental has another feather in its cap with the recent award it received for building an alliance for wetlands conservation.

The site is the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area (NOCWCA), which has been inscribed as the 7th Wetlands of International Importance of the Philippines under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.

The GalingPook Foundation, an award-giving body that searches and recognizes the innovative and best practices of the local government units in the Philippines, bestowed this 2nd GalingPook Award for Negros Occidental on environmental protection and rehabilitation. The Task Force Ilahas, later on rebranded as Balik Ilahas, was the 1st Galing Pook Award winner for the province.

Governor Bong Lacson said the recognition was timely with the 5th anniversary for the proclamation of the NOCWCA as a Ramsar site. The declaration was issued in October 2017 covering about 230,000 hectares, so far the largest Ramsar Site in the Philippines.

“The concern of our environment is a problem of a global proportion, but reducing its adverse impacts must be done locally. This honor will definitely inspire and encourage us, together with all the stakeholders, to do better and do more in terms of good environmental governance”, he said

The province’s winning entry is the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands and Aquatic Management Alliance (NOCWAMA). It has been formed as a network of LGUs, coastal barangays, people’s organizations, fisheries and aquatic resources management councils, and community-based environmental enforcement groups, with the specific purpose of ensuring the protection of wetlands. This network covers the entire NOCWCA, and spans from Bago City to the municipality of Ilog in the southern part of the province.

I am not sure if the email I received prior to the awarding has something to do with this year’s evaluation of the Galing Pook Award since it inquired about several matters on the NOCWAMA. Grace Tena, whom I worked with on several projects when she was still in the UNDP Philippines and WWF Myanmar, referred the sender of that email to me. I was asked if there is clear evidence that the quality of life of the target beneficiaries of the alliance have improved significantly and the issues confronting them have been substantially addressed.

I responded that it is quite difficult to determine the impacts of the initiative when it comes to the improvement of quality of life without hard scientific evidence. However, I made it clear that some coastal communities I visited in the site claimed there is an improvement on their fish catch resulting in increased income, while several community issues have been addressed, particularly illegal fishing and mangrove cutting and destruction, although there are still other concerns that need to be addressed.

Another question was on the consultation processes and engagement and ownership of the basic sector in the initiative, including the participation of women. I was definite to answer yes, since I know that community organizations have been formed and they are also members of the alliance. Some members of these organizations are also women. I further elaborated that community-based approaches have been implemented, specifically on protection and restoration. Initial activities involving communities in ecotourism have similarly been started.

As to the inquiry on innovation, I cited that the micro to macro approaches in natural resources management were already installed, like community level project implementation and governance, and a much wider alliance, and these are all LGU-led initiatives, from the formation of community organizations, project development, policy declaration, and funding.

Other questions involved the track record of the LGUs in managing environmental projects, internal capacity, leadership commitment, and policy consistency, of which my responses were all positive. I cited, among others, that the provincial government of Negros Occidental was among the first LGUs in the country that established its environment office, with necessary personnel and annual allocation. Similarly other LGUs have created or designated municipal/city environment officers.

These, I think, substantially showed the commitment of LGUs towards the environment, although technical capacities require enhancement and strengthening. As to the sustainability, I pointed out that so far the continuity of environmental programs and projects in Negros Occidental by LGUs have been sustained through the years. For me, it is because of the presence of committed and competent personnel of LGUs handling the environmental programs and projects.

But the most significant achievement of the province, in partnership with all other involved LGUs and other stakeholders, was their efforts that laid down the eventual national and international recognitions of the NOCWCA as wetlands of international importance. This conservation site is hosting numerous globally threatened species, and it has diverse ecosystems that provide countless services and benefits to communities, and the public, in general.

Congratulations to the province of Negros Occidental, especially to all those who were and are still involved in the conservation of the NOCWCA.*

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