The Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., also known as PhilBio or PBCFI, recently commemorated its 15th founding anniversary. Organized by the late British wildlife biologist William Oliver, who spent more than two decades of his life working for the conservation of the country’s endemic species and their habitats before he died in 2014, PhilBio through the years, continues to implement the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Program, which is now on its 30th year. Oliver also created the PBCP, one of the longest running conservation programs in the Philippines.
The PBCP had launched the iconic campaign on saving threatened endemic species by popularizing the theme “Only in the Philippines” through various audio-visual information and education materials. It prioritized the implementation of numerous activities in areas where most threatened endemic species occur. I had the privilege to work with PhilBio since its inception in 2006 as one of its founding board of trustees. It emerged from various challenges in streamlining operations, priorities, and agenda, especially when Oliver died, as he was instrumental and the “brain” in putting together “bits and pieces” to deliver conservation outcomes.
As the PhilBio’s celebrated its 15th founding anniversary and the 30th year of the PBCP, I am sharing here the message I prepared for its 2020 Annual Report, especially because last year was so crucial with the global outbreak of the COVID -19. I prepared this message in my capacity as the current president of the PhilBio.
The year that was amidst the pandemic
It was, indeed, difficult and challenging times in 2020. The whole world was seemingly caught unprepared with the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were several instances when various countries were almost in standstill, including the Philippines. Lockdowns have been imposed to deter the widespread contamination of what is now known as SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus has infected millions of people and, unfortunately, millions of lives were lost, too, while the socio-cultural and economic fibers of the world were greatly affected and hampered.
The imposition of lockdowns and quarantine in several countries had provided, in many ways, a sort of “breathing” space for the Earth. Wildlife sightings in usually busy streets, cleaner air and environment, and reduction of consumption and economic activities have been noted around the world, and photos of these circumstances were widely circulated in numerous mainstream and social media platforms.
The COVID-19 pandemic may remind us of what we have inflicted to the Earth and its nature. We are now in the state where we are experiencing and facing the impacts of our abuse and neglect to our natural environment and ecosystems. Aside from the climate crisis we face, here comes the deadly global health crisis.
In spite of the difficult situation amidst the pandemic, the PhilBio had stepped up last year to adjust and calibrate strategies to continue its mission in contributing to the overall efforts in saving and protecting species and habitats, particularly in the globally important biodiversity sites of the country.
The year started with a promising note when the PhilBio had initiated the 1st ever count of the Sulu hornbill, considered as the world’s most threatened hornbill species, in Tawi-Tawi, in January. The tracking and recording of the species have provided an opportunity for the PhilBio to conduct the 1st ecological study of this critically endangered Sulu hornbill.
We are proud and yet humbled by the fact that the PhilBio had implemented another botanical study in Tawi-Tawi leading to the discovery of new species and listing of new records in the area. The last botanical survey in Tawi-Tawi was done almost a century ago, 96 years to be exact.
With the restriction of movements and activities last year, our staff made use of the time in preparing technical papers and manuscripts for publications. This is relative to our goal in contributing to scientific information and knowledge, and public awareness on the importance of our biodiversity, especially the threatened endemic species of the Philippines. In addition, our papers and publications are also meant to encourage additional efforts from other stakeholders in advancing biodiversity conservation in the country.
The pandemic had made our staff even more innovative. PhilBio launched last year what we call “Blended Online Forest Protection and Monitoring.” This is the use of online platforms in keeping track with the field activities of our partners who were provided training and equipment on appropriate and modern technologies in monitoring and also in connecting with us through the Internet. Our partners observed health protocols while doing field protection activities. We piloted its implementation in Tawi-Tawi, and, hopefully, we can replicate the initiative in other project sites of the PhilBio.
We worked with the provincial government of Negros Occidental in preparing a project proposal for the South Western Negros Key Biodiversity Area. The proposal, which is intended to secure, rehabilitate, and protect the wilderness of the Bukidnon Magahat in Hinobaan, was approved with budget amounting to Php 10 million. Such approval led to the implementation of preparatory activities.
The PhilBio has further assisted in the development of Panay Regional Biodiversity Conservation Framework as basis in cascading the preparation and implementation of biodiversity strategy and action plan among the different local governments in Region VI. As part of our Wetlands and Landscapes Program, we enhanced and improved the waterbird monitoring system and protocols for three Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and two KBAs.
There were still several other initiatives carried out by the PhilBio during uncertain times of 2020. These included the initiation of webinars that captured thousands of audience in several instances. The online platforms have been extensively used in our Conservation Awareness and Education Program, and we found out that they were equally effective in delivering conservation messages.
Lastly, I am thanking all our partners and supporters in making it possible for us to continue delivering our goals amidst the pandemic of the COVID-19. Let us all stay safe, and I’m looking forward to the continuing collaboration in conservation work in the days and years ahead.*