LAST FRONTIER: SCIENTISTS SEEK MT. CLEOPATRA PROTECTION 

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY -For a biologist like Kyra Hoevenaars, who has lived and studied the wildlife and forests of Palawan province for years, Mount Cleopatra is a special place.
“Almost everything that you will find there, especially the mammals, they don’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Hoevenaars told the Inquirer. One of the highest peaks on the island, Cleopatra has attracted the attention of the international conservation community, prompting US-based funding organization Rainforest Trust (formerly World Land Trust) recently to raise a fund pooled from private donations worldwide to encourage Philippine authorities and concerned groups to have it placed under formal protection by having it declared a national park. In a post on its website, Rainforest Trust said it had “played a central role in the creation of 73 new protected areas in 20 countries while working with local organizations that empower indigenous people to steward their own resources” since its founding in 1988. Last of the Batak
More than just being a biological gem that is worth preserving, the intact forest land sprawling over at least 30,000 hectares on the northern edge of Puerto Princesa City is also home to the last of the Batak tribe, an indigenous community of hunters and gatherers whose population has dwindled to just about 200. “We started this initiative as an expressed desire of the Batak, who acted as our guides when we did several treks to Cleopatra’s Needle (the mountain’s peak, so called because it is narrow and elongated) to profile the place,” Hoevenaars said. * READ MORE...

ALSO: Mountain Trail leads to culture, nature hubs 

Travelers who often frequent the 165-kilometer Mountain Trail may have gotten so used to the view along the scenic route that they often doze off all throughout the trip along this highway linking the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao in the Cordillera.
It’s a different case for the first-time visitor. Tourists who pass through this upland road, also known as the Baguio-Bontoc Road or Halsema Highway, on their way to the resort town of Sagada or to the rice terraces of Ifugao, are rewarded with a spectacular panorama of lush mountains, verdant vegetable farms, meandering rivers, stunning sunrises, the enchanting sight of fog enveloping slopes and vignettes of countryside living. While the road length stretches to only a little more than 100 km from La Trinidad town in Benguet to the Mountain Province capital of Bontoc, those raring for adventure and new sights should be prepared to spend six hours on the road. “You know you are on the Mountain Trail when you notice the stench. It’s part of the journey,” said Abe Domocmat, 52, a driver of GL Trans bus. Passengers on buses headed to Mountain Province or interior Benguet towns know this only too well. The stench comes from chicken dung loaded on vehicles that bring their cargo of organic fertilizers to vegetable farms that dot the countryside. * READ MORE...

ALSO: Traders rebuild Tacloban with less govt support 

The Filipino-Chinese businessmen in this city that was devastated by super typhoon Yolanda are slowly getting back on their feet through hard work and perseverance. Jack Uy (photo), president of the Tacloban Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says despite the lack of government support, he and his group of about 140 members are continuing to help rebuild this city because they have to. “We are now 80- to-90-percent back in business,” Uy said. “The remaining 10 to 20 percent are reluctant to come back either because they are still traumatized or are still looking for fresh capital, while the others have opened up businesses in other places.”  Uy says they must rely on each other and on their friends because very little help is coming from the government. “We need help but the question is they [the government] are not helping us,” Uy said. “Some commercial banks have responded but not all. They don’t extend too many loans to businessmen because many businessmen are still repaying their previous loans.”  Uy says more than 50 percent of Tacloban’s businessmen are bankrupt because most of them were victims of looters.  “We have been left behind. The Department of Trade and Industry is extending loans but they are very selective,” Uy said.  “Their limit is P1.5 million but the businessmen need more than that. If you have an old building you will use the amount to repair it, and after that you will have nothing left for capital. “Most of the businessmen here still have outstanding obligations to manufacturers. They have credit limits that they already have consumed, so how do they get more credit?”  Uy says the national government is not extending enough financial help to Tacloban. * READ MORE...

ALSO By Emil Jurado: One proud President 

I still recall that television interview of former Senator Agapito “Butz” Aquino and former Tarlac Rep. Peping Cojuangco, both uncles of President Aquino. This was right after President Aquino was elected in 2010. The uncles both said that their nephew was single-minded. When he wants something, they said, President Noynoy goes for it. Both also said that PNoy was proud and obstinate - he cannot be dictated upon. When I first heard that, I said to myself, those are very dangerous traits. Our President may not be willing to accept mistakes. Four years hence, and I go back to this interview. We have seen the President’s obstinacy and single-mindedness, all right. He goes after his political enemies by whatever means. Look at what happpened to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was ousted after an impeachment trial where the President, through Disbursement Acceleration Program funds, bribed members of Congress to accomplish that end. Look at what is happening to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He also cannot bring himself to acknowledge his mistakes, nor those of his allies. In fact, when a member of his team veers away from the supposed “Daang Matuwid,” he defends and protects them. Remember Rico Puno, Ronald Llamas and Virginia Torres with their individual offenses, and now Proceso Alcala and Joel Villanueva who have both been implicated in the pork barrel scam? * READ MORE...


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Scientists seek Mt. Cleopatra protection


LAST FRONTIER Batak tribesmen guide wildlife experts on their trek to the peak of Mt. Cleopatra, part of an intact forest land sprawling over some 30,000 hectares on the northern edge of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. Scientists and conservationists have called on the government to declare Cleopatra a national park because of its varied ecosystems and habitats for endangered and threatened species. JONAH VAN BEIJNEN/CONTRIBUTOR

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY
, JULY 14, 2014 (INQUIRER)
 By Redempto D. Anda - For a biologist like Kyra Hoevenaars, who has lived and studied the wildlife and forests of Palawan province for years, Mount Cleopatra is a special place.

“Almost everything that you will find there, especially the mammals, they don’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Hoevenaars told the Inquirer.

One of the highest peaks on the island, Cleopatra has attracted the attention of the international conservation community, prompting US-based funding organization Rainforest Trust (formerly World Land Trust) recently to raise a fund pooled from private donations worldwide to encourage Philippine authorities and concerned groups to have it placed under formal protection by having it declared a national park.

In a post on its website, Rainforest Trust said it had “played a central role in the creation of 73 new protected areas in 20 countries while working with local organizations that empower indigenous people to steward their own resources” since its founding in 1988.

Last of the Batak

More than just being a biological gem that is worth preserving, the intact forest land sprawling over at least 30,000 hectares on the northern edge of Puerto Princesa City is also home to the last of the Batak tribe, an indigenous community of hunters and gatherers whose population has dwindled to just about 200.

“We started this initiative as an expressed desire of the Batak, who acted as our guides when we did several treks to Cleopatra’s Needle (the mountain’s peak, so called because it is narrow and elongated) to profile the place,” Hoevenaars said.

* Last week, Rainforest Trust announced on its website that it had reached its target of $203,956 in donations to support biodiversity conservation efforts for Cleopatra.

The fundraising effort was started by a Palawan-based private group, Center for Sustainability, which did an initial biological assessment of Cleopatra and discovered its uniqueness.

Pleased with support

Hoevenaars, executive director of the Center for Sustainability, said her group was pleased with the initial support it had received from local and national groups for the conservation initiative.

“We have received the support of the city government (Puerto Princesa), Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (now Biodiversity Management Bureau) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, all the barangays (villages) around the targeted area and, most important, the Batak who live around Cleopatra,” she said.

The center said it aimed to get Cleopatra declared a protected area under local legislation, “then, [we hope], a national park under the Nipas (National Integrated Protected Areas System) law.”

Corridor link

Underlining the importance of Cleopatra, according to Hoevenaars, is its linking the vast expanse of the remaining forests of northern Palawan to the southern mountain ranges of the province.

In conservation science, linking patches of important ecosystems is key to ensuring the viability of the unique plants and animals that live there.

Having Cleopatra declared a protected area would link the mainland forest corridors of Palawan, including St. Paul mountains, where the famous Underground River is found.

The provincial government has announced plans to have more than 60,000 ha of remaining forests around the northern towns of Roxas, Taytay and San Vicente declared a protected area.

Palawan’s overall forest cover is the highest in the country, accounting for more than 40 percent of the island’s land area.

Considering that only about 3 percent of the Philippines’ original forests remains, Palawan is carrying the torch of forest conservation.

Unique ecosystem

“Eighty-five percent of Palawan’s endemics are found on and around Cleopatra’s Needle. The lowland forests included in the proposed reserve are home to the last viable populations of several critically endangered species,” Rainforest Trust said.

It listed 31 endangered and threatened species inhabiting the forests of Cleopatra’s Needle, including the Palawan hornbill, Palawan peacock pheasant, Palawan scops owl, Palawan flycatcher, Palawan bearcat, Palawan leopard cat and Palawan flying squirrel.

“What makes Cleopatra interesting to science is its varied ecosystems—lowland, riverine, ultramafic and mossy and cloud forests on top. There’s an ample lot of knowledge useful to man that are waiting to be found,” Hoevenaars said.

(According to geology.com, ultramafic, or ultrabasic, refers to the igneous rock with very low silica content and rich in minerals such as hypersthene, augite and olivine.)

Rare frog

On a recent expedition to the summit that took three days of walking, Hoevernaars’ group rediscovered the Palawan toadlet, a rare species of frog that lives only on high-elevation mountains.

“We found the Palawan toad, which was previously thought to be extinct,” she said.

She said that because of the large number of creeks, waterfalls and rivers in perfect condition, the area played an important role in the survival of aquatic and semiaquatic species in Palawan, like freshwater turtles, amphibians and otters.

The region is also known to host endemic plants, including Cycad palm and pitcher plant species, found only on Cleopatra’s Needle.

Large butterfly

Among the animals found only in Palawan and known to live on Cleopatra’s Needle is the Palawan birdwing, one of the world’s largest butterflies, with a wingspan of 20.32 centimeters.

“The southern and eastern hills of Cleopatra’s Needle are home to the last populations of the endangered Palawan horned frog and nearby creeks contain the largest remaining population of the threatened Philippine flat-headed frog,” Rainforest Trust said.

It said evidence suggested that the endangered Palawan toadlet could also be found on Cleopatra’s Needle, “although this has yet to be confirmed.”

Matching donations

Rainforest Trust said it continued to receive donations and had offered to match additional donations at a 1:3 ratio.

Shasha Maguad, legal officer of Environmental Legal Assistance Center, said her group “welcomed this plan, as this area has long been threatened although identified as [a key biodiversity area].”

“We hope that concerned government agencies will conduct consultations among [indigenous peoples] and other [concerned groups] to broaden interest and support,” she said.

Mountain Trail leads to culture, nature hubs By Desiree Caluza |Inquirer Northern Luzon2:29 am | Monday, May 26th, 2014


SCENIC ROUTE. A small rice paddy glistens near the town of Natubleng in Benguet province. The scenery is best viewed by travelers along the 165-kilometer Mountain Trail (Halsema Highway) linking Benguet to Mountain Province and Ifugao in the Cordillera. RICHARD BALONGLONG/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Travelers who often frequent the 165-kilometer Mountain Trail may have gotten so used to the view along the scenic route that they often doze off all throughout the trip along this highway linking the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao in the Cordillera.

It’s a different case for the first-time visitor. Tourists who pass through this upland road, also known as the Baguio-Bontoc Road or Halsema Highway, on their way to the resort town of Sagada or to the rice terraces of Ifugao, are rewarded with a spectacular panorama of lush mountains, verdant vegetable farms, meandering rivers, stunning sunrises, the enchanting sight of fog enveloping slopes and vignettes of countryside living.

While the road length stretches to only a little more than 100 km from La Trinidad town in Benguet to the Mountain Province capital of Bontoc, those raring for adventure and new sights should be prepared to spend six hours on the road.

“You know you are on the Mountain Trail when you notice the stench. It’s part of the journey,” said Abe Domocmat, 52, a driver of GL Trans bus.

Passengers on buses headed to Mountain Province or interior Benguet towns know this only too well. The stench comes from chicken dung loaded on vehicles that bring their cargo of organic fertilizers to vegetable farms that dot the countryside.

* Domocmat, who has been driving through the uplands for the past six years, concedes that the Mountain Trail’s foremost attraction is the view of the impressive Cordillera mountains.

While Baguio City’s Kennon Road offers its “lion’s head” as a popular tourist stop, the Mountain Trail marker indicating the highest point in the Philippine highway system at Barangay (village) Cattubo in Atok town, Benguet, has attracted its fair share of people posing for photo ops. That particular section of the highway is 2,255 meters (7,400 feet) above sea level.

According to the book “A History of the Mountain Province,” by Howard T. Fry, the construction of the Mountain Trail started in 1921. American engineer E.J. Halsema supervised its completion as a motor road in 1931.

Way of life

Traveling along the upland road offers a view of mountainside farms and vegetable terraces that a clueless tourist may mistake for Ifugao’s rice terraces from afar. Various crops in neatly arranged plots will greet travelers in the towns of Atok, Tublay, Kibungan and Buguias.

Local dishes, as well as newly harvested produce, are offered in pit stops along the way. A meal costs between P75 and P95.

Km 55 in Atok, Timbac Road, leads travelers to Kabayan town, the seat of Ibaloy culture, where Benguet’s ancient mummies are found. The mummies are the preserved remains of ancestors of the Ibaloi and Kankanaey tribes kept in the town’s caves.

Kabayan is also home to Mt. Pulag, the highest peak in Luzon and a popular destination for skilled and recreational mountain climbers. A commercial center in the village of Abatan in Buguias town serves as the major trade hub along the Mountain Trail and the last Benguet town on this route.

Past Buguias is Bauko town in Mountain Province where a large statue of the Virgin Mary welcomes visitors.
A popular stop here is the Mt. Data National Park, noted for its rich flora and fauna.

The Mt. Data Hotel attracts tourists, especially those who bring their own vehicles. Visitors are especially drawn to the hotel’s flower and pine gardens and its chapel. This is where then President Corazon Aquino and rebel priest Conrado Balweg, leader of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, signed a peace agreement in 1987.

Visitors will not miss seeing the mighty Chico River that flows from Bauko and down to villages in the capital, Bontoc, and to the nearby province of Kalinga.

Sagada and Bontoc

The Mountain Trail splits into two at Dantay village in Bontoc, where the road leads either to Sagada or Bontoc proper.

Francis Degay, Mountain Province provincial tourism officer, said Bontoc also offered destinations that may appeal to tourists like the Ganga burial cave and the petroglyphs (rock engravings) of Barangay Alab Oriente. The Bontoc Museum houses important documents, archaeological finds and antiquities and photographs of the old Mountain Province.

On the town’s outskirts is Mainit Hot Springs in Barangay Mainit and the rice terraces of Barangay Maligcong.

One can go around town by foot or by tricycle (P9 per passenger). Rooms at local inns and hotels are priced from P200 to P600 while local restaurants offer traditional fare, like the native chicken soup “pinikpikan.”

A 30-minute jeepney ride from Bontoc will bring you to the resort town of Sagada.

Tourists have likened Sagada to an earlier and simpler version of Baguio City, when the summer capital had yet to be overtaken by development. The town is famous for its rock formations, caves, ancient burial sites and hanging coffins.

Jaime Dugao, an elder from Barangay Ankileng in Sagada, said tourists may sample local culture and traditions as the community still practices rituals related to the agricultural cycle.

A common sight is elderly males walking about in their traditional G-strings and headgear. Rituals are performed in the “dap-ay” (circular stone structure where elders meet) of the old villages of Dagdag and Demang.

Members of the Sagada Environmental Guides Association said that although some tourists had taken an interest in mushroom-picking as an alternative activity, the most frequented spots were Echo Valley, Bomod-ok and Bokong falls, the local rice terraces and the restaurant owned by the family of the late Cordillera master photographer Eduardo Masferre, where his photographs are displayed.

Farther down the Mountain Trail from Bontoc is Ifugao province, where the ancient rice terraces and the culture and traditions of the Ifugao people continue to awe even jaded travelers.

The road from Bontoc to Banaue stretches only 27 km, but tourists must brace themselves for a two-hour ride of a lifetime.

GETTING THERE

From Baguio City, a ride through the Mountain Trail costs P220 if you are bound for Sagada, and P212 if you are headed to Bontoc. The first bus leaves daily at 6:30 a.m. (Besao via Sagada). The last trip is scheduled at 1 p.m. from the GL Trans terminal at the Dangwa Tranco station on Magsaysay Avenue.

The first bus to Bontoc leaves daily at 7 a.m., while the last trip is at 2:30 p.m. Another bus firm, Rising Sun, offers its first trip to Bontoc at 5 a.m. The last trip is at 4 p.m.

FROM THE MANILA STANDARD

Traders rebuild Tacloban with less govt support By Ronald Reyes | Jul. 14, 2014 at 12:01am


Jack Uy, President, Tacloban Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce Incorporated

TACLOBAN CITY—The Filipino-Chinese businessmen in this city that was devastated by super typhoon Yolanda are slowly getting back on their feet through hard work and perseverance.

Jack Uy, president of the Tacloban Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says despite the lack of government support, he and his group of about 140 members are continuing to help rebuild this city because they have to.

“We are now 80- to-90-percent back in business,” Uy said.

“The remaining 10 to 20 percent are reluctant to come back either because they are still traumatized or are still looking for fresh capital, while the others have opened up businesses in other places.”

Uy says they must rely on each other and on their friends because very little help is coming from the government.

“We need help but the question is they [the government] are not helping us,” Uy said.

“Some commercial banks have responded but not all. They don’t extend too many loans to businessmen because many businessmen are still repaying their previous loans.”

Uy says more than 50 percent of Tacloban’s businessmen are bankrupt because most of them were victims of looters.

“We have been left behind. The Department of Trade and Industry is extending loans but they are very selective,” Uy said.

“Their limit is P1.5 million but the businessmen need more than that. If you have an old building you will use the amount to repair it, and after that you will have nothing left for capital.

“Most of the businessmen here still have outstanding obligations to manufacturers. They have credit limits that they already have consumed, so how do they get more credit?”

Uy says the national government is not extending enough financial help to Tacloban.

* He says Tacloban received P230 million from the national government last April, but that amount was only enough to repair city hall, the public market and the Astrodome and not to rehabilitate the city.

He says the city needs help to acquire land and build permanent housing on it because many residents still live in tents.

Earlier, Robert Castanares, regional governor of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Eastern visayas, said the local economy needs billions of pesos to rehabilitate itself.

“The real challenge will be how to obligate and disburse 105 billion pesos in 24 months, or roughly 4 billion pesos a month, if we are to finish 90 percent of the rehabilitation work by 2016 as announced by Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson,” Castanares said.

One proud President By Emil Jurado | Jul. 10, 2014 at 12:01am

I still recall that television interview of former Senator Agapito “Butz” Aquino and former Tarlac Rep. Peping Cojuangco, both uncles of President Aquino. This was right after President Aquino was elected in 2010.

The uncles both said that their nephew was single-minded. When he wants something, they said, President Noynoy goes for it. Both also said that PNoy was proud and obstinate - he cannot be dictated upon.

When I first heard that, I said to myself, those are very dangerous traits. Our President may not be willing to accept mistakes.

Four years hence, and I go back to this interview. We have seen the President’s obstinacy and single-mindedness, all right. He goes after his political enemies by whatever means. Look at what happpened to Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was ousted after an impeachment trial where the President, through Disbursement Acceleration Program funds, bribed members of Congress to accomplish that end. Look at what is happening to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

He also cannot bring himself to acknowledge his mistakes, nor those of his allies. In fact, when a member of his team veers away from the supposed “Daang Matuwid,” he defends and protects them. Remember Rico Puno, Ronald Llamas and Virginia Torres with their individual offenses, and now Proceso Alcala and Joel Villanueva who have both been implicated in the pork barrel scam?

* Pride has often been the cause of downfall. And this is coming to pass, with the Supreme Court decision declaring the DAP as unconstitutional.

The President insists he acted in good faith, but do we really buy that?

If this administration gets destabilized before Mr. Aquino steps down in 2016, he will only have himself—and his pride—to blame.

* * *

Once again, I call on Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes to decide now on what kind of automated system we would use for the 2016 polls.

The silence of Brillantes and that of President Aquino on whether Comelec will continue using the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines is very telling.

We need an electoral system we can believe in.

What is worrisome is that Brillantes has been asking for a budget to buy more PCOS machines. What? So that Comelec can perpetuate the same cheating pattern that resulted in the dominance of administration senatorial candidates despite poll surveys showing otherwise?

I have said that the country is at the edge, politically and economically speaking. That’s the reason, my gulay, why we must have a credible election in 2016.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is aware of what happened in 2013, has called for electoral reforms. But it seems that Malacañang and Comelec are not listening.

* * *

The President has not reappointed former Isabela Governor and now Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca despite the fact that her ad interim appointment as Comelec has expired. Not that she will sorely be missed as Comelec commissioner. There is speculation that the President will not reappoint her.

Malacañang in fact has up to July 28 to make up its mind.

Padaca has been bypassed by the Commission on Appointments many times because she is facing graft charges at the Sandiganbayan. The case pertains to some actions she committed when she was still governor. She has been making excuses of immunity from suit as Comelec commissioner. She is free, though, because the President coughed up money to post bail for her.

* * *

I find it rather strange that when President Aquino finds himself under attack, it is he who shield and defends his own people instead of the other way around.

In the case of the unlamented DAP ruled by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, records show that both Abad who created that monstrosity, and the President himself, were completely aware of its illegality. It went for it just the same.

In this case, it follows that both Abad and the President must face the music. That’s why Abad must take the bullet for his boss, the President, and resign pronto. Otherwise, he must face plunder charges.

As for the President, as surely as night follows day, President Aquino will be sued for several criminal acts after he steps down.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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