PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan -- Penal authorities, village leaders, and conservationists renewed here Friday a memorandum of agreement designed to protect the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo inside the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm (IPPF).
The covenant covers the conservation, protection, management, and preservation of the bird species’ known nesting and foraging grounds in 10 barangays in Puerto Princesa City.
Indira Dayang Lacerna-Widmann, chief operations officer of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI), explained the annually renewed agreement signing with the IPPF since 2016 is for the common goal of protecting and preserving the territories, where flocks of the Philippine cockatoo or “katala” (Cacatua haematuropygia) go to look for food and breed.
The memorandum of agreement (MOA) for the Iwahig Biodiversity Conservation Program (IBCP) was signed among the KFI, IPPF Superintendent Arturo Sabadisto, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development’s (PCSD) operations department officer-in-charge Merly Hilario, the city government of Puerto Princesa, and the chairmen of the 10 barangays.
The penal farm, she said, is very important in the biodiversity conservation of the protected bird because it has diverse ecosystems that serve their purpose.
“Marahil lingid sa ating kaalaman, ang lowland forest o mababang kagubatan ng IPPF ay pangatlo sa buong mundo na pinaka-importanteng tirahan ng mga katala (Perhaps, unknown to our knowledge, the lowland forest of Iwahig is the third most important habitat of the katala),” Widmann said.
The first important dwelling ground is Rasa Island in the southern Palawan town of Narra, the second is Balabac municipality, and the IPPF in the city in Barangay Iwahig.
She said about 60-70 of the critically endangered bird, which is also known as the red-vented cockatoo, are dwelling in the IPPF’s lowland forests.
“Maaaring isipin na maliit lang ‘yan at hindi importante, pero sa buong mundo, humigit kumulang na lang sa 1,200 individuals ang katala. Dito lang sa Pilipinas matatagpuan ang katala kaya importante talaga ang Palawan sa cockatoo conservation (We might think that’s a small number and not important, but in the whole world, there are only now more or less 1,200 katala. They are only found in the Philippines and this is why Palawan is very important in cockatoo conservation),” she pointed out.
Widmann stressed that 90 percent of the remaining world population of the katala is in Palawan, and if their habitats are not protected, their number might seriously decline.
She said barangay leaders were included in the signing of the protection treaty because the katala are nesting in the villages of Montible, Sta. Lucia, and Inagawan near the IPPF.
“Umaabot sila sa ibang barangays sa Puerto Princesa mula sa mga buwan ng July hanggang December kasi tapos na ang breeding season. Lalabas na ang mga inakay at manginginain (They reach other barangays in Puerto Princesa from July to December because the breeding season is over. The nestlings will already go out to feed),” she said.
Mary Chris Nierves, KFI’s program development officer, said since 1998 when the conservation program started with 23 katala on Rasa Island, the population of the bird has grown to more than 300.
In Puerto Princesa, this success can also happen with the help of the village leaders who hold the authority over the territories where the katala nests and forages.
In three years of conservation efforts in the IPPF, four active nest trees that were marked successfully hatched eight nestlings out of 10 eggs, she said.
“Noong 2017, meron tayong nine active pugaran and then ngayong 2018, pataas ‘yan ng pataas (In 2017, we have nine active nests and then in 2018, the number has been really growing),” she said.
Nierves said 10 barangays in this city have now recorded katala sightings that did not happen in a long time.
Since August 2018, she said, the number of katala birds that have been sighted in Puerto Princesa has reached 66 individuals, especially in Barangay Bancao-Bancao.
The only problem is that there remains “confiscation” of the birds by children who use slingshots to catch them, adult residents who shoot them with air guns, tree cuttings in Iwahig by illegal settlers, and land conversions.
“These are the reasons why we need the cooperation of the barangay leaders because they are the ones in the area, they know what is happening,” she said.
For his part, Sabadisto said the penal farm, is committed to protecting and conserving the katala which he also sees foraging outside the window of his office on fruits of the Narra tree.
He said their concern right now is how to stop the encroachment of illegal settlers inside the IPPF, who illegally cut trees to build their homes.
Sabadisto said based on their inspection, some 50 illegal settlers are attempting to set up a community within the jurisdiction of their penal facility.
“May mga illegal settlers at sila ay mga Tagbanua. Ibinibenta pa nila ang lupa ng mga PHP80,000 per hectare. Kapag may nakikita kaming mga poste na itinatayo nila, binubunot na namin dahil gusto rin natin na makatulong sa pangangala nitong ibon (There are Tagbanua illegal settlers. They sell the lands at PHP80,000 per hectare. If we see posts sticking out, we take them out immediately since we want to help protect the birds),” Sabadisto claimed.
He said they have now referred this to the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) for the filing of cases.
Sabadisto said the KFI can rest assured that even the inmates in the minimum penal facility will help ensure the Philippine cockatoos are protected.