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Philippine Army to establish eco-tourism, environmental park in Donsol

By Danny O. Calleja

DONSOL, Sorsogon, Aug 27 – The Philippine Army’s (PA) 903rd Infantry Battalion (IB) based here is spearheading the establishment of an ecological-tourism park that would serve as additional attraction and environmental protection buffer zone in this remote coastal town made famous for its being host to whale sharks.

"This municipality is a prime ecotourism destination that deserves sound environmental initiatives especially in the development and conservation of its coastal areas that significantly contributed to its being named as the Whale Shark Capital of the World,” Col. Felix Castro Jr., the PA’s 903rd IB commanding officer on Friday said.

He said the presence of the PA here is meant to initiate peace and developmental initiatives especially in assisting the local government administrations of this municipality and its neighboring towns in implementing programs that will promote tourism, disaster risk reduction and management and other aspects of development “that is why we are into this undertaking”.

“We have been building school classrooms, health centers, potable water systems and other community development infrastructure needs that require engineering assistance and, this time, we are into spearheading a response to the national government’s call for environmental protection under the National Greening Program (NGP) of the Aquino administration,” he said.

Castro said, NGP, a program recently launched by President Benigno Aquino III as part of the environmental agenda of his administration needs the participation of both the public sector from the top level of the bureaucracy down to its lowest segment and the private sector from big stakeholders down to the smallest component of the community.

It is under this principle that this tourism and ecological park will rise at a vast site in Barangay Sibago, a prime coastal village here through concerted efforts motivated by the spirit of “bayanihan” where dozens of public and private institutions, including the media community and local villagers, will join the PA in this undertaking, he said.

It will form part of an integrated approach to implement the ridge to reef complementary greening activity in the entire Sorsogon province where sustainable coastal resource management efforts are necessary for the restoration and protection of its marine ecology that has been fast deteriorating due to neglect and disasters, both natural and man-made, Santiago said.

"This ecology park will also serve as a buffer zone in case of typhoons and sea level rise as the PA will also provide soft engineering measures to mitigate negative effects brought about by climate change," he said.

The project will be known as the Butanding Bayahihan Eco Park, Castro said, explaining that butanding is the local term for whale shark and bayanihan is a traditional practice which is part of the Filipino culture connoting cooperation which the PA would like to relive among communities it serves.

Among the national government institutions that will take part in this project are the regional offices for Bicol of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Tourism (DOT), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

The Sorsogon Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), Provincial Tourism Council and the local government here, headed by town mayor Jerome Alcantara, have also signified their intentions to take part, Castro said.

In the private sector, the World Wildlife Fund, World Vision, local media groups, barangays officials and several environmental groups are also participating, he said.

To start with its implementation that will take place during the weekend, the military officer said a total of 10,000 mangrove propagules will be planted by the participants along the coastline of the over five-hectare project site. “Regular tree planting activities will be undertaken later on until the entire site becomes forested with mangroves and other suitable tree species.”

After the mangrove planting activity, the participants will be welcomed to the usual military treat of boodle fight, he added. (PNA)

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