An important life-support system in Zamboanga City, the Pasonanca Natural Park (PaNP), is a legislated protected area (PA) that is teeming with diverse species of rare plants and animals.
It is one of the 94 PAs legislated under Republic Act 7586. as amended by RA 11038, also known as Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act on June 22, 2018.
With a total land area of 17,493.42 hectares, this haven for native trees and birds is shared by seven barangays of Zamboanga City—Bunguiao, Tolosa, Salaan, Lumayang, Pasonanca, Dulian and Baluno.
Important water source
The PaNP boasts of a watershed area with over 50 perennial springs and streams at the core zone draining downward to the stretch of the Tumaga River.
Four watersheds likewise exist at the buffer zone areas of PaNP, namely the Manicahan, Culianan, Ayala and Malayal.
The watershed area is the only source of potable water for Zamboanga City. It is managed by the Zamboanga City Water District, that helps protect and conserve the very precious economic resource.
Philippine eagle territory, refugia
An important bird area and key biodiversity area, the PaNP is home to the critically endangered iconic bird of prey, Philippine eagle, the country’s national bird and one of the largest of its kind in the world in terms of wing span.
There are around 400 pairs of the Philippine eagle in the wild.
Jason Ibañez, director for Research and Conservation at the Philippine Eagle Foundation, said this could be attributed to the fact that Pasonanca is one of the few remaining tracts of pristine, old-growth lowland forests in the Philippines.
“It is also a very important biodiversity and Philippine eagle refugia in the biogeographically unique western Mindanao peninsula,” Ibanez told the BusinessMirror in an interview via Zoom on July 27.
Refugia (singular refugium) are locations which support isolated or relict populations of a once more widespread species.
According to Ibanez, with perhaps three to four Philippine eagle pairs inhabiting the PaNP, the eagle couples appear to act as sources of new eaglets, which will eventually fly to and re-occupy smaller forest fragments along the peninsula, whose resident eagles could have been lost to shooting, hunting or habitat degradation.
“The PaNP appears to be a high-quality habitat for healthy eagle couples. The healthy offsprings of these fit eagle pairs, in turn, can provide a ‘rescue effect’ to eagle populations found in lesser quality habitats [sink population] elsewhere along the peninsula,” he explained.
With PaNP playing a potentially important role in Philippine eagle and wildlife “source-and-sink” population dynamics on the Zamboanga Peninsula, its “protected status” should be strictly maintained, Ibanez pointed out.
“In order to secure the safe passage of eagles and wildlife migrating from PaNP to other forest fragments, forest ‘corridors and stepping stones’ might be restored and equally protected. Lastly, shooting and hunting of apex forest predators like the Philippine eagle and ecological keystones like hornbills and warty pigs should totally stop,” he added.
Biodiversity rich area
Based on the biological profile of the PaNP, it is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the Philippines, if not in the entire Asean region.
According to the Asean Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), which implements the Asean Heritage Parks (AHP) Program as one of its flagship programs, the PaNP’s contiguous block of old and secondary-growth dipterocarp forest covers almost 90 percent of the area.
“Many of the threatened and restricted-range species of the Mindanao and Eastern Visayas Endemic Bird Area have been recorded in or near to Pasonanca watershed, including recent records of the threatened Mindanao bleeding-heart, silvery kingfisher, Philippine leafbird and little slaty flycatcher, and Zamboanga bulbul, which is confined to the protected area and a subspecies from Western Mindanao and Basilan,” ACB said, quoting a 2018 report of BirdLife International.
Endangered trees, diverse flora and fauna
PaNP is home to the most threatened premium Philippine native tree species.
This includes the Mindanao narek, yakal magasusu, gisok-gisok, almon, white lauan, kalunti, mayapis, and tanguile—all identified as critically endangered, or on the brink of extinction.
There is an estimated 15,000 flora species, 50 percent of which are endemic, or species that found only in the Philippines.
Around 70 percent to 80 percent of the species are flowering plants, however, 193 are “threatened.”
Meanwhile, a total of 109 of the 192 endemic bird species were recorded in the PaNP.
For land mammals, 24 of the 110 endemic species, and 71 of the 208 endemic species of reptiles are in the Park.
Asean Heritage Park
Having been declared an Asean Heritage Park last October 31, 2022, in Bogor, Indonesia, PaNP is the 10th AHP in the Philippines and the 52nd in the region. It will be launched as an AHP on October 22.
According to the ACB, while the nomination process for the PaNP began even before the discovery of the eagle nesting sites in 2019, the discovery boosted its candidacy, and it indicated that there is a collective effort from several communities and government authorities in conserving and protecting the precious endemic bird species and vital ecosystems.
“As the main supplier of domestic water to more than 300,000 residents, management of PaNP will ensure that these sources are properly sustained,” the ACB said.
In addition, tourism activities, such as bird-watching and trekking, will boost more livelihood options among the locals.
There are two international birding tour sites in the PaNP—the Baluno Ecological Research and Training Center in Barangay Baluno, and Sitio Canucutan in Upper Pasonanca.
ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim said that as part of the AHP, the recognized parks are expected to maintain the highest standards of managing protected areas to ensure that the very reasons they became AHPs—such as being habitats of iconic species, unique ecological features, source of ecosystem services important for the country and for Asean—will continue to exist and be sustained.
“The ACB is, of course, ready to work with the AMS [Asean member states] and dialogue and development partners of Asean in supporting actions to maintain and improve the management effectiveness of AHPs,” Lim said.
New challenges ahead
According to the ACB, protected areas designated as AHPs benefit from the capacity-building support for their key stakeholders.
AHPs, like the 10 others in the Philippines and 52 others in the Asean, are recipients of technical assistance from a network of experts and partners, and through the implementation of research, development programs and projects facilitated by the ACB.
Domiliza Campaner, the Protected Area Superintendent of PaNP, said she’s both “exited” and “apprehensive” about the distinct title accorded to the PaNP.
“Finally, we are now an AHP,” she told the BusinessMirror in an interview on July 26.
While she is excited by the new challenges in protecting the PaNP, she is also apprehensive because the stakeholders, particularly the communities living in the buffer zones, may think it means tighter rules.
According to Campaner, the designation of the PaNP as an AHP compels them to be stricter in enforcing environmental laws.
Stronger protection needed
Campaner expressed concern that stronger protection measures is needed, especially against those who harvest forest products like rattan and other economically valuable resources found within the strict protection zone, or the “no-take zone” portion of Pasonanca.
“The problem is manageable right now. But if the community will have no alternative source of income, I am afraid of what will happen next,” she said.
The PaNP’s protection largely depends on the support provided by the so-called Blue Guards of the Zamboanga City Water District. But during the pandemic, the number of the140 Blue Guards was drastically reduced to 45.
She expressed hope that the Zamboanga Water District will rehire the Blue Guards who were laid off during the pandemic, while also hoping to augment its own “Bantay Gubat” through funding support from Congress.
A potential tourist magnet in the Zamboanga Peninsula, among the tourism activities it offers, are trekking, river/swimming, bird watching, sightseeing, filming/photo shooting and camping.
But with tourism booming, best management practice is a primary requirement, but it will be another big challenge for the protectors of Pasonanca Natural Park.
Photos by ACB/PaNP
Image credits: ACB/PaNP