About 130 km and some two-and-half hours drive from the country’s most famous landmark, the Luneta Park in Manila, the Bataan National Park (BNP) in Bataan province is considered as one of Luzon’s popular tourist destinations.

It serves as home to a variety of unique and endangered plant and animal wildlife and boasts of tourism facilities developed over the years, which make it stand out as a natural park.

The more than 20,000 hectares park is covered with tropical jungle and mountain terrains with unique geological features like rivers, springs and waterfalls.

The endemic Rafflesia manillania, a unique large and pungent flower that
blooms once in 10 years can be found in BNP.

Bataan’s oldest

First proclaimed as a national park in 1945 through Proclamation 24, BNP is one of the oldest protected areas in the Philippines.

Its status as a protected area was reaffirmed by President Duterte when he signed Republic Act 11038, also known as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (Enipas) on June 22, 2018, being one of the 97 legislated protected areas listed under the law.

The protectors of BNP expect regular funding to boost the number of Bantay Gubat from 15 to 30, and a workforce that is specially dedicated to running and managing the park.

The park is shared by a total of 19 barangays from the six municipalities of Bagac, Morong, Abucay, Samal, Orani and Hermosa in Bataan.

Not to be confused, the Bataan National Park, is a natural park because of its vast expanse, said Don Guevarra, the chief information officer for Central Luzon of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). He explained that with its around 20,000 hectares qualifies BNP under the natural park category.

Key biodiversity area, old growth forest

Along with the Subic Bay Forest Reserve, the BNP was declared a key biodiversity area (KBA), as well.

A site overview of the two areas stated that the Subic Bay Forest Reserve and the Bataan National Park are “KBA’s of international significance.”

The reason is that in the BNP is the remaining residual old-growth forest in the Zambales Biogeographical Zone.

“[There are] notable flora and fauna found in BNP, such as dipterocarp species, endemic and threatened species [like the] green-faced parrot, Philippines warty pig, Philippines brown deer, mountain rose and fire orchids,” states a profile of the BNP obtained by the BusinessMirror from the DENR Central Luzon.

Major watersheds

In Bataan, protecting and conserving the BNP cannot be overemphasized. It is a major source of fresh water that supplies farms and provides a life support system for the diverse wildlife that thrive in the park.

Freshwater shrimps and native snails and different species of frogs are commonly found within the park.

Likewise, a total of seven watersheds are found within the area.

These are the Morong River, Almacen, Talisay, Bagac, Kabayo, Sutuin and Bayandati watersheds. Combined, they cover a total of 22,976.58 hectares of the all-important watershed area.

Rich biodiversity

Birds of prey are often spotted in the BNP, a proof that the area has plenty of prey to choose from for these high-flying feathered hunters.

The BNP also hosts a still undetermined population of palm civet cats and cloud rats, and was found to be home to a still unknown population of large flying fox, the largest fruit bat in the world.

One unique find in the BNP is the rafflesia (Rafflesia manilllania), a unique plant with large, pungent-smelling flower that blooms only every 10 years.

Tourism potential

The BNP has a vast tourism potential because of the many recreational activities and ecotourism products and services it offers, including trekking and hiking, nature photography and viewing, camping, bird watching, picnic and swimming.

It also boasts of tourism facilities that attract visitors. It has the BNP-Marine and Terrestrial Training Center in Sitio Looc, Barangay Banawang in the Bagac side of the park, and a picnic shed in the same area.

A similar facility is also available for tourists in Sitio Binutas in Barnagay Tala, in the Orani side of the park, together with railings and path walk.

Natural attractions

The BNP boasts of a long list of natural attractions from scenic mountain peaks, unique waterfalls, unique ecosystems like caves, and all-time favorites, the lovely beaches.

It has a total of 14 waterfalls, which are all tourist magnets for nature trippers. Trekkers also climb Mt. Natib Peak, the highest peak in the BNP at 1,253 meters above sea level.

For many, the Looc beach, Matikis gulf, thermal spring found within the old caldera, the Tawawa hotspring and Bakyas hto-otspring are also not-be-missed attractions in the park.

Partnership for conservation

Interviewed by the BusinessMirror via Zoom on October 18, Merliza Torre, the Community Environment and Natural Resource Officer of Bagac, Bataan, said a key to protecting and conserving the BNP is the partnership with various people’s organizations and community-based groups.

One partnership that stands out, she said, is that for the National Greening Program (NGP).

“Bataan was a logged area and was subjected to deforestation.  Although logging has already stopped because it was declared a park, stopping extractive activities remains a challenge,” Torre, also the BNP’s concurrent Protected Area Superintendent, explained.

Continuing threats

The unbridled development in the bustling province of Bataan, according to Torre, is becoming a big problem.  Encroachment, she said, is hard to control, considering the vast expanse of the protected area.

This, she said, can also be attributed to industrialization in the province, which naturally attracts migration.

“As you may have known, Bataan has a fast-growing economy and the protected area is not a gated park so the problem is the illegal occupancy,” she said.

Other major factors that cause the park’s degradation are industrial and infrastructure development projects in the Subic Bay Metropolitan Area, Morong Special Economic Zone and the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

The environment official also said the expansion of the large coffee and mango plantations continues to threaten the BNP, aggravating the usual problem brought about by illegal logging and timber poaching, and the slash-and-burn farming activities.

‘Responsible ecotourism’

As tourism activities are being eyed as part of a long-term solution to the problems that threaten the BNP, Torre said they are closely coordinating with concerned tourism officers of the Bataan and the six BNP local governments.

More importantly, however, the DENR Central Luzon led by Guevarra is helping educate the various stakeholders of the BNP to observe environmental laws, particularly Republic Act 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act.

“We’ve seen the problem in many Protected Areas.  So our IEC Program is also focused on having responsible eco-tourists,” says Guevarra, who noted that despite the pandemic, the garbage problem seemed to have worsened, because communities in and around the BNP have added face masks and face shields in their household wastes.

“It is sad because during our coastal and river cleanups, face masks and face shield are now part of the garbage we are hauling,” Guevarra said in Filipino.

Saving Manila Bay, too

“This year, we held a lot of online lectures with the barangays as targets because they are our frontliners. The lectures gave tips on reducing plastic waste, particularly single-use plastics that are threats to BNP’s [environment],” he said,

He added that the campaign for environmental protection and conservation in Central Luzon is aligned with the ongoing Battle for Manila Bay campaign.

Guevarra said because responsible ecotourism calls for responsible waste disposal, the information, education and communication campaign revolves around keeping the BNP not only green, but more importantly, clean and ensure it is garbage-free.

“We are talking to barangays and the communities that there are ways to avoid single-use plastics. For instance, we tell them to bring a water canister and avoid bottled water. Also, we appeal to them not to use soft drink straws and plastic stirrers because these are one-time use that we can avoid using,” he said.

Image courtesy of BNP Protected Area Management Office photo

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