Conservation advocates on Tuesday called on the government to stop tree-cutting activities in Mount Makahabol-Alikoson Conservation Area, an ancient nesting site of the Philippine eagle, the country’s national bird.

Led by Haribon Foundation, they are calling on DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu to direct the regional and local levels of the DENR offices to stop the cutting of 121 old-growth trees and protect what they described as an ancient nesting site of the Philippine eagle, scientifically called Pithecophaga jefferyi, a critically-endangered species.

Haribon expressed support behind the move of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), civil society organizations, and indigenous peoples to stop the cutting of 121 old-growth trees in the area, which has been designated as an environmentally critical watershed domain measuring 8,819 hectares.

Haribon noted that based on the PEF’s efforts, a pair of Philippine Eagles raised at least 12 younglings in five nesting trees within the area.

“It has been doing so since 1986. Based on their oral history, the Obu Manuvu has always observed the banog (local name of the Philippine eagle) in the region since time immemorial,” Haribon said in a news statement.

The Philippine Eagle Integrated Conservation Plan of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and its partners are tasked to search for, record, and protect the nesting trees to allow the Philippine Eagle population to survive and thrive. Our national bird has been one of the key indicators of forest health. The continuous decline of these raptors is consequent to the decline of forest cover.

There are only around 400 Philippine Eagles left in the wild. A pair of adult Philippine Eagles needs at least 10 hectares of old-growth forest to successfully breed and raise a chick. Upon giving birth, the pair will raise the chick for two years before it goes out on its own. The cutting of the 121 old-growth trees, ancient nest trees, and eventual forest loss is akin to stealing the home of our national bird.

By law, the Philippine Eagle and its nesting trees should be protected under the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001 or Republic Act 9147—with the DENR taking the lead role.

Apart from Mount Makabol-Alikoson being a home to the mighty Philippine Eagles, the conservation area provides ecosystem services, such as clean water to more than 1.8 million inhabitants of Davao City alone. Clean water is a universal human right.

It also serves as home to other endemic wildlife that can only be found in the Philippines, such as the Southern Rufous Hornbill and Yellow-crowned Flowerpecker. The DENR, in partnership with civil society organizations, is responsible for designating and managing protected areas like the Mount Makabol-Alikoson Conservation Area.

“In light of the recently concluded Conference of Parties 26 (COP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), we need all our forests to combat the effects of climate change. Forests sequester carbon and reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases, provide clean water, and serve as green shields against stronger and more frequent typhoons due to climate change,” Haribon said.

With the Philippines being one of the signatories and having pledged during the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, it does not bode well for any government agency to the cutting of trees, especially in environmentally critical areas for both biodiversity and the people. The DENR has just submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution to the convention with our forests as important resources to fight the onslaught of climate change.

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