Trust fund to help protect some of Philippines’ last primary forests

© CI/Jeanne Tabangay

Earlier this year, Human Nature shared the story of Nolsita Siyang, a farmer and mother of 10 who spends two out of every six weeks volunteering as a forest ranger, patrolling the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL) and monitoring human activities within the park covering much of her ancestral homeland.

With the launch of a new trust fund that aims to finance the management of this 120,000 hectare (almost 300,000-acre) park in perpetuity, the future of Siyang’s family and neighbors just got a little more secure.

The MMPL — the largest terrestrial protected area on the Philippine island of Palawan — was formally designated in 2009 in order to protect the island’s forest-covered mountains and the unique life and human benefits they contain from encroaching threats like mining and deforestation. Achieving zero deforestation within its borders is a major goal of the protected area.

The protected area has been identified as a key biodiversity area, providing vital habitat for the more than 1,000 species residing there, including threatened species such as the Palawan pangolin and the Philippine cockatoo. Its forests and waters also support the livelihoods of thousands of Palawan indigenous people like Siyang whose families have been living here for millennia. These communities are permitted to pursue traditional livelihoods and economic activities within 20 percent of the protected area. (See the place for yourself in the drone footage below.) 

The new fund — the first of its kind in the Philippines — was established by Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund (GCF), a program that has helped finance the protection of 81 million hectares (more than 200 million acres) of land and sea over the past 15 years. Although the MMPL fund will launch with a GCF investment of US$ 1 million, the target capitalization for the fund is at least US$ 2.7 million; Conservation International (CI) and partners are currently seeking other contributors to help reach this goal. A local environmental fund, the Philippines Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation, will be responsible for managing and investing the new trust fund.

“This innovative fund will provide sustainable financing for the long-term maintenance, protection and enrichment of the biodiversity within the protected area,” said Enrique Nunez, executive director of CI Philippines. “Essentially, investing in this fund supports livelihood diversification for the indigenous Palawan people, improving their well-being, and ensures the watershed can continue to provide fresh water to all residents of southern Palawan.”

On a smaller scale within the protected area, Siyang’s community has been taking steps to improve management on their “ancestral domain” land within the MMPL, where they continue to face persistent pressure from mining and oil palm companies interested in their land. With CI’s support and under Siyang’s leadership, the village of Raang has adopted a sustainable development and protection plan for this land that includes specific objectives related to environmental protection, community health, education, infrastructure, cultural practices and income diversification. The local government has pledged support for some of these activities, including the construction of a tribal hall and various income-generating activities.

As the trust fund grows, the protected area will gradually increase its resources and improve enforcement, which will eventually ease the burden on Siyang and her community. At that point, hopefully they can transition from volunteers to paid forest rangers.

Thanks to the village’s recent successes, Raang’s land now serves as model for other community-based conservation initiatives. A group of indigenous Batak and members of the Tagbanua tribe from other parts of Palawan recently visited the protected area to exchange ideas about wildlife sanctuary management, planting native tree species in slightly degraded forest and traditional land-use planning.

Conservation is not a new concept for the Palawan people; it’s inextricable from many of their ancient cultural traditions. In essence, the trust fund aims to make it easier for them to do what they’ve always done: live in the forest, off the forest, with the forest.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Further reading