INDIGENOUS PEOPLE (IP) communities in Dakeol Forest have been assured of livelihood support as protective measures are put in place with the planned declaration of part of the woodland as critical habitat. The Department of Environment and National Resources-SOCCSKSARGEN Region (DENR-12), in a statement Monday, said they have already “identified some 3,000 hectares of forest lands to be declared as ‘critical habitat.’” In a stakeholders meeting last week, DENR-12 officials asked the IP representatives from the village of Batian for their full support to the forest’s protection while addressing concerns on allowance for volunteer forest guards and livelihood programs. The area is home mostly to the Tboli, who are engaged in hog farming, sugarcane, and upland rice production. “Establishing Dakeol Forest as a critical habitat is for your benefit… We are partners in the protection of Dakeol,” said Elizabeth Ramos, chairperson of the civil society group Maitum Advocates for Sustainable Environment (MASE).

The forest is the nesting site of a Philippine Eagle named Sarangani Pride, which was rescued in the village in 2017. It is also home to various flora and fauna such as red lauan, wild orchids, ferns, bats, birds, and monkeys. A profiling of the species will be undertaken by DENR-12 this year as part of preparations for the inclusion of Dakeol Forest in the list of critical habitat areas by 2021. Last February 4, DENR-12, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of Kiamba, and the local government of Maitum signed an agreement for the creation of a multi-sectoral task force that will implement environmental protection measures and the establishment of a central nursery in Maitum. “The agreement will address the issues on social conflicts, environmental, and economic problems, thru establishing the DENR-LGU (local government unit) central nursery which shall provide livelihood to the upland dweller and other interested people’s organization of the town,” DENR-12 said. — MSJ