Coron, Palawan

The Calamianes group of islands includes the four municipalities that make up Northern Palawan – Coron, Busuanga, Culion, and Linapacan. These areas are often referred to as the last ecological frontier in the Philippines with their rich biodiversity, white sand beaches, karst mountains, lakes, and coral reefs. The municipality of Coron, in particular, has become a prime location for tourism, among other livelihood and economic activities that are highly dependent upon their rich natural resources. The devastation from Typhoon Haiyan brought to light the dire need for a response to the changing climate, as well as the environmental degradation caused by illegal deforestation and fishing activities and mismanaged ecosystems and resources.

Through the leadership of the Coron local government, and spearheaded by Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer (MDRRMO) Engineer Fernando Lopez, they embarked on a concerted effort to develop a genuinely community-based assessment of risks and hazards felt by their communities. In the face of overwhelming sea level rise, increasing temperature, intense typhoons and unsustainable livelihood practices, they identified two critical elements to address: their scarce fresh water resource, and their vulnerable livelihoods. Then, together as a community, they set about addressing these concerns.

“By 2030, there will be a significant lack of water for drinking and household purposes in the Calamianes islands. We have to act now as our livelihoods depend on our environment.” -Teodorico de Guia, Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA)-PAGE/CRWSA

In 2018, the Tagbanua communities in the barangays of Tara, Buenavista and Malawig (TBM), paved the way by piloting a community-based water management system. The 3R strategy focuses on enhancing the Recharge, Retention and Reuse of groundwater and rainwater through ecosystem based interventions that can be modified to the needs of the local community. An innovative example from the experience of Malawig is the use of simple infiltration techniques by using rock piles to allow for improved infiltration of rainfall or run-off into the ground which will then allow for more ground water when the long-dry season arrives. Strategies such as this were paired with rainwater harvesting tanks, forest conservation activities like building nurseries and various ecosystem based livelihood programs, through barangay level Watershed Management Committees (WMC) recognized by both the local government units and Tagbanua tribal councils.  The success of these initiatives has since inspired the same innovations in other LGUs with similar challenges.

“I have many jobs in our village. I am a village officer, the head of the 3R group, and just recently I became a forest warden volunteer. Any job that involves the protection of our land and our forest, I will be happy and willing to take. Our ancestors told us long ago that our land is our life, the waters, the trees, the sea needs to be protected. As long as I have the strength, I will do whatever I can, take on any job in our community to fulfil that. For me, my village, and our children.”Tatay Clemencio, Malawig village councilor, deputized forest warden.

There was a resounding realization that it was crucial for local actors to work together to achieve resilience. With the help of Partners for Resilience, the 4 LGUs organized the Calamianes Resilience Network (CRN), a multi-sectoral network that collaborates to preserve and protect the ecosystems, and communities and cultural heritage from disaster and climate change risks. The network consists of 43 member organizations from across the four municipalities including local government units, national agencies, academe, communities, and civil society and people’s organizations. Together, they have co-sponsored the first Calamianes community-managed water summit which showcased joint efforts, such as that of TBM for both private and public stakeholders. Through these initiatives, they seek to demonstrate feasibility of best practices and create a platform for capacity building and collaboration. They further aim to support in the development of region-wide disaster management, water management and coastal resource management plans.

Even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, CRN has been a critical platform  in addressing the needs of the Calamianes Region. Member organizations instigated humanitarian response initiatives, in partnership with the LGUs, reaching far flung barangays with WASH stations and IEC campaigns. In the absence of tourist activities, and reduced income from native products of Seked, even the Tagbanua weavers transitioned to producing reusable cloth facemasks in an effort to support protective gear for mothers and children in their communities. 

Their active resource mobilization has also led to continued support not only to their response needs, but in elevating resilience strategies and building on the successful watershed management strategies by the TBM communities. In 2020, the forest wardens have become well known as the 3R manigtuldok, which is the Tagbanua term for educator; they are actively conducting watershed assessments, trainings, and demonstrations of 3R strategies and techniques in all municipalities of the Calamianes region as part of the Increase Calamianes (IC) Resilience project supported by Partners for Resilience and Forest Foundation Philippines. It is their hope that in the coming years, both the climate resilience and integrated watershed management strategies piloted in Coron, will be successfully implemented in Busuanga, Cullion and Linapacan. 

For more information on specific activities by the Calamianes Resilience Network, visit their website here


Integrated Watershed Management by Tagbanua Tribes in Coron, Palawan

(Photos by Juan Miguel Torres)