Bantay Kalikasan

Paradise Closed

Helen de Castro
May 12, 2020

Imagine being in a 330,300-hectare nature park - home to 215 bird species, 38 mammal species, 51 reptile and amphibian species, and over 1,000 species of plants – overlooking thick tropical forests and inhaling the freshest of air at the height of the summer season.  Tempted to pack your bags and book a flight? Unfortunately, you can’t. 

Like all tourist spots around the globe, the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) closed down and experienced a huge drop in visitors as the COVID-19 crisis crept in dramatically. Outdoor getaways suddenly became a distant dream as the world stood still for over two months now.

Photo courtesy: Lemuel Palajero

Nestled in the vast natural park in Samar is the Paranas Ecotrail and Birding Site, an assisted project of Bantay Kalikasan, the environmental program of ABS-CBN Foundation.  

This paradise offers a number of activities that make one appreciate the second largest terrestrial-protected area from within its forests.

It has a 1-km trek tour activity with five pit-stops that showcase the area’s flora and fauna and its endemic species. There’s also a viewing deck in one of the stations for tourists to witness SINP’s rolling terrain, observe the birds and hear their sweet humming. 

In the last station, they built three tree houses made of indigenous materials, two of which are interconnected with a 30-meter hanging bridge. One can also sit peacefully in a meditation area and just take in the surrounding’s natural beauty.  

Photo courtesy: Lemuel Palajero

Unfortunately, the ecotrail is currently closed due to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) -- just when its community is looking forward to another season of income-generating months that could have benefited hundreds of families.

The Tenani Association for Women and Development (TAWAD), an organization engaged in child protection and human trafficking, is the group that operates and manages the Paranas Ecotrail and Birding Site together with Tour Guides and Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO). Because of the ECQ, members of the group lost opportunities to earn a living. Nevertheless, some of them took this as another chance to be of service to others, most especially to their ka-barangay.

"Masaya at enjoy sa pagiging volunteer dahil feeling namin na mas kapaki-pakinabang kami sa komunidad,” Elizabeth “Beth” Doza, TAWAD President, shared her experience as a volunteer for the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT). They also weren’t spared from situations that, let’s just say, brought the community together despite social distancing rules. 

“Dito sa aming barangay, ang (cellular network) signal ay nasa isang area lamang. Ang mga tao ay hindi masaway sa pag-uumpukan sa may signal. Dahil dito, naghigpit ang barangay at hinimok ang mga tao na kanya-kanyang hanap ng signal muna. Ako, as People’s Organization President and volunteer, kami ay pinapayagan doon sa (area na may) signal basta official ang aming sadya. Naging dahilan ito ng isang lasing na sugurin kami sa Barangay Hall, katuwiran na kung pagbawalan ang mga tao, dapat pati kami ay bawal din.”

Who would’ve thought that their barangay had pockets of areas with cellular network that were discovered only when they were forced to look? Problem solved for Beth and her team, but the community had more to tackle. 

Beth Doza speaks to the community during an event in Paranas Ecotrail and Birding Site.

“Nag-aalala kami para sa aming sarili at sa pamilya... Kulang sa pagkain, sa ibang pangangailangan tulad ng ulam, pagkain ng mga hayop at iba pa,” shared Beth. 

These problems faced by their community challenged Beth and her team to find solutions that will help them in this crisis. 

“Gumawa kami ng paraan na makapanghingi ng tulong sa aming lokal at iba pang ahensya, tulad ng relief goods at vegetable seeds para sa aming ka-barangay at ka-miyembro.” 

It is in these trying times that the community’s strength is tested, hopeful that they will emerge more tenacious and more determined to be contributing members of their circle. 

In the face of uncertainty, Beth is still motivated to look forward to better days. 

“(Palalakasin namin) ang adbokasiya hinggil sa paghahanda sa anumang sakunang darating. Hihikayatin (namin na) mas maging aktibo ang mga miyembro sa anumang gawaing kapaki-pakinabang sa asosasyon at sa komunidad.”

Their group shows much courage to even be able to volunteer despite their own concerns within their families; a true mark of committed citizens who go beyond what is expected of them. 

While we expect a “new normal” after this global health crisis, the community hopes that they will still be able to expect the usual number of tourists visiting them yearly, even more if possible. While uncertainty looms in the horizon, we Filipinos still have that affinity with local social enterprises that will hopefully be enough to help such communities rise again. 

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