I met Raquel and Donna in a workshop back in May 2017. Both women are holding local government positions in charge of managing the Naujan Lake National Park (NLNP). In the workshop, local conservation practitioners like Raquel and Donna trained in the sustainable management of NLNP. Part of their work was to develop conservation and income-generating programs for their respective municipalities in support of the Biodiversity Finance Initiative’s (BIOFIN)* localization activities. The localization takes place both in Occidental and Oriental Mindoro provinces. The municipalities of Oriental Mindoro surrounding the NLNP, including Naujan, have been selected as pilot sites.
NLNP is the fifth largest lake in the Philippines covering 22,548 hectares, which translates to 24 barangays in four municipalities. Located in the northeastern part of Mindoro Island, it is recognized as one of the six Philippine sites in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
First declared as a protected area in March 27, 1956, NLNP was an initial component of the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) established through Republic Act No. 7586 in 1992.
The protected area harbors 613 plant species, 72% of which are indigenous. At least two plant species are endemic to Mindoro Island, while 37 species are endemic to the Philippines. Fourteen species are included in The National List of Threatened Philippine Plants and their Categories and in the 2012 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Four species are in the Critically Endangered category, two in the Endangered category, and seven in the Vulnerable category.
NLNP is also home to several water birds, mammals (including the Philippine endemic musky fruit bat), and an endangered freshwater crocodile. The lake itself is known for several fish species, two of which are classified as globally threatened (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). These are the Stenogobius sp. (Critically Endangered) and Puntiushemictenus (Vulnerable).
Among the major issues in NLNP are the conversion of forests for agricultural use and the booming population of park occupants. These factors cause siltation and pollution to the lake, affecting the integrity of the park’s natural resources. The need to address such issues presents an opportunity for women to take part in managing protected areas.
The indispensible role of women in protected areas’ sustainable management
According to Hill Rojas in Working with Community-Based Conservation with a Gender Focus: A Guide. Based on a mid-term evaluation of the Parks in Peril Project (1999), women are innately community leaders, organizing events and passing on environmental messages to other members of family and communities. Women also often manage household natural resources such as plants and fuel wood, for example, on a daily basis.
“If we want to achieve the real development in our area, we need to invest on women. The strength and dedication of women can transform the future generation,” said Donna Angeline C. Valdez, Provincial Project Development Officer of Oriental Mindoro.
Moreover, several studies have found that incorporating gender as a tool for protected areas and natural resources conservation and sustainable use renders positive effects, such as helping break stereotypes which restrict or limit recruitment of human assets for conservation, such as the belief that women are less capable than men; resolving conflicts of interest in the definition and management of protected areas, by recognizing the different interests and priorities of men and women; and, ensuring that women’s and men’s traditional rights over resources use in protected areas are not diminished through time as environmental projects and programs are developed.
"Women have a critical role in biodiversity management. They should be partners of men in promoting any kinds of activities relating to the Naujan Lake protected area,” shared Raquelita “Raquel” M. Umali, Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Naujan.
The on-going localization work of BIOFIN in Oriental Mindoro, particularly for the municipalities inside NLNP will result to concrete conservation plans that are supportive of the country’s national biodiversity targets. Women in conservation, such as Raquel and Donna are vital not only in the planning phase, but also in the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of these programs. (BIOFIN/ Angelique F. Ogena)
*BIOFIN seeks to close the financing gap for biodiversity conservation by developing a methodology to quantify financing needs and piloting solutions to increase investments.