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Cong Dong, government agencies formulate measures vs forest fires

Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga 3rd District Representative Aurelio “Dong” D. Gonzales, Jr. on Thursday conducted an interagency consultative meeting with regional government agencies to discuss plans, interventions and mitigation measures to address forest fires, one of which recently razed parts of the Mt. Arayat Protected Landscape (MAPL) in the province.

During the months of February, April and May of this year, forest fires razed a portion of the Protected Landscape located in the boundaries of the municipalities of Arayat and Magalang, and destroyed an estimated 132 hectares of land.

At the onset, Rep. Gonzales said that he has championed for the passage of Republic Act No. 11684 or the Mt. Arayat Protected Landscape in recognition of the richness of the biological resources, both flora and fauna, that are native and distinct to Mt. Arayat and to discuss best practices in nursing it back to its pristine state which were damaged by both natural and man-made disasters.

During the meeting, the regional offices discussed the actions they have undertaken to address said incident. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office III reported that the fire allegedly came from the burning of unwanted weeds for vegetable planting within the area. As per their incident report, 102.13 hectares of the National Greening Program identified sites within the protected area in Arayat were razed; while 30.50 hectares were damaged in the Magalang side.

The DENR said they have immediately coordinated with the provincial Bureau of Fire Protection, Forest Extension Officers and other personnel in leading the fire suppression team. They have likewise conducted a Forest Fire Prevention and Mitigation Response Management Training with representatives from the 11 barangays within the Mt. Arayat protected area as well as other stakeholders.

The body was informed that some occupants outside of the MAPL were recipients of the Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) by the Department of Agrarian Reform. It was then suggested by Rep. Gonzales that the DENR coordinate with the Local Government Units (LGU) of Arayat and Magalang to educate and inform the beneficiaries on the responsible use of land to prevent recurrence of forest fires and to strictly comply with the existing laws on environmental protection.

He also recommended that the DENR coordinate with the two LGUs to resolve the issue on the illegal occupation within the protected area. Rep. Gonzales also called the attention of the agency on the delineation issue relative to the boundaries of the two municipalities.

Rep. Dong has observed that the boundary issue has been a factor in the protection and security of the Mt. Arayat Protected Area.

On the other hand, the Bureau of Fire Protection Pampanga Provincial Office identified safety measures to counter forest fire, and suggested for the education of inhabitants on the peril of negligent human activities. They likewise pushed for the procurement of Water Misting Machines which are proven to be effective in putting out fires in the urban and rural areas. They also recommended the establishment of Forest Firefighting team composed of local forest rangers in each barangays.

On the part of the Department of Agriculture, they committed to provide trainings of various composting methods to avoid the kaingin system being carried out by CLOA holders. The agency informed the body that the DA Regional Office III has an existing composting facility to encourage small-scale composting practices in the region.

During the meeting, Rep. Gonzales had a phone conversation with Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, who affirmed his commitment on the bamboo planting project in Mt. Arayat.

Aside from issues on forest fires, the Senior Deputy Speaker likewise discussed the intervention of the various agencies in preparation for the rainy season.

The Department of Public Works and Highways, headed by Regional Director Roseller Tolentino reported that they have already prepared the Detailed Engineering Design of the Debris-Flow Barrier designed to mitigate the impact of debris flows and protect infrastructure and communities. Rep. Gonzales assured the Department that he will prioritize funding of this program.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau likewise has programs in place to prevent water induced landslides like procurement of rain-gauges and drone equipment in the entire district for early warning prevention and monitoring.