While Manila’s Water Supply is Under Threat, Forest Rangers Defending It with Their Lives Lack Supplies

Have you ever spared a thought as to where our precious water comes from? Or you only think about it when the water supply is cut off (as it did for several days in many parts of Metro Manila in August last year)? The water suddenly became murky, forcing Maynilad to limit water distribution as it tried to filter out the huge volume of sediment in the water.

As it turned out, deforestation and the monsoon rains causing soil erosion of the surrounding mountains were too blame.

According to UP Mountaineering member, Fredd Ochavo, illegal logging and kaingin (deliberate burning of forests) are rampant at the Ipo watershed, which supplies most of the water needs of Metro Manila. Located within Bulacan and Rizal, it has a total area of 7,236 hectares, consisting of public forest lands.

Fredd Ochavo Ipo watershed

The Ipo Watershed is jointly managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Although reforestation efforts are being undertaken, the World Wildlife Fund reports that forest cover has actually dropped from 85% to 40% in recent years.

Reforestation sites are often destroyed, says Fredd, who together with fellow mountaineers has been planting trees in Ipo watershed for a decade. He reveals that even the old growth forests with unique ecosystems are being destroyed. Even if forests can actually regenerate on its own, he says, they cannot do so if they are repeatedly being burned or cut down.

Fredd Ochavo Ipo watershed - kaingin

Forest arsonists were here. The Ipo watershed goes through a vicious cycle of reforestation and deforestation.

This is how the forest rangers of Ipo, or the Bantay Gubat of the DENR and MWSS, play a crucial role.

Not only do they guard the forests against slash-and-burn farmers, charcoal makers, and timber poachers, they nurture tree saplings. They weed, make sure the grass does not choke the baby trees, and they monitor the trees’ growth. Their work is one of endurance and backbreaking work, patrolling for days and walking as much as 20 kilometers each day through rain or shine, at day and night.

Bantay Gubat Ipo watershed by Fredd Ochavo

Meet the forest rangers of Ipo. Green thumbs up to them for doing their best to protect the forests despite meager pay, frequently delayed salaries, and lack of proper gear.

Sometimes they encounter armed men, defending themselves with just an itak (machete). They live under minimum wage and they do not receive life insurance from the government. Often, their salaries are held for months or years.

There are about 50 Bantay Gubat living with their families in the watershed, says Fredd. Most are Dumagats, some are Remontados (half dumagat, half “unat”) and a few are non-IP (indigenous people).

Bantay Gubat Ipo watershed by Fredd Ochavo

The Bantay Gubat nurtures, keeping watch over seedlings and saplings so they will grow to maturity.

The UP Mountaineers is trying to ease the lives and work of the forest rangers by calling our attention to their needs. Fredd says they need hiking gear like backpacks, headlamps, trekking pants, hammocks, tarps, and Nalgene water bottles. Previously loved is fine as long as the items are still sturdy.

But more than these physical items, the Bantay Gubat need to know that we care, says Fredd.

The donations are a huge morale booster for the Bantay Gubat because they feel that they are being supported by people from Metro Manila…  In spite of these challenges, they still continue to sacrifice their life and limb to protect the forests that supply us with precious water.

For me, the Bantay Gubat forest rangers are heroes, deserving of honor and so much more. I hope the WhenInManila.com community will heed this appeal and help provide them with their needed gear at least. If you will not do it for the Bantay Gubat, do it for love of water. Do it for love of life.

To donate, leave a message with the UP Mountaineers through their Facebook Page. Fredd does meet ups every Friday, 5:30pm, at the tambayan place of the group at the north wing of the UP Main Library in Diliman, Quezon City. He is also willing to accommodate meetups in Fairview or Commonwealth Avenue.

Fredd Ochavo Bantay Gubat Ipo with children

People may also donate school supplies for the Bantay Gubat’s children.

Photo credit: Fredd Ochavo

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