peatland web2The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has forged a partnership with leading telecoms and digital services provider PLDT, Inc. (PLDT) and its wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) to protect one of the country's most vital natural resources needed to combat climate change – its peatlands.

Under this agreement, the DENR, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) and CARAGA Regional Office, will work with PLDT and Smart to set up a program to protect, conserve and restore the Caimpugan Peatland in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS).

Located in Agusan del Sur, the Caimpugan Peatland holds the only recorded remaining intact peat swamp forest—the largest of its kind—in the Philippines.

The Memorandum of Agreement was signed by Ricardo L. Calderon, DENR OIC Assistant Secretary for Climate Change and concurrent Director of BMB; Hadja Didaw D. Piang-Brahim, OIC Regional Executive Director of DENR CARAGA Region; and Chaye A. Cabal-Revilla, Chief Sustainability Officer of PLDT.

What are peatlands?

Peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface. These are wetlands whose peat soils consist of carbon-rich dead and decaying plant matter. If kept wet, peatlands can store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. However, its crucial role in mitigating climate change, as well as the huge costs that arise when these natural carbon sinks are damaged, remains largely overlooked.

“Little is known about our country’s peatlands. Now is the time to change the course of conversation, as well as the conservation of this natural treasure and steer our collaborative efforts towards creating a climate-resilient future,” ASec. Calderon said. “This peatland conservation partnership is our unique chance to secure that promising future for all.”

Applying technology to peatland conservation

The three-year extendable project to be implemented by PLDT-Smart through its Chief Sustainability Office until 2023 aims to strengthen and support the AMWS-Protected Area Management Office and other concerned DENR offices in implementing peatland conservation and management strategies under the AMWS Management Plan.

Aside from applying various technologies for peatland assessment, monitoring and enforcement activities, PLDT and Smart through its Gabay Kalikasan program will implement Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) programs and activities to increase knowledge and appreciation of the value of these fragile ecosystems.

“As the first private company in the Philippines to engage with DENR on peatlands conservation, we at PLDT will contribute our expertise to produce innovations that can help conserve and restore these ecosystems,” Cabal-Revilla said.

Community involvement for sustainable collaboration

Community involvement is a central theme in this long-term collaboration. Program activities under the agreement were jointly developed with the representatives from the Provincial Government of Agusan del Sur and the municipal government of San Francisco and Talacogon; barangay officials from Caimpugan, New Visayas, Causwagan, Maharlika, La Flora and Sabang
Gibong; and members of the Caimpugan Native Farmers and Fisherfolks Multipurpose Cooperative (CANFFMULCO).

The project also aims to engage wetland-dependent communities in a sustainable and biodiversity-friendly livelihood program, which is only one of many community improvements to come with this new partnership.

“Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention, recognized as a Heritage Park by the ASEAN, and legislated as a National Park by the Philippine government. We must join hands and combine our efforts from local to international level to maintain the ecological integrity of our globally-important peatlands,” RED Piang-Brahim said.

The internationally-recognized environmental programs of PLDT and Smart include their partnership with the UP Marine Sciences Institute (UPMSI) and Marine Environment Resources Foundation (MERF) for the benefit of 24 marine protected areas in the Philippines.

Smart's Rainforest Connection and Connected Mangroves programs, which both utilize Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and artificial intelligence to protect natural resources, were recognized in the recently-released global report of GSMA’s “Digital Dividends in Natural Resource Management.”

“All these sustainability projects are in line with our commitment to become carbon neutral,” Cabal-Revilla added.

“The climate change clock is ticking. There is no better time than now and no better weapon than a healthy peat to help level up the fight against climate change and its impacts. Through this partnership between the DENR, PLDT and Smart, a bright future for peatland conservation awaits," ASec. Calderon said.