Philippines’ Mount Hamiguitan range wildlife sanctuary a new UNESCO world heritage site

By on June 25, 2014

Mt. Hamiguitan's peak / Wikipedia Photo
Mt. Hamiguitan’s peak / Wikipedia Photo

MANILA — After six years of documentation and evaluation, the Philippines gained another World Heritage Site as the 38th Session of the World Heritage Committee formally inscribed the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List.

Mount Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental was found to fulfill a criterion proving its Outstanding Universal Value, which celebrates “the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.”

It occupies the land area within the political boundaries of Mati, San Isidro and Governor Generoso towns.

In addition, the World Heritage Committee lauded the property’s authorities for their inclusive management practices that brought together various community stakeholders in protecting the site.

With the inscription, Mount Hamiguitan is officially the 6th World Heritage Site in the Philippines, joining the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Baroque Churches of the Philippines, Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and the Historic City of Vigan.

Natural Treasure

Mount Hamiguitan is famed for its unique bonsai field or pygmy forest of 100-year old trees which is sustained by an ultramafic soil. It is also home to 1380 plant and animal species, including 341 that are endemic to the Philippines. These include the orchid Paphiopedilum adductum, the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematurogypia) and the iconic Philippine eagle or Pithecophaga jefferyi.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, the mountain range “provides a sanctuary to a host of globally threatened and endemic flora and fauna species, eight of which are found nowhere else except in Mount Hamiguitan.”

It further adds that the property “represents complete, substantially intact and highly diverse mountain ecosystem”, and acknowledges the bonsai forest as an “epitome of nature’s bid to survive in adverse conditions.”

The property’s inscription comes at the heels of a long process that began in 2009, and has along the way highlighted the stellar conservation and management practices on the mountain.

Inclusive Management

“Fifteen years after the last inscription, we are thrilled at the approval of Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which makes it the sixth from the Philippines,” said Dr. Virginia Miralao, Secretary General of the Philippines National Commission for UNESCO.

The original nomination for Mount Hamiguitan was submitted in February 2012, after three years of extensive documentation and management planning. Conservation bodies noted at the time that the property needed to address issues affecting its integrity, such as outstanding land claims and the inclusion of a buffer zone.

In response, the property stakeholders embarked on consolidating support for the nomination from the communities on the ground, with leaders of indigenous groups and representatives from volunteer park rangers and forest guards, provincial government officials and heads of national agencies.

National Pride

The inscription of Mount Hamiguitan ushers in a positive start for the Philippines’ membership in the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, an inter-governmental body in charge of directing the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

The Head of the Philippine Delegation to the 38th Session, Philippine Ambassador to France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Ambassador Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro thanked the members of the Committee for adopting the resolution to inscribe Mount Hamiguitan and expressed her appreciation to the IUCN and the World Heritage Centre for their valuable support to the nomination.

Davao Oriental Governor Corazon N. Malanyaon led the Mount Hamiguitan nomination team in accepting the inscription. Also joining the Philippine Delegation were NatCom Commissioners Michael Manalo and Eric Zerrudo, National Museum Assistant Director Dr. Ana Labrador, Dr. Domingo Madulid (retired National Museum official), members of the Permanent Delegation of the Philippines to UNESCO and the Philippines National Commission for UNESCO secretariat.