OGCC backs up Agusan del Sur water district’s struggle to Save Mt. Magdiwata watershed


by Ben Serrano

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur- The Office of the Government Corporate Counsel is now taking the cudgels in the decades old effort of San Francisco Water District to save Mt. Magdiwata watershed. The OGCC filed last December 18, 2019 a Manifestation or Opposition to the on-going application of Certificate of Ancestral Domain.

In its six-page manifestation signed by OGCC corporate counsel Elpidio J. Vega, assistant corporate counsel Dominador R. Isidoro and OGCC corporate attorney Arvin Dominic M. Belando addressed to the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), LGU-San Francisco and the Omaubao Manobo tribe claimed that the 1,638-hectare watershed should be exempted in the grant of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

The LGU-San Francisco and the Omaubao Manobo tribe cited several attempts for destructive mining activities within watershed or within perimeter boundaries of the declared watershed areas.

POLITIKO was furnished authenticated copies of the opposition.

Mt. Magdiwata Watershed was proclaimed as Forest Reserve by former President Fidel V. Ramos thru Presidential Proclamation no. 282 dated October 25, 1993.

It is the only source of potable water supply of the growing in population and progressing San Francisco town.

San Francisco Water District Board of Directors passed various resolutions for the protection of the watershed like Resolution No. 7, s. 2013 “ Strongly Opposing Mining Operations and Requesting for the Immediate Cancellation of all Mining Applications and Permits Granted by Concerned Government Agencies within the One (1) Kilometer Distance from the Boundary of Mount Magdiwata Watershed and Forest Reserve.

It also unanimously approved a resolution requesting NCIP, DENR, Provincial Governor’s Office of Agusan del Sur, Vice-Governor’s Office, Sangguniang Panlalawigan Office, Mayor’s Office, Sangguniang Bayan’s Office, DENR-CENRO San Francisco Agusan del Sur, Environment and Natural Resources Council of LGU-SFADS and other Concerned Agencies, to Exclude Mount Magdiwata Watershed Forest Reserve Area for any Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) Application”.

Then Agusan del Sur Governor Adolph Edward Plaza now a congressman and present Governor Santiago Cane promised protection of the watershed as it was the only source of potable water supply of growing and business hub town of San Francisco.

Engr. Elmer Luzon, general manager of San Francisco Water District
(SFWD) told POLITIKO that mining firms like PHILSAGA Mining although not within the watershed area were operating within boundary areas of Mt. Magdiwata watershed.

Opposition has also mounted over the inclusion of the protected Mt. Magdiwata watershed here in the 7,800-hectare ancestral domain being claimed by the Manobo tribe.

The tribe, through Oyay Mansaloay Antod Ogow Bando Ugong (Omaubao) Tribal Clan Organization, has applied for a CADT over the area which, when granted, empowers it to have primary say over resource use.

Luzon feared destruction of the watershed if its use would be left to the
discretion of the tribe. He said the tribe’s leaders reportedly consented to the entry of mining operations in the area without regard to other users.

San Francisco Municipal Council and the local parish of the Roman Catholic church here are also opposing moves giving the tribe sole discretion over Mt. Magdiwata.

Mineral exploration and production plots circled the Mt. Magdiwata watershed area, based on a mining tenements control map of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in the Caraga region.

SFWD worked in the last three decades to rehabilitate the watershed, which was a logged-over area.

From what used to be only 41 percent forest cover (695 hectares), its greening initiatives brought it to 95-percent coverage today.

But Bardo “Datu Hag-um” Bando, one of Omaubao leaders and a town councilor sitting as indigenous peoples mandatory representative, assured residents that they would not damage Mt. Magdiwata.