THE Mt. Kitanglad Range Protected Area was declared as an ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Heritage Park during the 11th annual meeting of ASEAN ministers of environment in Singapore.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza, who attended the meeting, successfully batted for the inclusion of the park as it is one of the priority protected areas in the Philippines established by law.

“Mt. Kitanglad range contains a wide range of biodiversity that represents the ASEAN region,” Atienza said. “It is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, about half of which is unique to the area,” he added.

Mt. Kitanglad joins 27 other ASEAN Heritage Parks and the third in the Philippines after Mt. Apo in Davao and Mt. Iglit-Baco in Oriental Mindoro. It covers seven (7) municipalities and a city in Bukidnon, namely: Talakag consisting of 4,945 ha., Baungon (3,157 ha), Libona (6,196 ha), Manolo Fortich (595 ha), Sumilao (3,532 ha), Lantapan (7,912 ha), Impasug-ong (1,985 ha) and Malaybalay City (2,317 ha).

Covering an estimated area of 30,642.0 hectares, Mt. Kitanglad was declared a protected area in 2000 by virtue of Republic Act No. 8978. It is the habitat of the Philippine Eagle, which is considered one (1) of the largest eagles in the world and the most endangered. It is also where rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world, is found.

About 80 percent of the residents in the area are populated by indigenous peoples, such as Manobos, Talaandig, Higaonon, Matigsalug and Umayamnon.

Atienza said Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was “very excited and optimistic” that the declaration will further enhance the government’s efforts in not only conserving the country’s biodiversity but also in preserving the culture and tradition of the region.

According to Atienza, scientists have discovered a source of anti-malaria drug in the bark of Cinchona tree which can be found in the area.

Mt. Dulang-dulang, the highest point in the Mt. Kitanglad range at 2,938 meters above sea level, is a sacred place where indigenous people hold rituals of thanksgiving to the spirits.

Under the ASEAN Heritage Parks program, protected areas with unique, diverse, and outstanding value are given the highest recognition as an ASEAN Heritage Park.

The program aims to promote conservation of the region’s natural heritage. (DENR)

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