Negros, an island torn apart


NEGROS, that little sock shaped island in the middle of the Philippines, stands separate and at odds with the rest of the country - maybe even the world.

For centuries, Negros has been a forgotten tropical island – a land where the pace flows slow and sweet as its famed sugar produce. Looking serene and at peace on the surface of its bucolic landscape. A picture perfect little paradise where people used to enjoy much on very little.

Image by Issa Urra ~ private pocket park

Living abroad for 17 years now Negros Island has always been a beloved sanctuary to return to even when some changes are surprising or unwanted. Where much of nature used to be more accessible, nowadays it necessitates a gated community to provide and protect the love of nature we used to take for granted growing up here.

Being confined at home because of the pandemic has only brought this point home more alarmingly. When lockdown was imposed and our lives were greatly restricted we were doubly grateful to have open fields to take meandering walks in. The wide sky above us to enjoy nature’s glory as we watched light and weather changes.

When increasing challenges made it difficult to get regular supplies of fresh produce having empty lots in which to grow our fruits and vegetables were a welcome relief. An added bonus was being able to slow down and enjoy all the gifts of nature that bloomed around us with less human interference and a lighter footprint.

As we were subjected to more cutbacks we looked up and out on the world - paying attention more to the natural rhythms and cycles around us. Making a more conscious effort to blend and flow, bend and weave. The local birds swooping and soaring over us were a delight and comfort - freeing us from our confines.

Posted on Nature Priority by Floyd Pison Bermejo ~ dwindling forest cover of NNNP

Negros is a strange and beautiful island - stretched lazily in the Western Visayas seas. In geography and linguistics, history and politics - there is much more than the mountain range at its center that divides the island and cuts itself off from the rest of today.

The moisture rich forests of the Philippines including the Negros-Panay region are among the most threatened of seven major biogeographic regions. Even after aggressive deforestation and human encroachment its dwindling forests still provide us with so much. The concerning spike in local highly compromised endemic avian communities is of marked alarm though.

This is an area now designated as one the world’s tenth priority conservation areas. It contains the most endemic species or subspecies that are functionally extinct or critically endangered within the whole of the Philippines.

Negros itself has only four percent of its original forest cover left – placing heavy and hugely distressing pressure on its remaining endemic species. Although a total log ban was imposed in 1983 the island forests is still plagued by illegal logging and urban encroachment.

Posted on Nature Priority by Floyd Pison Bermejo ~ a juvenile Philippine Serpent Eagle (Spilornis holospilus), sighted in Murcia, Negros Occidental

Some three million people depend on the ecosystems provided such as water for domestic use, food, livelihood, and flood control. These parks constitute the largest portion of the remaining terrestrial forest ecosystem in the island. The Bago Watershed nestles between Mount Kanla-on National Park (MKNP) and the NNNP.

The Northern Negros Natural Park (NNNP) formerly the North Negros Forest Reserve (NNFR) encompasses the municipalities of E. B. Magalona, Murcia, Toboso, Calatrava and Don Salvador Benedicto, and cities of Talisay, Silay, Victorias, Cadiz, Sagay and San Carlos.

In addition to harboring immense biological diversity the area is also a vital ecosystem for supplies and services - harboring endemic and endangered flora and fauna. It provides non-timber sustainable forest products like rattan and bamboo while protecting six vital watersheds for Negros, granting clean and regulated water supply for Bacolod City and outlying areas.

Large scale flooding from deforestation has become more common and has added to social and economic costs. In just 150 years the primary forest cover of the island has been decimated due to logging, sugar cane plantations, agriculture and urban spread.

Posted on Nature Priority by Floyd Pison Bermejo ~ Greater Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), a Philippine endemic species, a rarer sight now from being aggressively hunted

Negros Island was known in colonial times for its biodiverse tropical hardwood forests. Towering trees sheltered rare endemic plants and animals that generously provided valuable interlaced ecosystems to its residents.

The Negritos that the Spanish explorers saw when they first arrived in the island they named Negros were Eatas – local hunter-gatherers and not nomadic like the Aetas. An ancient culture handed down for centuries by their ancestors who were the original inhabitants of Negros Island.

Their life in the mountains of Negros is an interwoven and layered collaboration of ecological shepherding. Despite being exposed to modernization, lowlanders and urban encroachment they remain rooted in their ancient practices. The forest is central to their way of life and they honor and protect it as its resources are theirs too.

The local conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts are much needed advocates and warriors for this ecological and biodiverse environment. Stunning stories like that of wildlife photographer, aircraft pilot, and fellow Ilonggo Floyd Pison Bermejo give us hope and inspiration

Nature enthusiast, photographer, pilot, and conservationist, Floyd Pison Bermejo and his iconic harobon image

His sweet and funny tale of how his eagle photo ended up on the face of our new thousand peso bill is both incredible and cautionary. His journey tracks how he started his photography as a wildlife and birding enthusiast in 2014. His now iconic portrait of the Haring Ibon, Imbulog, was taken in Davao in 2017. Yet it was only in 2022 that he was finally contacted by the Philippine Central Bank for its use on our currency.

In the meantime he faced years of rejection when he tried selling the image initially. He was blatantly plagiarized and copies of his image illegally profited from. Lucky for us his love and dedication only grew as threats to the environment continued to increase unabated.

The shoreline of Dauin in Negros Oriental by Floyd Pison Bermejo

With the help and support of local and international training organizations and foundations Captain Bermejo’s commitment and participation continues. He had even generously donated part of his profits to fund their ongoing projects. Kudos to folks like him!

We hope all our Eata communities and valuable local heroes are fully supported in retaining this culture and environment. It is sad how this is often mistakenly viewed as poor by current skewed standards when in truth there is much we can learn from them to be mutually enriched.

It is in all our interests to protect this from exploitation so it continues to provide a better future for us all. Where we can continue to feast on the beauty of nature and her enriching symphony of sights and sounds.

Text by: Issa Urra

Photos by: Capt. Floyd Pison Bermejo

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