Puerto Princesa: From leper colony to global eco-tourism city

by Arnell Ozaeta, ABS-CBN Southern Tagalog

Posted at Jul 03 2012 09:19 PM | Updated as of Jul 04 2012 05:19 AM

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines- Thousands of people climbed the mountains of Irawan to plant trees as part of the celebration of the city's "Pista Y Ang Cagueban"(Feast of the Forest) last Saturday.

Led by Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn and Ms Earth Beauty pageant winners, around 50,000 joined in planting the 2-millionth tree, marking the 21st year of the feast celebration.

Participants were brought to the site as early as 5 a.m. from the Puerto Princesa City Coliseum. Free rides on military trucks, buses, jeepneys and other modes of transportation were provided.

The festive event sought to rehabilitate over 200 hectares of ravaged forest cover of Barangays Irawan and Sta. Lourdes by planting more than 1,000 fast-growing and fruit-bearing trees to prevent its soils from eroding.

Irawan is a watershed area that serves as a major source potable water of the city.

The forest rehabilitation in Puerto Princesa is also in line with President Noynoy Aquino’s vision of planting 1.5 billion trees covering 1.5 milion hectares all over the country.

"I was so austounded, in so many years that we've been planting trees, this is my first time to see so many people, mga naglalakad with smiles on their faces," Hegedorn said.

Hagedorn, who is on his last term as mayor of Puerto Princesa, is confident that his vision will be followed through by his predecessor.

"Alam ko we have created enough awareness among the people, lalo na sa mga bata, nakikita ko na sila ang magdadala ng ating programa sa hinaharap," Hagedorn said.

From a leper colony to eco-tourism city

More than 20 ago, Puerto Princesa city known for its leper colony and for being an island inhabited by the most hardened criminals.

When Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn took over the helm of the city as the first non-Puerto Princesa-born mayor, he was also the first to take the lead in protecting and conserving the environment and rehabilitating the ravaged natural resources of the city, transforming it into a global eco-tourism city.

Hagedorn admitted that before he became mayor, his family owned and operated one of the biggest logging concessions in the city.

"We were the first logging operator and mining claimants here in Puerto Princesa and upon realizing the destructive effects of the deed, yun ang naging turning point of my life. So after the people voted me as city mayor, I made a vow to protect, preserve and restore the city's natural resources most especially the environment," Hagedorn added.

To promote the rehabilitation and conservation of Puerto Princesa's forests and marine ecology, the city initiated Bantay Puerto or Puerto Princesa Watch, composed mainly of civilian volunteers and employees, supported by police personnel handpicked for their integrity.

Hagedorn changed the culture of apathy and indifference of the people of Puerto Princesa toward an environment threatened by abuse and exploitation to a culture of commitment to actively participate in the protection of the environment and sustainable development of the city’s natural resources.

Hagedorn said they have yet to survey the other denuded parts of the forest which need to be rehabilitated.

Zero-carbon city

Puerto Princesa City is the first city in the country and in Southeast Asia to be declared as carbon-neutral using the international guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  

This was revealed by Fr. Jose Villarin, President of Ateneo de Manila University and member of the IPCC who worked in tandem with the SEED Institute and Manila Observatory to conduct the first complete Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory of the city.  

Fr. Villarin said Puerto Princesa City is carbon-neutral and also carbon-negative because it removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it creates.  

Hagedorn, in his video presentation on the state of the city's environment, said "Puerto has already achieved the zero-carbon, maybe we can also achieve the negative-zero carbon in the future with our e-trikes."

Puerto Princesa: From leper colony to global eco-tourism city 1puerto princesa mayor edward hagedorn with ms earth beauties during the "Pista Y Ang Cagueban"(Feast of the Forest) tree planting activity (arnell ozaeta)

Hegedorn is eyeing the use of e-trikes or electronic tricycles in the city to reduce the level of carbon in the environment.

Carbon-neutral is defined as the state of net zero carbon emissions where the amount of carbon released is equal to the amount sequestered. Carbon-negative is a phrase used to describe any activity that removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than produced.

In the case of Puerto Princesa City, its net emissions of carbon dioxide is 1,456 kilotonnes (kt) while its removal is at 1,662 kt of carbon dioxide – technically, carbon-negative because it sequesters more CO2 than it emits.  

The GHG emissions in the city comes from basically two sectors: electricity generation (52%) and road transportation (30%). No emissions were registered from industrial processes.  

Almost 99 percent of removals of GHG come from forest lands and croplands. Puerto Princesa City has a forest cover of 64.99 per cent.  

GHG emissions mostly in the form of carbon dioxide come from transportation, electricity production, industrial and agricultural processes, and even human-generated activities. Other GHG are methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.