Nation Observes 20th Philippine Eagle Week

The country celebrates the 20th Philippine Eagle Week (PEW) beginning today until June 10 with the theme: "Ipagdiwang ang Pagkakaisa para sa Malayang Agila".

Every year, we celebrate the ecological importance and social significance of the Philippine eagle through this observance. Twenty years after Presidential Proclamation No. 79 was signed into law declaring the observance of the PEW, we reflect back on these years of continued collaboration with fellow champions in Philippine eagle conservation.

From its humble beginnings, conservation of Philippine eagles commenced with the Monkey-Eating Eagle Conservation Program (MEECP) by the government that later paved the way to the establishment of the Philippine Eagle Center that is managed by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) through a formal arrangement with the DENR since 1987, and the creation of the Philippine Raptors Conservation Program (PRCP) that replaced the MEECP in 1990. A scientific advisory body, the Philippine Eagle Working Group (PEWG) was likewise established in 1994 to help direct conservation efforts for the perpetuity of the species by developing the Philippine Eagle Integrated Conservation Plan (PEICP). In 1995, 11 Regional Eagle Watch Teams (REWTs) throughout the country were organized. Alongside the DENR, dedicated men and women from the academe, NGOs, and the private sector driven by a mission and passion to help save these birds from the brink of extinction followed shortly. These partnerships slowly developed to gain knowledge and understand the true meaning of co-existing harmoniously with nature, to respect and appreciate the uniqueness of the Philippine eagle.

Following the discovery of the Philippine eagle in the Island of Paranas, Samar in 1896, the Haribon Foundation, the pioneering NGO in Philippine eagle conservation initiated field studies with the DENR to determine the location of breeding pairs and nests in the wild. Regular field surveys formed part of the conservation efforts of the PEF and DENR since the 1990s, along with community engagement and public awareness activities. Recently, the UP-Diliman, Institute of Biology (UPD-IB) joined the network of Philippine eagle researchers with its DNA profiling of Philippine eagles and field studies in Samar and Leyte. Secretary Roy A. Cimatu valued this sharing of resources and expertise, which proved beneficial with the re-discovery of extant populations in Leyte and Samar where our National Bird was once thought to be extirpated; confirmation of new distribution records in the Cordilleras that documented eagle breeding pairs and nesting territories and culminated in the discovery of the 1st active nesting site of these eagles in Apayao; and, documentation of a family of these birds in Gabaldon and Bongabon, Nueva Ecija. Underscoring the team?s accomplishments, Sec. Cimatu commended the group's cohesive endeavor, which demonstrates that incredible things happen when partnerships are forged and nurtured, and that such alliances can change and motivate everyone to work for the common good.

Habitat conservation was also initiated to safeguard the remaining wild population of the Philippine eagle. This included the declaration of Critical Habitats (CHs), as well as Indigenous Peoples Conservation Areas (IPCAs), and Local Conservation Areas (LCAs) in identified Philippine eagle territories that are protected and managed by Indigenous Peoples (IPs), local communities and Local Government Units (LGUs) as an opportunity to establish solid foundations for accelerated expansion of protected terrestrial habitats in the Philippines. On a similar note, the PEF also launched an adopt-a-nest scheme providing nest finders a modest in-kind incentive to the community through regular monitoring activities until the egg hatches and young eagle fledges. Conservation breeding of the species by PEF has also registered success with twenty eight (28) captive-bred eagles produced at the Davao-based Philippine Eagle Center from 1992 to 2016.

BMB Director Crisanta Marlene P. Rodriguez emphasized how continuing researches unlocked opportunities for experimental releases on captive-bred eagles with the aid of telemetry devices. The data obtained revealed how these birds used their habitats and their vulnerability in the wild. Protocols for rescue, retrieval and releases were refined, adopted, and employed to avoid imprinting and dependency towards humans, especially among captive-bred eagles. Such was the case of a female Philippine eagle, "Kalabugao" which, after rehabilitation at the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) for three months, was successfully released on 30 March 2015 and later discovered to have laid an egg in March 2018. The DENR and UPD-IB partnership on genetic profiling/DNA study on Philippine eagles has also yielded significant results. Analyses of samples (tissue, blood, feathers) taken from dead, rescued Philippine eagles from Luzon, Samar, and Mindanao showed that said eagles were genetically homogenous. The UPD-IB has also conducted microsatellite assays to determine the eagles parentage, with resulting data to be used as scientific basis in the possible reintroduction of captive-bred eagles in other islands.

Each time we celebrate the PEW, let it be a reminder for us that we must not forget the crucial role that Philippine eagles play in our fragile ecosystems. With each celebration of the PEW, this critically endangered bird of prey upholds the ecological balance in the forests where, as natural predators, regulate the population of other animals such as snakes that can pose danger to humans. As the Crown Jewel of Philippine Biodiversity, the

Philippine eagle also serves as an ecological barometer. Its commanding presence speaks of a healthy and sustainable ecosystem, one that is able to sustain life and provide for our needs. The eagles challenges have been presented before many of us and as perilous as the eagles fate seems, we must act now. "Government alone cannot do it. Together we must not lose sight of what we have attained, to push further and sustain the efforts we have started for ourselves, for our children and future generations", said Secretary Cimatu. The tasks that lay ahead may be daunting, but an enlightened, conscious and committed citizenry can weave together a spirit of solidarity towards achieving a balance.

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