Conservation of a living heritage; is not an easy task. It poses a multitude of problems that is complex and interrelated. Economic progress, population growth, and unplanned tourism pose a great danger to our fragile nature. St. Paul Subterranean River otherwise known as Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) has long aroused curiosity and became an object of interest for most of the people. Limestone karst mountains shaped from delicate hands of nature have an appalling beauty that cradles much of our rich natural and cultural heritage. It features an eight-kilometer underground river that extends from the mountains and flows out to the sea. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it emerges directly into the sea thus the lower portion is subject to tidal influence that makes it a significant natural phenomena.

St. Paul range has also an abundant tropical rainforest teeming with trees and marine ecosystem, a full "mountain-to-sea" ecosystem and protects some of the most significant forest in Asia. The park has a rich biodiversity with a high percentage (15-20%) of endemism. The remoteness of the area proved to be advantageous to the indigenous people, the Bataks and Tagbanuas, who find solace deep in the jungle. Basically hunters and gatherers, they find their means of livelihood from the forest which is far from encroachment of the lowlanders. They, however, still practice swidden farming. Having their own diverse cultural heritage, these indigenous people are in danger of losing it if not properly managed and preserved. The recently concluded international convention finally gave new direction to the conservation and preservation of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and to the ancestral domain that lies within this site.


St. Paul Cave was known to people since ancient times, in their thoughts it was inhabited by a spirit that prevented them from entering the cave. The parks territory and surroundings are the ancestral lands of the Batak people, of whom only 200-250 survive, and Tagbanua communities which live around the boundaries, including the coast. The Tagbanuas unlike the Bataks are more acculturated to the Christian culture. (DENR, 1992 Nomination 1998) However, the tide is slowly changing, due to growing social awareness, the indigenous community are getting more contacts with the local people and getting more used to host tourist once in a while.

St. Paul Park has a total area of 20,202 hectares that includes the land area of the national park, a core zone of 5,753 ha and a buffer zone of 14,449 ha. It was then suggested by PAMB to extend its area. Prior to the inscription, it was also recommended by the world heritage committee to include the adjoining catchment areas to assure the sustainability of its own biodiversity. Ownership of the core zone was officially transferred from the national government to the city government of Puerto Princesa in 1992. Part of buffer zone was awarded to the indigenous community in recognition to their ancestral domain claim. The CADC was awarded in February 28, 1996 covering 7,530 hectares bounded by Caloga range in the north, by Cleopatras needle in the east, by the Babuyan River in the west, by Barongbongan range and the ancestral domain at Barangay Maoyon in the south. Ownership of the buffer zone is mixed and includes private ownership.

The national park is home to Palawans rich and unique flora and fauna. A recent survey conducted by the National Museum and the Palawan Tropical forestry protection Programme recorded 149 vertebrate species including 12 species of mammals and nine species of amphibians that are endemic to the island.

The ancestral domains of Cabayugan and Kayasan on the parks periphery are home to about 1,000 indigenous people belonging to the Tagbanua and Batak tribes. Still, the few of the community members in their traditional ways of hunting, gathering and slash and burn agriculture in the great forests between the park and San Rafael on the east coast of Palawan.


The national park was established in 26 March 1971 under the Presidential Proclamation No. 835 and managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The territory of the park forms the core zone of the Palawan Biosphere Reserve recognized by the UNESCOs Man and Nature Programme in 1990 and a core zone of the Environmentally Critical Area Network (ECAN), the central element of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan. Under the Republic Act 7586 (NIPAS Act of 1992), the boundaries of the site was inscribed, and the management was officially transferred to the city government through a multi-sectoral represented protected area management board.
The park is ultimately under the jurisdiction of DENR but has been devolved to the city government and being managed by a multi-sectoral represented protected Area Management board where the city mayor chairs the board and representative of the City Tourism Council, the DENR, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development and the Palawan NGO Network, Inc. as members.

Since the site was inscribed to the world heritage list, the area was extended to include 20,202 hectares of rainforest, karst mountains, caves, and its marine ecosystem. This was prompted by the recommendation of the World Heritage Committee to increase it size to improve the sustainability of the subterranean river. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River national Park was inscribed to the world heritage list in 1999 and passed the criteria I, ii, and iii of the natural heritage sites.

The PAMB also encourages the participation of the local community in decision making by conducting consultations concerning plans and management strategies being employed.

Park management strategies include:

Ensuring the parks interests are considered favorably in any local development initiative.

Attending monthly barangay/community meetings.

Where appropriate, acting as a catalyst for community development including compiling and categorizing potential development projects.

Assiting ancestral domains to develop ecotourism related activities; and participation in local cultural festival

Part of the ancestral domain of Kayasan is under the jurisdiction of PPSRNP. Though it is a part of the buffer zone of the park, the management and administration is under the indigenous community, the Bataks and tagbanua that claimed the area. The certificate of the Amcestral Domain Claim (R1B-CADC-028) was awarded to the indigenous cultural community in which they have occupied since time immemorial.


Most effort goes into management of visitors to the underground river with considerable time being spent building positive relationships with the surrounding communities. Some problems are management issues that prove to be relevant to current involvement of local communities.

Basic issues include a requirement for effective protected area management training and uncontrolled development. The local community has difficulty to benefit from the tourism industry due to lack of skills. Tourist potential remains untapped due to lack of right infrastructure that caters to the need of a viable market.

The forest area is virtually uninhabited and subjected to only minor encroachment. The southern boundary abuts farmed areas of the domain but is generally protected by natural features and informal agreement with the Ancestral Domain. Two thirds of the rivers underground catchment lie outside the park, largely in the ancestral domain of Cabayugan, much of which is farmed. Agricultural pollution poses a considerable threat to the geological structure of the underground cave system, though follow up studies have been conducted and revealed no real threat to the underground ecosystem. Habitat loss and forest denudation poses a danger to the sustenance of the parks ecosystem. Watersheds and riverbanks are also being damaged. The ecosystem tends to degenerate in a pace faster than its regeneration.

In 1997, the number of visitors to the park rose to 40,000 from a mere 2,000 in the early 1980s. Until the end of 1998 a few visitors stayed at the cottages in the park, while most overnight visitors preferred to spend the night in Sabang. Though tourism is the only predictable source of financial sustenance, as well as opportunities for many local people to improve their standard of living, its uncontrolled development also serves as one of the major threats. In what appeared to be an ironic twist the unregulated flow of people who come to the park to commune with nature are leaving behind their lasting impression on its delicate system and altering it in the process. Animals have been observed to adapt into unnatural way of life. Feeding habits are altered. Breeding cycles are interrupted. And those who fail to accommodate curious sightseers are forced out by the unwanted commotion.

The most seroius constraints to the management include an ill-defined institutional structure, lack of adequate resources and boundaries that have no control over the catchment of the underground river of cabayugan.

Within the CADC area some specific problems are identified.

Illegal activities e.g. gathering of almaciga resin of non indigenous people

LGUs are not oriented with the provision of ADMP and IPRA

Trend in permit acquisition

People from the community have lesser chances of sourcing better market demand due to inadequate information system.

Lack of network roads to market circles


The general management strategy was designed by the PAMB, a multi-sectoral representative management body. The parks plans follow the customary format of description, an evaluation, and prescription. The last is divided into seven program goals, which were defined in the management strategy. Each of the seven programs defines specific objectives and actions.

Program 1. Ecosystem Management

This program aims to keep the parks varied ecosystem in their natural state, untarnished and unaffected by the outside world. The program also plans to restore and nurse damaged ecosystems back to their original setting. About 96% of the park is under the Strict Protection Zone and closed to all human activities. The remaining portions are classified as multiple use, recreational and restoration zones. The multiple use zone covers 127 has on the west side of the park, occupied by the farmers long before the parks creation. While the management plan acknowledges the farmers justifiable claim to their land, and intend to grant them land tenure security, the future landowners must agree to manage their land in a way that will do no harm to the park. The recreational zone is confined to the first kilometer of the underground river and a small number of trails and caves.

The areas previously used and unfortunately marred by human activities, are classified as the restoration zones and will be re-classified as strict protection zones to give them time to heal. In the past the park has been accused of acting outside its authorities in the Cabayugan river catchment and other peripheral areas of critical environment concern, which has been counter-productive in the long-term. In response, this program seeks to make formal agreements with the concerned local communities to encourage activities that will protect the long-term well-being of the park and their interests as well.

Program 2. Park protection and law enforcement

The protection section inside the park will conduct regular patrols to ensure that the rules and regulations and management agreement made with the local communities and authorities are followed. A system of local community rangers will be established by the park.

Program 3. Research and monitoring

The goal of this program is to ensure the park gets the widest possible support and understanding from its neighboring communities. It also addresses touchy subjects such as the resolution of boundary issues. This has been wisely placed at the forefront of implementation of every other program of the management plan since the parks PR effort can spell the difference between harmony and World War III with its neighbors.

Program 4. Public awareness and community relations

This will provide the necessary information needed for the effective management of the park including species abundance and biodiversity, settlements, demographic trends, land-use, potential sources of pollution and everything else that make a naturalists pulse quicken. Water quality monitoring in the river will continue while new water quality testing, together with coliform monitoring, will be done in Sabang river and beach. It will also evaluate, coordinate, solicit research proposals and control research activities by outside agencies within the area.

Program 5. Tourism and visitors management

Maximizing the benefits of tourism and visitors inside and outside the park while minimizing their negative impact. The annual visitor capacity has been pegged at 50,000 guests. Tourist facilities within the park will be relocated away from sensitive habitats. Suitable nature-related tourism is to be encouraged in surrounding local community areas to expand the number of destinations people can go outside the park.

Program 6. Regional integration

The main objective is to ensure that, by being pro-active, the parks interest is considered from the very beginning. It requires identifying and establishing a dialogue with potentials developers. This program will see to it that proper environmental impact assessment procedures are followed for any private or government planners. A second objective is to establish international recognition of the park through listing as a World Heritage Site. This was achieved in December 1999 as it passed the criteria iii and iv of inscription to the Natural Heritage Sites.

Program 7. Institutional development, organization and administration

This program defines the different players in the long-term Management Team of the park. The parks Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) will advise policies and oversee their implementation. The board will appoint an executive committee that will supervise the implementation by the park superintendent and staff. The city environment and natural resources office will perform an advisory role on technical matters.

The proposed ancestral domain management plan is quite independent from the park management strategies. Objectives are more concentrated towards its immediate communitys development. Since people are dependent on their natural local environment, plans are directed to a more comprehensive local agenda. Basically, membersof the indigenous community should manage almaciga concession to be able to generate considerable income that benefits the local community.

Existing DENR guidelines favor those with ample capital rather than the poor community leaders who are just trying to exercise and enjoy their rights.

The proposed ancestral domain management plan is quite independent from the park management strategies. Objectives are more concentrated towards its immediate communitys development. Since people are dependent on their natural local environment, plans are directed to a more comprehensive local agenda. Basically, membersof the indigenous community should manage almaciga concession to be able to generate considerable income that benefits the local community.

Another provision tackles the basic thrust of any organization and that is to unify the tribal community that would support its preservation and nurturing of their cultural heritage. Included here is to have better understanding of their basic rights specifically to be able to read and write that would eventually help them managing their domain and community. Local knowledge and expertise is highly asked that would aid much of governmental thrust on natural and cultural heritage conservation and preservation efforts.

An outline for the ancestral domain of Kayasan follows:

Responsibilities and power of tribal council

Management and governance in ancestral land

Farmlands (guidelines for swidden farming)

Forest land

Salvage, Plan on salvage usage

Guidelines in extraction and use of salvage Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis)

Plans concerning management of almaciga areas, Inventory and number of tappers.

Rattan (Calamus caesius) extraction and harvesting.

Guidelines and maintenance of harvested rattan

Sacred land, Cemetery, Ritual areas, Caves

Land and natural sources of income

Regulations in honey extraction

Rules and regulations concerning hunting of wild pigs and other wildlife.


The establishment of the PAMB and the development of a management plan provide the basis for a good run site. Apparently the current management has a good understanding of the problems and issues, particularly in relation to a sensitive protected area, tourism and the involvement of the local community. It was noted that inspite of current problems the approaches to management seem to be innovative and practical and a good example of workable strategy in protected area management.

Specific objective 1-2.1 of the parks management plan declares with the local community the part of Cabayugan catchment which lies outside the park to be a supplementary protected zone, with a view to managing it for sustainable and compatible use.

Specific objective 1-2.2 establishes the forested areas adjacent to the park as supplementary protection zones, with a view to managing them as if like a strict protection zone.

An issue concerning the deputization of the parks ranger was raised to enable them to apprehend illegal activities just lie directly outside the parks boundary.

Tourism is a viable revenue and income generating industry especially the local community, which directly benefits from it, but careful planning should be the primary task of the management. Community participation and involvement is important for a sound conservation, protectionism, and management of the site.

The park management is well aware about the socio-cultural aspect of the ancestral domain. The CADC has a different requirement to be able to sustain its own existence. Managed by the indigenous people, the parks role is to enhance its relationship with the IPs to be able to work together for common goals.

Suggestions could be addressed to a more management capability building scheme. There is a high need for staffs to be updated of current trends in protected area management. The educational level of staff is good but few received adequate trainings.

Basic training needs are identified:

Training the trainer

Consultation-extension and facilitation techniques

Consultation- cross cultural awareness

Consultation-negotiation skills and conflict resolutio

Consultation-communication strategies

Training for informal education of local communities, staffs training for school

Staffs training for schools

Training site manager to monitor cultural-social-economic impact on communities

Training community in detection-reporting illegal activities

Training in community needs analysis

Training in community development principles

Team building skills

Training community in research and monitoring

It would likely enhance the community involvement when training will be done on forest resources management, livelihood development, Ecotourism development and, environmental education training and product development program.

Local economy depends partly on the tourism industry. The current trend is the ecotourism, which attracts people from different walks of life. It may create employment opportunities for communities adjacent to the area but this benefit does not arise instantly. Coupled with right infrastructure, a viable tourism market, and careful planning and appropriate management practices, the community would gain a fair benefit from its nature-based tourism without jeopardizing the existence of its delicate natural environment. Policies might include measures such as admission fees, accommodation taxes, and requirements on employing local services.

Various NGOs and governmental organizations are working together for some projects that would enhance the socio-economic and cultural well being of the IPs. Assistance were given such as literacy programs, capability building seminars, leadership trainings, paralegal training, financial management, bioprospecting and parateachers training. A new two-room school building for the first and second graded was built at the center of the community.

Tagbanua dominates Kayasan-Bayatao area on the plains and Batak on its hilly portions

The forest is the framework of their local economy. They engage in rattan gathering, almaciga, honey, and hunting.

Their tribal elder is known as Masikampo. His guidance is diligently honored or followed. The tribal arbiter is called as Marakasa and acts as spokesperson when there is problems or contracts to be settled

Bataks have extensive knowledge in the use of medicinal herbs and roots

Some medical and dental missions are being conducted occasionally. Basic services are still scarce for their access

SATRIKA (Samahan Ng Mga Tribo Sa Kayasan), is a local organization of the tribal people and registered in Securities and Exchange Commission.

Natripal (Nagkakaisang Tribo Ng Palawan) is a confederation of all the indigenous people in Palawan

Presidential Proclamation No. 835 , March 26, 1976

The national park was established and managed by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources

It was chosen in 1990 as one of the protected areas for the Debt-for-Nature Swap program

UNESCOs Man and Biosphere Programme, 1996

Recognizes the park and the parks territory becomes the core zone of the Palawan Biosphere Reserve and the core zone of the Ecologically Critical Area Network (ECAN

Republic Act 7586 (NIPAS Act of 1992)

The boundaries of the park was inscribed together with the Presidential Proclamation No. 83

The actual management was transferred to the city government of Puerto Princesa

Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan (SEP), Republic Act 7611, 1992

Recognizes environmentally critical areas (terrestrial, marine and tribal ancestral lands) and the zoning of these areas for further protection. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Service (PCSDS) does policy direction, implementation, and governance of SEP

National Integrated Protected Areas System (RA 7586)

Recognizes indigenous peoples rights and precursor to future laws

Certificate on Ancestral domain Claims (CADC) DAO No. 2, 1998

Provides for the identification, delineation, recognition of ancestral domains, and the preferential right of indigenous cultural communities to utilize and manage the natural resources that lie therein

Ancestral Domain Management Plan (ADMP) DAO No. 34, 1998

Guidelines on the preparation of ancestral domain management plans. This is a requirement for the issuance of certificate of origin (CO) documents necessary for transport of non-timber forest products

Indigenous Peoples Right Act (IPRA) RA 8371, 199

An Act to recognize, protect and promote the rights of indigenous cultural communities/indigenous people, creating a national commission on indigenous people, establishing implementing mechanisms, appropriating funds and for other purposes.

World Heritage Property, December 1999

The Puerto Princesa subterranean River National Park was inscribed to the world heritage list passing on the criteria (iii) and (iv) of the natural sites


While parks management plan is well defined, PAMB is organized, established and functioning and three-year development plant was formulated, there is a need for support in terms of fund sourcing to attain the goals and objectives of the plan. Provision by technical assistance would be very beneficial. Though plans are clearly defined, the management should have a strong will in terms of implementation of projects. The research is lacking of substance and needs to be supported.

This recommendation goes to the ancestral domain as well. The management plan for the domain is clear and understandable but needs to be reinforced by concerned agencies. The role of the NGO is highly asked since this cannot be done by the members of the domain alone. Any developmental thrust will be ineffective and futile without support of an organization working for these indigenous people.


Ancestral Domain Management Plan (ADMP) Sitio Kayasan, Brgy Tagabinet,

Bandillo Ng Palawan, Puerto Princesa City, March-April, 1999

DENR Administrative Order No. 25, Series of 1993

DENR Administrative Order No. 02, Series of 1993

St. Paul Subterranean River National Park, Management Plan, January 2000

The Philippine Constitution, Section 22 Article II, Section 5 Article XII, and Section 6 Article XIII, 1996

World Heritage Nomination- IUCN Technical Evaluation, 1999

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