PLDT, Smart turn over digital tools for CARAGA Region sustainability efforts

Published February 2, 2021, 10:04 AM

by Jonathan Castillo

(From left) Ecosystems Management Specialist I, Joyce Susan Se; Ecosystems Management Specialist II, Rej Winlove M. Bungabong; Chief Marlynn Mendoza, and Senior Ecosystems Management Specialist Joy Navarro all from the Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau trying out PLDT-Smart’s drone equipment to be deployed with School-in-a-Bag packages for peatlands conservation

The country’s largest integrated telecommunications company PLDT Inc. and its wireless unit Smart Communications Inc. (Smart) turned over drones, tablets, and other digital communication tools aimed at promoting environmental stewardship and helping protect peatlands in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS).

The donation is part of PLDT-Smart’s pioneering program for wetlands conservation in the Philippines, signed with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), DENR’s CARAGA Regional Office, and the AMWS Protected Area Management Office in 2020. The three-year extendable collaboration aims to strengthen and support the AMWS-Protected Area Management Office and other concerned DENR offices in peatland conservation and management strategies under the AMWS Management Plan. The project will be implemented through PLDT’s Chief Sustainability Office until 2023.

Peatlands are dubbed as ‘one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth’ according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN. A type of wetland whose peat soils consist of carbon-rich partially decomposed plant matter, this fragile ecosystem traps carbon to mitigate climate change, provides safe drinking water, assists in preserving global biodiversity, and reduces flood risks. If kept wet, peatlands can store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. 

In the Philippines, the Caimpugan Peatland in Agusan del Sur holds the only recorded remaining intact peat swamp forest – the largest of its kind in the country. PLDT and Smart will deploy Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in the said area to support the biodiversity, disaster risk reduction and carbon sequestration monitoring activities. 

Approximately one million pesos worth of drone equipment, mobile phones, radio devices, and personal protective equipment will be deployed to Bantay Danao volunteers, formed in 2016 and deputized by DENR-CARAGA to protect the AMWS in 2017. The digital and communication tools and PPE are expected to upgrade their monitoring and enforcement activities.

The partnership will also deploy a Smart School-in-a-Bag package for learning communities in the area. Designed to facilitate learning in remote areas, each portable digital classroom generally contains a laptop for the teacher, student tablets to access award-winning, interactive mobile applications even if offline, and a Smart LTE pocket WiFi kit which teachers can use to download additional content.

Aside from applying various technologies for peatland assessment, monitoring and enforcement efforts, PLDT and Smart, through the Gabay Kalikasan program, will implement Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) initiatives to increase knowledge and appreciation of the value of these wetlands.

The initiative also intends to support wetland communities in their sustainable and biodiversity-friendly livelihood program by providing capacity-building trainings and market linkage.

The peatlands conservation program is aligned with the commitment of the PLDT group to support the 17 Sustainable Goals of the United Nations, particularly Quality Education (SDG 4) and Climate Action (SDG 13).