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PIA Press Release

Peace laureate travels to Mindanao to save forests

Davao City (19 November) -- His home country has issued a warning to their citizens discouraging travel to the Philippines but David Plattner, a peace laureate, went on for a journey to Mindanao to personally meet Lumads for a mission to seek their partnership in protecting and rehabilitating some of the forest areas damaged by illegal logging activities.

Plattner, founder of RainTrust, an international organization seeks to protect and preserve rainforest, is joined by chief operating officer Charles Turbak and Jonathon Bentley Stevens, country director for the Philippines in a two-day mission around provinces in Mindanao that started yesterday.

The group, along with Filipino counterparts working for the environmental organization, visited towns in Compostela Valley, Sarangani, Misamis Oriental, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Bukidnon to meet with indigenous peoples (IP) and sign conservation agreements "that they conserve and protect the forested areas."

"We will help them take care of it by pouring funds to replant trees and bring infrastructure for their crops to be processed," Stevens added.

Lumads will report to the organization if they hear a hint of tree being cut for timber. RainTrust would serve as back up as they would bring the attention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and, if possible, President Aquino if they receive reports from the uplands, Plattner explained.

The organization promotes forested areas in Mindanao to interested parties who would wish to buy square-foot sponsorships of land. The sponsors would be able to monitor their reserve lands blow-by-blow using interactive proprietary software that displays real time images transmitted through precise Global Positioning System coordinates.

A minimum amount of US$10 would entitle sponsors a 1,000 sq ft. of reserve with GPS coordinates. The reserves, will not, in any way, take the land ownership away from the IPs. The same is also being done by the organization in the countries of Cambodia, Thailand Indonesia and the United States.

This advocacy gained Plattner to be chosen as recipient in the field of environment and biodiversity. He will formally accept the award on Wednesday at Philippine International Convention Center where Filipino priest Rev. Rocky Evangelista will also receive the peace prize in the field of Social Services and Humanitarianism.

The Gusi Peace Prize recognizes the most brilliant individuals around the world "working toward the attainment of peace and respect for human life and dignity."

American citizens Plattner and Turbak has been told by colleagues to "get out" of Mindanao and got word on Wednesday that their mission, to travel in the countryside of the island, would be dangerous. But Australian citizen Stevens believes otherwise.

"I have been here since 1999 and I tell you the people are very friendly," Stevens shares his catchphrase to Plattner.

The governments of Australia, United States and United Kingdom has issued separate advisories to their citizens against traveling in the country, citing several terrorist attacks and violence that has occurred in the past months.

But aside from security threats, Mindanao's mountain forests has been the target of massive cutting of trees by licensed and illegal loggers.

The Philippines, to date, has only 18 percent remaining forest cover, with 60 percent of the country's land area suffering from soil erosion, according to DENR. (PIA XI/RainTrust) [top]

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