The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has classified an additional 206 caves, bringing to 364 the total number of caverns considered as part of the nation’s natural wealth and therefore require sustainable management and conservation.
The classification, according to DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, was pursuant to Republic Act No. 9072, or the National Caves and Cave Resources Management and Protection Act, which mandates the agency to formulate, develop and implement a national program to conserve, protect and manage caves and cave resources.
“Caves are non-renewable resources with unique, natural features that offer significant scientific, educational, economic and aesthetic value and form part of our historical and cultural heritage,” Paje pointed out.
He added: “Caves can also be used for our enjoyment, but only to a certain extent. Classifying caves accordingly will thus help define which human activities are allowed within these areas so that we can preserve them in their pristine state, or improve them if necessary.”
Under DENR Memorandum Circular 2014-03, the newly classified caves are found in 11 regions, with Region 2 having the most number of caves at 101, followed by Region 11 with 30 caves.
Among the provinces, Cagayan has the most number of caves with 83, while Davao del Norte was far second with 18 caves.
Caves are classified into three categories or classes. “Class I” caves are characterized with delicate and fragile geological formations, may be habitats of threatened species, provide archaeological values and possess extremely hazardous conditions. As such, activities allowed in these caves are limited to mapping, photography, educational and scientific purposes.
The DENR circular has listed 21 Class I caves, including the Masi Cave in Adams, Ilocos Norte, the Pagulayan Cave within the Peñablanca Protected Landscape in Cagayan, and the Santol Cave in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte.
“Class II” caves have sensitive geologic values or high quality ecosystems, as well as portions with hazardous conditions. As such, they may be closed seasonally or permanently, or may be open only to experienced cavers or guided educational tours. The famous Sohoton Cave in Samar Island Natural Park is one of 154 Class II caves identified in the circular.
“Class III” caves are safe for inexperienced yet guide-accompanied visitors, as these do not contain known threatened species or geological or historical values. These caves may also be utilized when appropriate for economic purposes such as extraction of guano (bat waste) and collection of edible bird nests.
There are 30 such caves under the new list, among them the Aglipay Cave 5 in the Quirino Protected Landscape, and the Mat-i Cave 2 in Baganga, Davao Oriental.
Classification of caves is continuously being undertaken by the DENR. The new list, however, contains 86 caves, mostly located in Cagayan province, assessed and classified by the National Museum for their archaeological or historical value, and 15 in Palawan province by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
Upon classification, the DENR field offices oversee the preparation of a management plan on related ecotourism, scientific, educational and economic activities.
The approved plan is implemented by the Protected Area Management Board for caves within protected areas (PAs), or in coordination with the concerned local government unit and land owner for those outside PAs.