The country’s largest flower, rafflesia, gets additional protection and a lease on its existence as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officially designated an area in Bukidnon province as its critical habitat.

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje issued DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2011-02 which declared a piece of land in Sitio Kalanganan, Brgy. San Vicente in Baungon, Bukidnon, as “Rafflesia schadenbergiana Critical Habitat”.

“The Philippines takes pride in the endemicity of its biodiversity. The newly issued administrative order protecting the natural habitat of rafflesia will allow the DENR to work closely with the surrounding communities in ensuring the survival of the country’s largest flower, which, unfortunately, is a threatened species. By all means, we need to keep the critical habitat free from exploitation or destruction, and we can only do this through partnership with the local populace,” said Paje.

The Rafflesia schadenbergiana is known as “bo-o” or “kolon busaw” to the Bogobo and Higaonon tribes of Bukidnon. It is categorized as critically endangered under DENR Administrative Order No. 2007-01. Compared with other rafflesia species, the “bo-o” is considered vulnerable to extinction because of its parasitic nature, particularly to the vine Tetrastigma. The “bo-o” has the second largest flower in the rafflesia genus, with a diameter that can reach up to 80 centimeters. It is also the largest among all rafflesia species found in the Philippines, of which there are at least 10 species.

Paje said that the declaration of the critical habitat is in accordance with Republic Act (RA) 9147, also known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, which aims to conserve and protect wildlife species and their habitats to promote ecological balance and enhance biodiversity. It also has the full support of the Kalanganan San Vicente Farmers Association, Inc. (KALASANFA) as well as the local government units (LGUs) at the barangay and municipal levels.

RA 9147 defines a critical habitat as a portion of land outside a protected area that is characterized by the presence of threatened species, considering its endemicity and richness in the area as well as the presence of threats to its survival.

Under the order, the DENR Regional Office 10 in Cagayan de Oro City, which has jurisdiction over Bukidnon, is tasked to delineate the boundaries of the critical habitat and oversee its management. It may also enter into an agreement with its partner LGUs and people’s organizations, and delegate the management of the area to said partners.

Meanwhile, the DENR and its partners will ensure the preservation of environmental conditions within the area to support the existence of the Rafflesia schadenbergiana and all naturally occurring flora and fauna. Further, they are to draw up a Critical Habitat Management Plan to address management issues and strategies, as well as enforce applicable environmental laws and prohibited acts as provided under RA 9147, such as squatting, dumping of waste, mineral extraction, burning, quarrying, and logging.

The Rafflesia schadenbergiana was named after Alexander Schadenberg, a German ethnologist who made several expeditions to the Philippines. The species was first collected in the vicinity of Mount Apo in 1882, and was believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1994 in Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato. In 2007, its presence was also recorded in Baungon, Bukidnon, just outside the Mount Kitanglad Natural Park.