CURRENT BIODIVERSITY CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
8 March 2017
Akapulko, from http://www.philippineherbalmedicine.org/akapulko.htm
For those who may be curious on the subject, it should not be difficult to find where medicinal plants are found in the Philippines as they appear to be everywhere all over the country. The first step is to know how many medicinal plants are there in the country and from there it can be figured out where they may be found based on other information.
As a start, we may look at an overview paper by Eusebio and Umali in 2004, where they said that in the Philippines, there is an estimated over 1500 plant species that have known medicinal value. In a survey conducted by UPLB in 766 barangays or villages in 12 regions of the country, 1687 plants (based on common names) were found being used by local traditional healers or arbularyos. Of this number, only 120 medicinal plants have been scientifically validated for safety and efficacy. This may be a good starting point for drawing up a list where these plants may be found, with the aid of other studies and tools.
There is also the ten medicinal plants endorsed by the Department of Health because they have been scientifically validated by Philippine researchers and if we look at them one by one, from . Akapulko (Cassia alata), Ampalaya (Momordica charantia), Bawang (Allium sativum), Bayabas (Psidium guajava), Lagundi (Vitex negundo), Niyog-niyogan (Quisqualis indica L.), Sambong (Blumea balsamifera), Tsaang Gubat (Ehretia microphylla Lam.), Ulasimang Bato | Pansit-Pansitan (Peperomia pellucida) and Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii), it appears that they are so common as to be most likely available all over the country.
One of these studies that will aid the search for the location of these plants is the use of the local names where these plants may be found. Dr. Domingo A. Madulid, a well-known ethnobotanist, wrote in 2005 about the uses of vernacular plant names, among which is its use in tracing the origin and history of place names, among other uses. The local names, notwithstanding its limitations, is a useful information source for the possible location of a medicinal plant, though if one wants to establish if such plant originated in such a location, it will take a different kind of research to achieve that goal
Still another way of finding out where these medicinal plants may be found is through a focused study of identified areas in the Philippines which are known to be the location of identified indigenous communities. One of these studies was done by Balangcod and Balangcod in 2011, where they looked at the practices of one indigenous society in Ifugao, the Kalanguya, who have a long tradition of using medicinal plants. In this study, they described the ethnomedicinal importance of 125 plant species and healthcare practices done by their Ifugao informers with ages ranging from 16-90 years.
There will be a lot more ways to find out the location of these plants and back in various workshops that we have attended on the topic of biopiracy in over two decades of engagement on this issue, indigenous peoples and the support organizations working with them do not generally welcome these kinds of efforts to systematically search the location of where these plants are found as they are usually seen to facilitate or make easy the biopiracy of their resources.
What will the harried government or even private researcher do in this kind of situation? Perhaps it is best that the free and prior informed consent of communities be secured first before inquiries are made where these resources may be found, though disclosure of a location will not immediately mean that there is already consent to get the plant, that should be clear to the researcher who may wish to undertake an ethical way of doing these things. In case no consent is given, that should be the end of the inquiry, perhaps the researcher may just want to move on to the next subject item in his or her study.
Another way that can be done about this is for government to fund a specific effort to put together all these ethno-botanic studies or databases of various agencies of government and make these studies or databases cross-linked or cross-referenced with each other. In such a situation, a researcher need not have to move from one database to another to gather the information necessary for any research related to medicinal plants.