Clark, Pampanga – The ASEAN Conference on Medicinal Forest Trees (AFCMT) plenary sessions were held on September 5, 2023, at Quest Plus Hotel, Clark, Pampanga. The four (4) themes of the conference were highlighted along with an additional topic on Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMBGF).

Dr. Pastor L. Malabrigo Jr., plant taxonomist from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), was the invited speaker for the first theme titled “Taxonomy and Ecology of Medicinal Forest Trees and Non-Timber Species Inside the Forest”. He discussed the Diversity and Conservation Status of Medicinal Trees in the Philippines, emphasizing the limited medicinal plant research in the Philippines. He also stated that most studies are focused on documenting medicinal plants and uses in a particular community or regarding a specific disease. Dr. Malabrigo stressed that the Philippines is blessed with abundant natural resources; however, opportunities are lost by not utilizing these. The underutilization of native species decreases their value for conservation, which increases the risk of extinction. As a way forward, Dr. Malabrigo encouraged the participants, especially those from the Philippines, to intensify research and development on native medicinal trees, foster collaboration within universities and research institutions, and promote the conservation of indigenous medicinal trees.

Dr. Lourdes B. Cardenas, botanist from UPLB, discussed the Biotechnology of Medicinal Forest Trees and Associated Plant Species for the theme “Roles and Importance of Biotechnology”. She highlighted the application of biotechnology for bioactives, which aids in plant conservation, the study of plant processes, the optimization of inherent properties of plants, and plant improvement. “ASEAN share this beautiful area, rich in biodiversity. If we do not have these, there is nothing to work on,” Dr. Cardenas reiterated.

Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) Special Operations Officer, Ms. Ma. Teresa M. Torres, presented Medicinal Forest Trees: Indigenous Knowledge, Systems, and Practices for the theme “Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge Systems”. She highlighted the threats to healing traditions, focusing on habitat loss and the onslaught of mainstream culture. She also reiterated the urgency of documenting several factors that have endangered the continuity of the identified traditions. Ms. Torres also stated that traditional knowledge research is vital for policy development and implementation of the strategic health plan.

For the last theme titled “Policy Studies on Medicinal Forest Trees and Non-Timber Species Inside the Forest”, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director Ms. Jesusa Joyce N. Cirunay discussed her presentation titled Regulation of Traditional Medicines in the Philippines. She introduced the FDA as the national regulatory authority. She emphasized the importance of conducting clinical trials, especially for traditional and herbal medicines. She closed her presentation by stating that traditional medicines are essential for preserving cultural heritage, offering holistic approaches to health, and providing accessible and often affordable healthcare options for individuals seeking diverse and accessible healthcare choices. “Collaboration among practitioners, regulators, and healthcare professionals is essential for this delicate balance,” Ms. Cirunay added.

Mr. Anson M. Tagtag, Chief of the Wildlife Resources Division of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), discussed the Overview of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMBGF) as an additional topic. He discussed the timeline and milestones of the project and its goals. As a way forward, he suggested expediting the updating of the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) and developing a national biodiversity finance plan (NBFP). “The Framework presents an ambitious target on biodiversity which will serve as the world’s guide for actions to be taken at all levels to safeguard, restore biodiversity, and promote its sustainable use under 23 targets to be achieved by 2030 and towards four long-term goals for 2050,” Mr. Tagtag stated.

Participants were given the chance to ask questions to the plenary speakers during the open forum in between the presentations. The first day of the program concluded with the awarding of certificates to the speakers.