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The Cordillerans’ ancient way of managing forests could be our saving grace from Climate Change
by Hanna Lacsamana

What could be the world like without the Cordillerans and their age-old way of forest resource management?

Of course majority of the world’s population will still survive. But then again, if the world’s population is composed of all Cordillerans, we may not be hearing the words "Climate Change."

In 2010, the Baguio Midland Courier explored the worldwide phenomenon known as the Climate Change because of its undeniable impact to every living creature and to Mother Earth as a whole. Proofs of the environment’s lashing back have been made known around the globe – compounded catastrophes during unexpected times and at unexpected places, believed to be the result of global warming. It is undeniable our planet has reached its limits and is returning to us people the effect of our own negligence and lack of concern.

Without prejudice to other races whose ways of protecting the environment are yet to be discovered, the Cordillerans&’ indigenous ways may be considered the answer to the problems and risks posed by Climate Change. Today’s environment crusaders and most especially every citizen might want to give further attention to these practices, which if sustained and applied widespread may heal the effects of man’s negligence and lack of concern to the environment.

One of the most important natural resource management practices the Cordillera region has, long before the concern on Climate Change worldwide started, is the Northern Kankana-ey/Applais in Tadian, Mountain Province’s batangan, the first mode of indigenous knowledge in forest conservation recognized as "sustainable traditional indigenous forest resource management systems and practices" (STIFRMSP) by the regional offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

Cordillera’s first recognized STIFRMSP
The two agencies, through Regional Executive Director Clarence Baguilat and former regional director Amador Batay-an, have confirmed in Aug. 30, 2010, batangan, a practice of the ethnic groups within the 19 barangays of Tadian, as STIFRMSP. The two agencies also considered it unique and qualified it under the criteria set forth in the joint DENR-NCIP Department Administrative Order 2008-01 or the "Guidelines and procedures for the recognition, documentation, registration and confirmation of all STIFRMSP of ICC/IPs in ancestral domains."

Tadian Councilor Jose Pasan Jr., through a resolution in June 7, 2010, welcomed the opportunity for their town "in so far as the State recognizes the full participation of ICCs more so in the management and use of forest resources based on socio-cultural practices and traditions."

The resolution stated that the town’s affirmation is based on careful study and on the basis of a consultative meeting done by the town stakeholders.

DENR’s Forest Management Service Regional Technical Director Augusto Lagon said that the move to document forest conservation efforts and recognize sustainable practices of indigenous peoples started here in Cordillera, and has been adopted nationwide in line with the current administration’s effort to bring back the greens in country’s forests as a means to mitigate the effects of Climate Change.

"Batangan" and Tadian communities govern their resources
If the province of Ifugao has the muyong, Kalinga has imong, Abra has lapat, and Benguet has the kakayuan, Mountain Province’s Tadian has batangan, started by the ICCs’ ancestors and passed on to generations. All terms are local dialects referring to forests.

Based on the documentation provided by the FMS, it was known that one type of batangan is komunal or komon, a communally owned forest which is owned, managed, and protected by the whole community, which are either pine or mossy forests. Another type is lakon, which is owned, managed, and protected by a clan or a family. These are predominantly pine forest. There is also taban, which is privately owned by a clan that is immediately located above or surrounding their rice fields or farmlands.

The Kankana-eys/Applais define their mountainous environment according to land uses as managed by the communities such as: if it is agricultural (ricelands or payeo, and swidden farm or uma) or if it is managed or owned by an individual or family. The forest on the other hand has three types: first is lakon or pine stands, which should be owned by an individual, a family or a clan; komon or pine and mossy, which should be managed by the community; and taban or pine mix species which can be managed by an individual, family, or clan.

For water resources, irrigation systems are managed by a group of families with agricultural lands, rivers, and lakes are managed by the community.

The Kankana-eys/Applais observe traditional governance and administration headed by the village chief and the council of elders or amam-a. The headship is selected based on wealth, prestige, and integrity. The community and elders or the lalakay and babaket, discuss important matters, make decisions, and conduct ritual and gathering in the dap-ay (dalipey, ato, at-ato, or batog).

It has been documented that the group agreed that the uses of their traditional resources are associated with the different forest cover types. Traditional resources are generally common among the forest/land use type. However, particular resource uses are assigned to grassland and other wooded lands for livestock, agricultural, and settlement and other stipulated development purposes.

For instance, a pine forest is considered a production forest, and it should serve as source of wood and lumber and other forest products, as a hunting ground, and grazing area. Mossy forest is considered protection forests, which is a source of bikal, a hunting ground, a source of lumber for community purposes and when there is an extreme need for hard wood. The grassland is a grazing area (pastolan or pundag). It is also for agricultural purposes, a source of indigenous roofing materials and settlement or built-up areas. Other wooded lands are considered rice farms (payeo, taban, and uma). It is a source of wood and lumber, for backyard agro-forestry and settlement or built-up areas.

Common to all are source of water, home of traditional, medicinal, and ornamental plants, habitat for wildlife; sources of materials for agricultural and traditional purposes like rituals; cultural areas recognized with significant value such as rocks, sacred tree or papatayan and similar unique natural structures for burial and ritual activities; source of mineral resources such as lime or lamud for agricultural purposes, palidan (sharpening stone) and kadso (natural shampoo) and other mineral deposits are traditionally managed by ili or the community; water resources derived from springs (balaan di danum), rivers (wanga) and lakes (pusong) for domestic use and recreation, irrigation (payas), and upland aquamarine life for food and place for traditional rituals; and natural landscape for recreation and aesthetic beauty and for carbon sequestration.

Forest protection approaches
Also still based on joint DENR-NCIP research, volunteerism/cooperativism and community vigilance is the traditional rule in safeguarding the Tadian ICCs’ traditionally managed forest against all forms of forest destruction and violations such as forest fires, unauthorized timber harvesting, illegal clearing and occupancy, among others. The spirit of bayanihan and voluntary support and awareness among villagers make up their natural defense to sustain the stability of their traditional woodland.

One of their traditional forest protection measures against forest fires is galatis, which is free service or labor rendered by the umili (community) in fire suppression and forest protection. Another is regular foot patrolling to prevent or deter the occurrence of forest fires, where able family representatives, usually the adults are obliged to render free labor. The active participation of the community in forest fire suppression is locally known as mandepdep, where male villagers are required to extend fire suppression activities even at night and wee hours of the morning. They also have traditional early warning system such as ringing of church bells, beating of the tambol, and through waswas by the designated manbugaw or yeller. The council of elders, local government units, and villagers also conduct information and education campaign and advisory not to burn in the uma, payeo, or farm at the onset of dry season during community assemblies.

The villagers have also asset of forest resource use practices. It is governed by the village chief and council of elders who are the acknowledged administrators of the traditionally managed forest in harmony with nature and community needs for housing structures, customary rituals, and resources sustainability. For timber use for instance, the cutting of branches for firewood purposes is limited to the lower portion of the tree. Cutting of young trees within identified grazing lands is strictly prohibited. Non-community members are not allowed to harvest forest products unless permitted and with supervision of the elders and barangay officials. Commercialization outside the domain is strictly prohibited. All community members are generally ensured of their fair share from forest products. They also have this practice of kusib di kimat or not using trees struck by lightning for coffins or houses.

For non-timber, harvest and extraction of minor forest products in the strict sense are for the community members’ use. However, it may be allowed to non-members or to other communities depending on the availability of stocks. For water use, resources are strictly for domestic and agricultural purposes only. They adhere to banbanes, a system of irrigating rice lands following the natural flow of water from upper to lower areas.

Conflict resolutions concerning forest violations
The customary inayan or lawa is considered a golden rule translated as a tradition not to perform any unacceptable or prohibited actions against natural environment, which they regard as the provider of sustenance and shall be respected. It is where their traditional conflict resolutions on any form of forest violation is anchored. Violators are dealt with accordingly as may be imposed by the village chief and council of elders in the form of fines usually in kind such as native livestock used as offering to appease unseen spirits to assure tranquility with nature. Sanctions are also imposed to offenders depending on the gravity of the crime either. These could be in the form of replacement of damages and or commodities, and at times eviction from the community.

The increasing population and changing perspective of the younger generation due to modernization, as in many instances in sustaining noble practices, according to forester Lagon, are the factors that threaten the continued practice of batangan.

"People need space, and the children who have been expected to carry on the practice are moving away to pursue different plans," Lagon said. He said documenting and recognizing these indigenous practices on forest conservation is one of the government’s way of reiterating the need to preserve it.
For urban areas like Baguio, Lagon explained that putting in place zoning is critical, and it has to be planned well so that areas that must be protected and areas for expansion for development are defined, and should be strictly adhered to.

The challenge he posed is, "Are we willing to do it in our own locality, wherever it is applicable? Or we will build houses for our sons and daughters and leave these as our legacy to them, instead of protecting our trees?"
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