BUTUAN City/TALACOGON, Agusan del Sur, PH, November 7-8 — Never before have representatives from both Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Embassy to the Philippines been in Caraga Region at the same time. Dr. Stephan Russek (BMZ) and Dr. Roland Schissau (Embassy), accompanied by GIZ Country Manager from Eschborn Mrs. Anja Köhler, were therefore eagerly awaited by the COSERAM, CPS and Forum ZFD teams and partners.
The setting sun greeted the visitors, who arrived two hours beyond schedule due to the “normal” air traffic congestion in Manila. To ensure their safe travel in Caraga, a police escort accompanied them for the duration of their visit.
From the airport, Drs. Russek and Schissau then toured the COSERAM office, where they were briefed on the security management in Mindanao. They were impressed by the professional setup and the detailed tracking of risks and the risk mapping for the Mindanao regions.
After checking in at their hotel, an exchange about the Programme’s activities between the visitors and COSERAM partner agencies commenced.
Mindanao Cluster Coordinator and COSERAM Principal Advisor Peter Hauschnik masterfully facilitated the tight 2-hour exchange, where short presentations were shown followed by question-and-answer sessions with partners and the German implementing agency.
The exchange focused on the local peace agenda in Caraga, popularly known as the Caraga Roadmap for Peace (CRMP), which ties together all peace and development efforts in Caraga. This core piece of work for all Caraga government agencies was presented by both DILG-Caraga Regional Director Lilibeth Famacion and NEDA-Caraga Assistant Regional Director Roy Katuna. DILG serves as the secretariat of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) while NEDA is the secretariat of the Regional Development Council (RDC).
CRMP’s crucial importance for the cooperation has also been recognized beyond the borders of Caraga and is now being replicated in Region 10, with others to follow through the guidance of DILG, NEDA and OPAPP.
The discussion continued into the late dinner as guests gladly and enthusiastically took the opportunity to continue a more in-depth one-on-one information exchange with the German implementation agency and partners.
By 10 pm, hotel staff started showing signs of fatigue, but all attendees’ spirit refused to flag down as they continued discussing other programme activities like Do No Harm, capacity development approaches for Mindanao, legal aid measures for marginalized people including the IPs, etc.
No matter how they tried to stretch it to quench their knowledge thirst, however, time was not enough. Because an early start was required to be able to proceed on time to the field the following day, everybody called it a night and dispersed for the requisite few hours of shut-eye past 11, thus closing an interesting and informative day for an equally interesting one in the Agusan Marsh the next day.
On November 8th, the delegation travelled to the Province of Agusan del Sur, where they were warmly welcomed by Acting Governor Samuel Tortor.
After a short introduction on the context and importance of the Agusan Marsh, Ms. Salome Acopiado from the Provincial Environment and Natural Resource Office (PENRO-LGU) elaborated on the convergence efforts to conserving the Agusan Marsh.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Caraga (DENR-13) Regional Executive Director Charlie Fabre and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-Caraga (NCIP-13) Regional Executive Director Jake Dumagan agreed with Ms. Acopiado that in the challenging context regarding land rights and titles, a close cooperation have been the key to success.
Strong support of the different agencies enabled the province to capacitate and deputize the local conservation group Bantay Danao, and achieve a first–time in the Philippines: the expansion of a proclaimed protected area through the declaration of local conservation areas (LCAs).
The visitors highly appreciated getting an insight into the complexity of the situation in a nutshell and discussions continued throughout the drive to La Flora, where the IP Researchers, namely Marilyn Trasmil, Delia Santing and Maribeth Noja, and Barangay Kagawad Jeffrey Balenton who represented the Barangay Council, were honoured to receive such important visitors.
Impressed by the marks the annual floods have left on the highly adapted indigenous housing, the delegation together with Regional Directors Fabre (DENR-13) and Dumagan (NCIP-13) took the short boat ride to Lake Tugno.
During the walk along the crescent-shaped lake, several indigenous practices such as the medicinal use of plants and different fishing and agricultural methods were presented by the IP researchers. Since Lake Tugno is one of the Biodiversity Monitoring Sites of the Agusan Marsh, the Protected Area Superintendent’s Office explained how the system has been improved by being more inclusive and supported by local conservation groups.
After walking through the mud, the group was pleasantly surprised to find a delicious buffet lunch and well-laid tables under a shady tree with a view of the lake. IP leaders informed the visitors that a ritual had been conducted prior to the group’s arrival to assure a safe visit. Before returning to the boat, a degustation was conducted while presenting the livelihood project of making jam out of endemic fruit species.
The informative and adventurous but highly secured trip ended with the handing over of t-shirts, bags and caps, as a sign of appreciation by the German Government. With this everyone went home with a smile. (With Herwig Mayer, Peter Hauschnik and Ma. Aurora Laotoco)
All photos by Franz-Fabian Bellot (GIZ).