BUTUAN City, PH, August 30-31 — More than any other government and private institutions and agencies mandated to protect the country’s rich natural resources and biodiversity, indigenous peoples (IPs) communities have first crack at the arduous task of their protection and conservation amid the myriad of threats to the environment.
And local government units (LGUs) must work in tandem with the communities for the protection and conservation of the environment, especially protected areas (PAs), said Regional Executive Director Felix Mirasol of the Environment department office in Region 9.
Mirasol considers the IPs as “the original protected area managers“ because they have been “living in the land in perfect harmony with their environment for hundreds or even thousands of years.“
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) idenfitied the top five threats to the environment as habitat loss and degradation; climate change; overexploitation; invasive alien species; and pollution.
Grim as it may seem, hope abounds when such communities as the Agusanon Manobo tribe of the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS) in Agusan del Sur in Caraga (Region 13) and Daraghuyan-Bukidnon tribe of Mt. Kitangland in the Province of Bukidnon in Northern Mindanao (Region 10) and other IP communities in other parts of the country learn of their roles and responsibilities and actively do it not only for their own communities‘ benefit but for all the world to enjoy the richness of Philippine biodiversity.
“Natagamtam sa katawhan sa Agusan Marsh ug lumolupyo sa Lake Panlabuhan nga sila gayud dapat ang manguna sa pagprotekta niini kay ilaha kini. Nakita mismo sa katawhan ang kalainan kung magpadayon ang ilegal nga buluhaton, maong sa karon sila na mismo ang gaunay sa pagprotekta sa Lake Panlabuhan ug Agusan Marsh, (The people of Agusan Marsh and those living in Lake Panlabuhan realized that they should be the first do protect it because it is theirs. They have seen the difference if illegal activities continue, that is why they themselves took the responsibility of protecting Lake Panlabuhan and Agusan Marsh),“ said Remy Boyet “Datu Kanimbailan” Reyes of Loreto, Agusan del Sur.
Reyes said that since he was born in the marsh, just like his ancestors and other Agusanon Manobos, they have learn to adapt to “this place which was designed by nature” as he explained that the people of Panlabuhan have agreed not to practice illegal fishing in the area, among other illegal activities to protect the marsh’s biodiversity.
Environment Defines IPs’ Existence:
In Mt. Kitanglad, hundreds of indigenous peoples volunteer to protect their sacred mountain. They are known as the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGV).
“Mi-bulontaryo kami sa pagprotekta sa Kitanglad tungod kay kini among pinuy-anan diin kami nagakuha sa among mga gikinahanglan. Gawas pa niana ang bukid Kitanglad kutay sa among kultura ug kinabuhi (We volunteered to protect Kitanglad because this is our home where we get what we needed. Aside from that, Mt. Kitanglad is the synonymous to our culture and our very existence,” said Adelina ”Bae Inatlawan” Tarino, the woman-leader of the Daraghuyan-Bukidnon community.
Both lumad leaders agreed that their efforts in protecting their environment, especially Agusan Marsh and Mt. Kitanglad — both declared protected areas — will be fruitless if LGUs and the private sector will not join their crusade.
The Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) recognized this that is why it is closely working with the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) in these areas through the Conflict Sensitive Resource and Asset Management (COSERAM) Programme, which GIZ is implementing in behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in partnership with the Philippine government. The DENR sits as member of COSERAM’s Steering Committee both in the national and regional levels.
DENR’s Strength Are Communities:
“The focus of our cooperation with the PAMB is how to promote and foster a more inclusive and more participatory way of managing protected areas, meaning, including the poeple who are living within the protected areas, like the indigenous peoples,“ said COSERAM Programme Principal Advisor Peter Hauschnik.
Hauscknik said that this cooperation also recognizes the important roles of “all those who are concerned with the protected areas“ like the local governmet units, civil society organizations, and the academe.
According to Mirasol, the strenght of the DENR/PAMB lies not in government. “Our strength is the community. PAMB becomes more powerful if the community is mobilized. That is why all our efforts are aimed at empowering the communities, especially the IP communities.“
This is now becoming an imperative in Mindanao because the once “Land of Promise“ is now the focus of various government and private sector development initiatives.
LGUs Sustain Protection Programs:
LGUs, government agencies and partners must work together to keep the “precarious balance“ of economic development and upholding the integrity of our environment, said Agusan del Norte Governor Maria Angelica Rosedell Malbas Amante-Matba.
“Economic boom in Mindanao has threatened the ecological and environmental balance. There is therefore required concerted effort to ensure that our ecoogy and environment is protected and not sacrificed,“ Matba said.
Vice Mayor Vicente Orencia of the Municipality of Gov. Generoso in the Province of Davao Oriental said that communities‘ efforts without the support of LGUs will fail, the same way that LGUs efforts without the support of the communities will result in nothing. “Both must work in tandem.“
“LGUs‘ commitment and communities‘ involvement together play critical role in sustaining our biodiversity-protection and conservation programs in Mt. Hamiguitan,“ he said.
Orencia said that based on his experience, LGUs program for the protection and conservation of Mt. Hamiguitan has been and continue to be effective because of the involvement of the communities.
“Provision of sustainable livelihood opportunities in exchange of conservation and protection can effectively harness active participation of local communities,“ he said.