Floating houses have not been there before. We remember last year, when we cruised through the calm waters of Agusan River and turned into Dagun Lake and finally reached Panlabuhan Lake system. The village was used to be some hundreds of meters away from the place where it is now. Why? As we will learn later that day, the fishes prefer this place much more – this year.
This time, 22 May 2014, we have somehow changed our composition. We are a team composed of four implementing agencies of a cooperation called “Indigenous Practices for Biodiversity Conservation (IP4Biodiv)” responding to the kind invitation of Rufino Miranda, the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) and the Manobo indigenous peoples of Barangay Panlabuhan, Loreto, to show us their abundant biodiversity and their ways of conserving it.
The selected date was very appropriate; May 22 is the International Day for Biological Diversity. This year it was celebrated under the theme of Island Biodiversity, and the idea was to present actions to effectively conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable livelihood. The message was clear: conservation cannot be reached without the people, mainly Manobo indigenous peoples living in this area, the Agusan Marsh.
The Agusan Marsh and particularly the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most ecologically significant areas in the Philippines. It is crucial water catch basin that protects downstream municipalities, including Butuan City. It is also identified as a key biodiversity of the country and is a protected area under presidential proclamation in 1996, and in 1999 it was included in the so called Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance.
The Agusan Marsh is also home of the Manobo indigenous peoples who live in harmony with nature as far back as memory can recall. They were the stewards of this wonderful life-sustaining system whose life revolves around both their spiritual and physical environment. The Manobo community in Lake Panlabuhan exhibit this intricate relationship with nature. They know the ins and outs of their place; the histories and relationship with the abundant life in there they continuously nurture; the spirits and ancestors they continue to venerate. The Manobos have names for every single bird, fish and other living things in their place. They know who were the visiting birds, those who decided to stay for good and those who are like the Manobo, have been in the area since time immemorial.
We experienced that knowledge on our own, in an informal yet profound way of exchange
with the Manobo community during this day.NCIP Regional Director Atty. Pinky Grace Pabelic, NEDA representative Graziella Harting, DENR representative Florante Denamarca and other personnel from the respective agencies, as well as GIZ, carefully listened to the communities’ knowledge of conservation, their proud relationship with nature including their way of responding to the flood by hiding their whole community into the forest, or their life of living with the crocodiles.
This is the first step towards recognizing the very unique and very important role of the Manobos in the conservation of Agusan Marsh.