Philippine ICCA on the move
A series of sub-national conferences on Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) were launched in a single month of November by the Koalisyon ng Katutubo at Samahan Ng Pilipinas (KASAPI). With backing from the country’s premier State University of the Philippines through the UP Office of the Vice-President for Public Affairs and the National College of Public Administration for Governance (NCPAG), the DENR’s Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau – New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (PAWB-NewCAPP), Global Environmental Facility-United Nations Development Program (GEF-UNDP), the Philippine Association for Inter-cultural Development (PAFID) and Anthro-Watch, KASAPI mobilized indigenous leaders nationwide to hold three sub-national events covering first, Luzon, Visayas and Island Groups ( the two were merged for practical and logistical reasons) , second, Eastern Mindanao and third, Western Mindanao. More than ninety (90) Indigenous representatives including youth, women and men, mostly practitioners of customary law, peace and development with known experience on forest conservation and governance from seven (7) ethnographic regions of the country participated. Fifty (50) more from the academe, private non-government organizations and supportive agencies from government joined as observer-participants. The ICCA events were held at the National Capital Region, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
In providing the background, KASAPI’s Secretary-General Giovanni Reyes said “This is to honor the country’s least heard yet greatest contributors to FREE ecological services like clean air and clean water”. He notes that “despite well-documented roles in knowledge management that made possible the current breadth of biodiversity in the Philippines, indigenous peoples hardly have a voice in efforts to manage the environment.” He pointed out that “most discourses in environment management dichotomize between Wildlife Habitat, Protected Areas, National Parks, Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainable Development from indigenous traditional knowledge – a great divide that shows a marked position of Indigenous Peoples being in the margins – Yet the ideas and processes by which these are managed are of the same stock.” In organizing the events, he stressed that “it is most necessary to examine and asses trends in development conservation. There is so much that is happening in indigenous peoples’ villages which are in many ways, the results of the “shrinking” of the world into one integrated global village with industrialization and global forces of commerce as trendsetters.” Reyes emphasized another reason that compels calls to support ICCAs: “International economic instruments have [even] by-passed national barriers so that direct assimilation of indigenous communities in its many forms has germinated between interior villages and the outside world. What occurs is maldevelopment that destroys indigenous habitats and cultural lifeways”.
University of the Philippines role
Explaining the University of the Philippines’ supports support for ICCA, U.P’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Professor at the UP-NCPAG Dr. Prospero De Vera said that “UP has Public Service Function with aims at developing new governance models”. He said, “UP assists different agencies of government particularly in crafting laws covering broad range of issues as well as providing expertise on specific concerns.” Dr. de Vera sighted for instance the recent “Fish Kill” at a lake south of Manila where UP sent experts to deal with the crisis and worked with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)”. In the case of ICCA, Dr. de Vera says that while “ICCA is not really new, in the sense that indigenous peoples’ traditional governing systems to keep their environment has been existing through time, what is new is emerging recognition of ICCAs by sectors of society.” He added that UP is sustaining “breakthroughs in providing necessary assistance for communities in support of governance systems crucial for biodiversity conservation.”
Global and National Overview of ICCA
In providing background about development of ICCAs, Mr. Dave de Vera, PAFID Executive Directors said, “indigenous people’s simple lifestyles and means of living are the mains reasons that the health of forests have been sustained through time” He said, “many parts of ancestral domains including forests, rivers and coastal seas have been taken care by indigenous peoples themselves as a matter of man – nature relations that give sustenance to each other”. He added that “major portions of ancestral territories are considered sacred and should not be exploited or destroyed” stressing that “these have been conserved by traditional indigenous peoples’ governing systems particularly in the utilization of forests.” He said “these systems prevented biodiversity loss”. Mr. De Vera further expounded on laws imposed on indigenous communities as time passed. He explained that “certain State laws and regulations have been passed but fail to understand indigenous peoples and resulted in the stripping of their roles in protecting key biodiversity areas within their ancestral territories”. De Vera sighted society’s discrimination of indigenous people as people without “educational background” or as “non-professionals” which he said just “showed people’s disrespect for indigenous peoples’ skill and knowledge in biodiversity conservation.” He added that the “the important symbiotic relation between indigenous peoples and environment are being severed as large portions of community-conserved areas are encroached and penetrated by large-scale extractive activities, mostly foreign-owned.” He said that “because of this, indigenous people’s knowledge and skills in environmental protection are in grave danger of being extinct”. He provided participants examples of remaining territories currently being protected by indigenous peoples. These include:
A big portion of the Certified Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) of a Buhid Mangyan territory in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro which is considered by indigenous Mangyans as sacred such as cemeteries and ceremonial sites located in their forests;
2. Areas inside the Iglit-Baco ancestral territories of Tao-Buhid, also among Mangyans;
3. Mount Kalatungan, held by Manobos as one of the most sacred mountains in Mindanao;
4. The “Awuyuks”, a series of lakes found in Coron Island, Palawan;
5. Areas protected by Aeta Abellens of Zambales Mountain Range particularly Maporac, New San Juan, Cabangan;
6. Muyongs in Ifugao.
ICCA Consortium Sends Support
In a video message addressed to participants via internet, Ms. Grazia Borrini-Feyarabend, International Coordinator of the Geneva-based ICCA Consortium regarded the sub-national ICCA conferences as a reflection of the participant’s “personal dangers for being powerful in defending ancestral territories and community conserved areas”. She said that “many people around the world are taking you as an example, and the Philippines is one of the places in the world where people are advanced in ICCAs”.
The ICCA consortium was formed as a response to mounting interest and concern about ICCAs on the occasion of the 4th ICCA Conservation Congress in which mutually-respected NGOs and organisations representing indigenous communities established it in Barcelona, Spain in 2008. The Consortium sought appropriate recognition of ICCAS at national and international levels and support provided to indigenous peoples and local communities governing ICCAs. The program provides seeding support on ICCAS among a large variety of actors including NGOs concerned with integrated conservation, development and human rights goals and international agencies such as UNDP, UNEP, WCMC and IFAD.
Five Case Studies
Five cases studies were presented by IP community leaders themselves. They include Mr. Salvador Dimain a.k.a Ka Badong, head of the Maporac Aeta Association, Maproac, Cabangan, Zambales; Mr. Roy Abella, Vice-Chairman, Tagbanua Tribe of Coron Island Association, Inc., of Coron, Palawan; Datu Ampuan Sulda of the Upacat Te Maginged Te Keretungan He Ebpengimbetasan – UMKE of Balmar, Pangantucan, Bukidnon; Datu Johnny Guina of the Portulin Tribal Association, also of Bukidnon; and, Datu Ireneo Rico Makalipay of San Toribio, Esperansa, Agusan del Sur.
The case studies provided participants with the opportunity for sharing of values, practices and experiences on conservation from which they could also draw lessons from. Certain commonalities emerged from the cases:
1. The strength or health of biodiversity is drawn from people’s deep spiritual reverence towards their environment. The forests are considered home to the Creator and in which the dead are buried;
2. Management rules and use of resources are rooted in customary laws. Indigenous council of elders who are the repositories of traditional land management are the ‘duty-bearers of supremacy of custom law’ and enforce these rules;
3. Simple living among community members and sharing of resources according to needs;
4. Ancestral territories are sources of sustenance and should be preserved for the next generation as did the previous bequeathing these to the present;
5. Sustaining the protection ICCAs entail support from organized groups, government, strengthening indigenous culture through genuine recognition of indigenous peoples rights.
Legal Pluralism and Biodiversity Conservation
Retired Anthropologist Professor and former Constitutional Commissioner Ponciano Bennagen enlightened participants with a diagram showing various stakeholders. In his diagram, he put indigenous knowledge system, customary law and biodiversity conservation encircled at a center. Lingering around are market forces with a view on the center anchored on “how to profit from it”. Next is the entity called the State whose national level agencies and local level agencies, Prof. Bennagen says, “suffer immensely from conflict particularly in interpretation of policy”. It is to this sector that market forces obtain connections including permits to gain entry in conservation areas to extract its resources.
Apart from the State and the market are Revolutionary Forces including the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Aside from these forces are Non-Government Organizations who provide technical, financial support including trainings. Professor Bennagen said that experience have shown that “some NGOs are also sources of division among IP groups and challenged these groups to unify their advocacy and help consolidate the position of communities on issues facing them.” He said, these stakeholders, especially the armed groups (NPA,MILF,AFP) are forces that indigenous peoples can’t avoid dealing or negotiating with. Problems that IPs have had to face involve outsiders who do not recognize indigenous knowledge systems and customary laws, as well as insiders also known as “tribal dealers”. Prof. Bennagen said that strengthening IP communities are effective only when conflicts are resolved within territories by utilizing all legal rights instruments available in order to put to bear all destructive forces. He sighted UNDRIP but also urged for its transformation from mere declaration to convention for it to be legally binding. He also urged the ratification of ILO 169. Such policy environment when realized, he said, would support the aims of “man as both creature and holder of the environment”.
The NewCAPP Initiative
Explaining the New Conservation Areas Philippines Project (NewCAPP) under the Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), NewCAPP Project Manager Ms. Floradema Eleazar shared that the project is not under any Protected Area systems but under indigenous communities. She said this is supported by Section 8 (j) of the Convention on Biodiversity which directs State parties, “to recognize community governing systems in the conservation of the environment”. Ms. Eleazar also cited key provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) namely:
Article 12. The right of indigenous peoples to protect sacred sites
Article 25. Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations.
Article 29. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.
The conference workshop tackled two major concerns, each having sub-concerns and issues. These are:
1. 1. Community conserved areas under terms owned by the indigenous peoples focused on places that particular tribes takes special care of and why and when did tribes take special care of these conserved areas, a description of these and their state of health and;
2. 2. Caring for Community Conserved Areas focused on ways defined and described by indigenous communities as regards threats, actions, responses and recommendations.
Each sub-national conference concluded with “solidarity night” – festive in format and eco-cultural in content. Participants were asked to bring tribal attire and instruments for the events least, “wine spirits won’t flow”.
The National ICCA Conference in March 2012 will be hosted by the University of the Philippines.
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