Forests are crucial for the health and well-being of people, wildlife, and our planet. But, forests, and the people who depend on them such as Indigenous Peoples, are now under tremendous pressure worldwide. Deforestation in many parts of the world continues to occur at an alarming pace and remain as a major environmental issue as the result of agricultural conversion and expansion for food and industrial crops such as palm oil and rubber, livestock production, mining, and energy and industrial infrastructure development.
Forest degradation that includes shifting cultivation, cash cropping, firewood collection, unsustainable logging and anthropogenic fires intensified by exceptional droughts is even more widespread leading to the loss of breeding and foraging habitats and shelter for forest biodiversity, forest structure, ecological functioning and provision of ecosystem services. Furthermore, biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, water shortages, and environmental conflicts lessen the capacity of forest landscapes to provide the environmental goods and services that support food security and other basic human needs (Parrotta, Yeo-Chang, Camacho, 2016). This also puts every household and community at greater risk, particularly from natural disasters and the losses in livelihood, lives, properties, and health that it brings. Studies show that the underlying causes of these problems are poverty, over-population, inequitable land tenure regime, misguided policies, weak governments and debt burdens (Aguda, 2016). Humanity faces an exceptional challenge of eroding natural resources and declining ecosystem services due to a multitude of threats (Pandey, 2000).
Nowadays, many indigenous communities still reside in remote, sparsely inhabited areas, with relatively unspoiled nature, including forest resources (Stevens,1997). Based on a recent report by the indigenous rights organization, there are more than 370 million indigenous people around the world (UNDP, 2014) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also revealed that the indigenous traditional land which is also known as ancestral land possess about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Around 75% of these are known as key biodiversity areas and the indigenous people themselves hold profound, holistic and locally rooted knowledge of their environment; hence indigenous people have the potential to play an important role in managing biological resources.
Since the signing into law of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA Law) in 1997, the role of Indigenous Peoples in the management of the country’s natural resources has been given the attention it rightfully deserves. Under the IPRA IRR Part 2, Section 2.b.3., Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICC) are mandated “to protect, conserve and manage portions of the ancestral domains…which they find necessary for critical watersheds…, wildlife sanctuaries,… protected areas, forest cover or reforestation.” These responsibilities, as well as their development initiatives, should be embodied in their Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP).
The ICC in Barangay Carmen protects and conserve their part of their ancestral domain which covers about 2,928.11 hectares of tropical forest and is known as critical habitat of globally endangered biodiversity such as the Philippine Eagle and the Philippine deer. It includes also the important watersheds of Talomo and Tamugan-Panigan Rivers of Davao City. With the support from Euro Generics International Philippines Foundation (EGIPF) and in partnership with concerned agencies such as the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Department and Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Carmen Indigenous Cultural Community (ICC) has been implementing its Forest Protection and Management cum Sustainable Livelihood Project for almost nine (9) years.
The project includes the regular foot monitoring and patrolling of the ancestral forest to protect it from illegal loggers and activities, poachers, and encroachers and filing cases against forest violators, reforestation in denuded parts of their domain and popularizing indigenous knowledge on forest protection and management to different offices and concerned agencies. Livelihood support is also provided to accelerate community income in order to sustain their protection activities. As of this writing, the community is processing the needed documents and permits to start the operation of their community-based eco-tourism initiative as an alternative and more sustainable source of their livelihood.
For the past six (6) months, the Obu-Manuvu community and the EGIPF have been very active in accomplishing their targeted activities even with limited support and resources. Priority activities involved the acquiring of permits and other pertaining documents for the eco-cultural tourism initiative of the community, filing cases against forest violators in the Kalatong and Carmen-Tabak area with the help from different government offices and concerned agencies, popularizing and acquiring membership of the EGIPF with the Davao City Watershed Management Council and the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC), registration of the community cooperative, the “Koontayan “to Obu-Manuvu of Carmen Inc.”, with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) and obtaining the tax-exempt status of the EGIPF. At the same time, different initiatives were undertaken including the search for additional funding for project activities and benefits. Partnership and possible collaboration with other NGO’s and the Academe were also explored.
This report highlights the activities accomplished for the months of January-June 2019.
Forest Protection and Management
Since 2018, the City Government of Davao through the Davao City Watershed Management Council and the Public Safety and Security Command Center (PSSCC) have adopted the Bantay Bukid program that provides monthly allowances to selected local forest law enforcers. Since then, the Bantay Bukid is tasked to continue their regular monthly monitoring activities to protect the remaining forest and important watersheds of Davao City.
In Barangay Carmen, out of 43 Obu-Manuvu forest guards deputized by the DENR, 23 of them are included in the program of the City Government of Davao. Aside from their regular monitoring and foot patrolling, they are also tasked to report and take action in case of violations like illegal logging, mining, poaching, etc. in coordination with the DENR and NCIP. Last March 29, 2019, a new set of monitoring equipment and materials such rain boots, raincoats, new uniforms, headlamps, and IDs were distributed to the forest guards by the EGIPF through Mr. Alec van Dierendonck, the new chairman and president.
With their passion and consistency in respect of protecting their ancestral domain from encroachment, land speculators and illegal loggers, last January 15, 2019, a team composed of the DENR-XI Law Enforcement Division, PENRO-Davao Del Sur, CENRO-Davao City, PNP-Baguio, 3rd Infantry “Regardless of What Batallion”, 7th Infantry Division of Philippine Army, BLGU-Carmen, EGIP Foundation, Obu-Manuvu Indigenous Council of Elders and Leaders, and Bantay Bukid from Barangay Carmen and Barangay Tambobong went to Sitio Tabak and Sitio Kalatong of Barangay Carmen to survey and verify the reported forest violations by the Obu-Manuvu forest guards of Barangay Carmen. The composite team witnessed the destruction brought by the encroachers and intruders into the ancestral forest and watersheds. More or less 200 hectares of forest were cleared, burned and occupied by several individuals in the area and more or less 100 houses erected. The team also saw some markers along the way which means that the news was true that the land was distributed among these individuals. Several photos and drone footages of the said illegal activities were taken that support the previous reports of the Obu-Manuvu Bantay Bukid of Barangay Carmen and hence will serve as evidence against the violators in the area. The team interviewed and interrogated some members of the illegal groups but they denied any illegal activities in the area that evidently had been destroyed. They claimed that they have documents that prove that they own the whole area which they inherited from their ancestors. Others also said that they don’t have any idea about the law and that what they have been doing is considered illegal. They argued that they just went there to confirm and see the parcel of land given or sold to them. The team advised them to stop whatever they do in the area while the investigation was on-going.
However, when the Bantay Bukid of Barangay Carmen conducted their regular monthly monitoring and foot patrolling last March 18, 2019, they found out that they had continued their illegal activities in the area and a new large tract of the ancestral forest was cleared and several more structures were also built. Numerous endemic trees and plants were cut and illegally logged by intruders and encroachers of the ancestral domain of the ICC in Carmen. Furthermore, a massive number of traps and garbage was also observed in the area.
With the continuing forest violation activities, the Forest Protection and Management Committee (FPMC) of Barangay Carmen filed cases against the identified violators. They submitted the reports to the Obu-Manuvu Ancestral Domain Management Office, BLGU-Carmen, PSSCC, NCIP, DENR, and to the Office of the City Mayor through the Davao City Watershed Management Council (DCWMC). The DCWMC conducted a follow-up investigation of the said forest violations. On the other hand, the CENRO-Davao Del Sur headed by Mr. Marvin Parilla conducted a similar investigation and called both sides to settle the issues. Apparently, there were heated arguments with respect to the filing of appropriate cases. As of this writing, the Davao City Watershed Management Council, CENRO-Davao Del Sur, EGIPF and other concerned agencies assist the Obu-Manuvu Bantay Bukid of Barangay Carmen in filing a court case. They also plan to demolish the illegal structures in the area, install checkpoints at the entry and exit points, do an education and information drive and continue to monitor the area.
Apart from the regular monthly monitoring and foot patrolling around the ICC’s ancestral forest and the watersheds of Talomo and Panigan River, the forest guards also do reforestation. They plant bamboo and other native trees in the area at the side of the riverbanks in order to prevent erosion. Furthermore, they also do community-based water monitoring every month to assess the water quality of the Panigan River, along with river cleanups and information and education campaigns among the local residents of Barangay Carmen, Baguio District, Davao City. The Bantay Bukid is the city’s front-liners in watershed protection to ensure that the Watershed Code is enforced within the upland areas resulting in good quality and adequate supply of water in a sustainable manner for all Dabawenyos. In addition, they also continue to maintain their farm-to-market trail in Karilongan in support for their community eco-tourism initiative project.
Nursery and Reforestation
For the past months, the Obu-Manuvu community together with the EGIPF have been busy with designing a reforestation program. The program is designed in a way that the survival of trees is guaranteed and that the trees can grow old through a system of payment for environmental services. This means that the community will be paid for the planting of native forest trees as well as for its maintenance during a 5-year period. After the maintenance period, the protection and survival of the trees will be guaranteed by the DENR deputized forest guards. The reforestation project is funded by Mr. Wiebe van Rij and meant as a model site. The one-hectare area is located in a part of the land of Mr. Gerbel Aggas in Karilongan. Initially, it was an open space but now it is planted with more or less 300 different species of wildlings and seedlings. The project is agreed by a written agreement between Mr. van Rij and Mr. Aggas.
Furthermore, another reforestation initiative in the areas along the Panigan River and at Mt. Karilongan is the Adopt-a-tree scheme as part of the eco-tourism project of the community, wherein tourists will pay Php 500.00 to adopt 1 fruit tree seedling and 1 native forest tree wildling. Fruit tree seedlings such as Lanzones, Durian, Mangosteen, and Guyabano, and native wildlings such as Tinikaran or common tea tree, Igim or white cedar, Kaningag or cinnamon tree, Balite or Fig tree, Olayan or Philippine oak tree, Lawaan and some Almasiga. Tree seedlings are now stored in the nursery area and ready to be transplanted. As of now, at least 200 fruit seedlings and wildlings were planted along the side of the newly improved farm to market trail in the Karilongan area and are maintained by the concerned landowner. Name tags were also installed on each plant to acknowledge the donor.
For the nursery, aside from the chambered wildlings and purchased and stored fruit tree seedlings, the project also has vegetable seedlings ready to be planted around the one-hectare rented nursery lot. This will serve as a demonstration farm for the community to determine what kind of vegetables or herbs are suitable to plant in their own land. Vegetable and herb seedlings such as okra, ampalaya, sayote, carrots, eggplant, pechay, tomato, rosemary, and basil are now ready for transplanting in prepared garden plots of the community. The vegetables and spices will be one of the food sources for visiting tourists in the eco-tourism project of the community.
As for the partnership with the CENRO Davao City in the National Greening Project (NGP) reforestation project, we need to wait until next year since according to their office, the national budget for the NGP was moved and will be prioritized next year including our pending partnership project. However, all needed documents and requirements for the project have already been submitted and completed.
Eco-Tourism Project of the Indigenous Cultural Community in Carmen
The Koontayan ‘To Obu-Manuvu Eco-Cultural Adventure is an eco-cultural tourism initiative of the ICC in Carmen in partnership with the Obu Manuvu Ancestral Domain Management Council and BLGU-Carmen with support from the EGIPF. The EGIPF support is part of the 10-year Memorandum of Agreement with some other project partners including NCIP and the DENR. The main purpose of the project is to provide alternative sustainable livelihood to the Obu-Manuvu ICC in Barangay Carmen that will help them not only in protecting and rehabilitating their ancestral forest but also in respect of enhancing and creating environmental awareness among the community and the visiting public. Some of the eco-cultural activities will let the public experience and appreciate the beauty of nature and the environmental services that they provide to humans and all life for that matter. Proposed activities are bird watching, forest walks, farm stays, plant and adopt-a-tree scheme, and be a bantay bukid. Furthermore, this will also help revitalize the losing culture and traditions of the whole ICC since it will showcase their way of living, their foods, and traditional songs and dances to the visitors.
Currently, the project has established an Obu-Manuvu Village atop of Mount Karilongan. Three (3) ICC houses made of bamboo with sanitary and water facilities have also been constructed in the village to accommodate visitors during their overnight stay with the community and experience traditional and eco-friendly activities that the Obu-Manuvu community can offer. The Bol’lad ‘To Manama or God’s Hand structure which is made of concrete and coated by bamboo and rattan, serves as prayer site and a viewing deck that overlooks the whole Carmen area and some parts of the Davao metropolis and the Davao Gulf. The site is now becoming familiar and the main attraction in the Obu-Manuvu village at Karilongan which is a symbol of the community’s hopes and dreams to become self-sufficient and self-sustaining. In addition, some spaces are also allocated for putting up tents for those who would like to camp, and as bonfire ground for socialization and cultural presentations. Moreover, some sitting arrangements at outstanding viewpoints and bird watching spots were also installed as a resting area. Railings were constructed to ensure the safety of the visitors when they climb 1083 no sikaa or steps of the concrete farm to the market trail (Hubertus Trail) that goes up to the Obu-Manuvu Village. As a whole, the project does showcase the natural, unique and genuine culture of the Obu-Manuvu ICC and has great potential to invite both local and international tourists.
Last year, aside from the construction of the eco-structures and beautification of the improved Hubertus trail, a series of meetings and presentations were made in order to introduce the project and acquire consent with and suggestions and recommendations from partner agencies. The proposed eco-cultural tourism project has already been presented to the Regional Office of the Department of Tourism and the City Tourism Operation’s Office. Both offices expressed their positive thoughts about the project and gave their support in terms of giving capability training and assistance in promoting the project. Another presentation was done during a meeting participated in by the BLGU-Carmen headed by Hon. Alfredo Austral Sr. and his council, the Baguio District Police headed by SPO4 Arnel C. Betita, the Philippine Army of the 3rd Infantry Battalion of Malagos District, the Davao City headed by LT. Christopher M. Dela Cruz and Datu Joel Unad of the Obu-Manuvu Indigenous Council of Elders and Leaders. The main objective of the meeting was to establish and implement a proper channel of communication with the project management and their office especially with regards to peace and security related matters. The said group is now part of the monitoring and evaluation team of the project and primarily their role is to provide safety and security to the guests/tourists. Then, a stakeholder’s consultation meeting was also held to ask consent and construct a general development plan for the whole project as recommended by most of the stakeholders concerned. The said meeting was spearheaded by the ICC of Barangay Carmen and EGIPF and participated in by the representatives from the Public Safety and Security Command Center (PSSCC) of Davao City, the Department of Tourism (DOT) XI, the City Tourism Operation’s Office (CTOO), the Environment Management Bureau- DENR XI, the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), the Barangay Council of Brgy. Carmen, the Obu-Manuvu Indigenous Council of Elders and Leaders and the Sunrise Bridge Travel Agency. Aside from their full support for the project, the greatest concern of most of the participants centered on the security angle and its immediate and long-term impact on the proposed project and the tourism potential of Carmen as the center of a tourism circuit for the area. After this, several site visits with partner agencies were also conducted to give them an up-close view of the entire structures and orient them with the activities of the project. In return, they rendered valuable suggestions on how to improve the site while the construction of the structures was still ongoing at that time. On September 8, 2018, a soft opening was held to give thanks to the gods of the ICC for the successful establishment of the project.
Since then, the community together with the EGIPF staff has been very busy in securing permits and certifications from partner agencies before the Community-based tourism project can be opened to the public officially. These include certifications from the BLGU-Carmen and the Department of Tourism XI through the Davao City Tourism Operations Office as well as permits from the Environmental Bureau Management XI requirements for an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) and the City Government of Davao for a business permit.
As of this writing, permits to operate the project are still pending. Several problems cropped up during the process of acquiring the permits and other pertinent documents. One of the most needed requirements is the Certification from the City Government on the compatibility of the proposed project with its existing land use plan. But since the project is situated in the said Conservation Area of the city, it needs to be presented to the City Planning Office and to the City Planning Board whereby the nature and purpose of the whole project are explained. The project also needs approval by the City Health Office, the Bureau of Fire and Protection, the City Planning and Development Office and the City Tourism Operations Office. All of them will need to conduct a site survey and inspection before they can approve the project. The problem is, they always schedule their survey and inspection rather late and it seems that the project is treated with less priority by these agencies. But, as of this writing, the latter agencies have already done their survey and inspection in a separate schedule. Another problem is that the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) XI will also need the project to submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Report other than the land-use compatibility report from the City Planning Office before the EMB can issue the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC). Furthermore, since the project area is located in an ancestral domain, a Certificate of Pre-Condition (CP) from the NCIP is also needed. However since the project is owned by the community, a Memorandum of Understanding will do to issue the CP. But again the NCIP says they need to validate first if the project is truthfully owned and managed by the community. This validation was done last March 26, 2019, but the project still waits for the MOU and the issuance of CP. This CP is also required by the Business Bureau of Davao City before they can issue their Permit to Operate. Furthermore, the proposed project was presented to the new Regional Director of the Department of Tourism XI, Mrs. Tanya Rabat-Tan last March 20, 2019. She fully supports the project.
Registrations and Permits
Aside from the registration of the ICC as the “Koontayan ‘To Obu-Manuvu of Carmen Indigenous Association” to the Department of Labor and Employment as a registered workers’ association, vested with legal personality and all rights and privileges under the provisions of the Presidential Decree No. 442, the ICC is already registered with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) as “Koontayan “to Obu-Manuvu of Carmen Inc., with registration number CN201846014. In addition, the ICC based Tourism initiative has also already been registered with the business name “Koontayan ‘To Obu-Manuvu Eco-Cultural Adventure” with the Department of Trade and Industry. The Certificate and board resolutions of the BLGU-Carmen and the Unified Obu-Manuvu Indigenous Council of Leaders and Elders, supporting the project, has been done too.
On the other hand, the community marketing cooperative registration is still on process although the validation of documents for coop registration has been done already. The name of the proposed cooperative is “Kolivuungan ‘To Obu-Manuvu Marketing Cooperative” with an initial number of 35 members, consisting of members of the ICC, the BLGU-Carmen Council, and EGIPF staff. Some incorporators of the cooperative still need to undergo a Pre-Registration Seminar (PRS) before the marketing coop can be registered. Among these incorporators are Lipatuan Joel Unad and Mahabbok Luis Lambac.
Furthermore, aside from the above-mentioned registrations, the EGIPF has been busy securing certificates and membership documents from the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC). However, the first priorities now are changing the present condition of the foundation into a tax-exempt status, crucial in respect of acquiring funds from different funding agencies, as well as requiring the membership of the PCNC Member. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is the government office responsible for changing the tax status. As of this writing, the required documents have been submitted and are on the table of the Revenue Officer for assessment and review. In the meantime, the EGIPF became a full-pledge member of the Sustainable Davao Movement and Multipartite Monitoring Team of the Davao City Watershed Management Council.
Below are the next priority activities for the project:
1. Secure the permits and certifications from the City Tourism Operations Office, the City Government of Davao, the NCIP and the EMB XI for the community-based tourism project.
2. Pursue the tax-exemption status of EGIPF to allow for possible funding support and PCNC membership;
3. Continue the quarterly forest monitoring and foot patrolling with a focus on the encroachment and illegal forest activities in Kalatong and Tabak-Carmen Area.
4.Follow-up and assist the community and other concerned agencies in filing appropriate cases against forest violators and encroachers in Kalatong and Tabak-Carmen Area;
5. Attract funds to finish the rehabilitation of the Community Learning Center;
6. Facilitate the improvement and beautification of the ICC Village; prioritize the water connection and related facilities and the maintenance of the trail and cottages at Karilongan;
7. Facilitate the required and additional training, study tours and site visits for the community in terms of management, marketing and accounting, basic tour guiding and others that need priority;
8. Further, develop the partnership with the Sunrise Bridge Travel Agency and other local tour agencies for promotion and marketing before the start of the eco-tourism project’s operation;
9.Follow-up on the proposal submitted to the Schmitz Foundation for possible support to further improve on the existing as well as in respect of constructing additional eco-cultural structures. An agroforestry training of the community is also in the pipeline with requested financial support from the Schmitz Foundation;
10. Re-submit the Agricultural Tramline Project Proposal to the Department of Agriculture XI after completing the necessary requirements;
11. Re-submit the registration of the community for the Marketing Cooperative;
12. Locate an appropriate site for a new, one hectare, reforestation project funded by the Dutch Solar Cooperative Spaarnezaam, and make sure enough wildlings are ready in the nursery for planting later in the year;
13. Renew all registration and permits; and,
14. Submit proposals to more funding agencies for possible partnership and support.
15. In respect of furthering enhancing the capacity of EGIPF, on request of the EGIPF management, a Senior Expert of the German Senior Expert Service (SES), Mr. Guenter Muehlbauer will be assigned in August for 4 months to provide his services to the EGIPF as well as to the ICC in Carmen. Besides exploring funding opportunities for forest protection and reforestation, the Expert will also advise on the various project related activities outlined above.
We are continuously grateful to Datu Paulino Landim Sr. and to the members of his council, to the 43 forest guards and to the 55 families of ICC in Carmen who have shown their commitment and maximum participation in all activities of the project during the last six (6) months even with limited support and resources. We are likewise thankful to the Unified Obu Manuvu Indigenous Council of Elders/Leaders, Ancestral Domain Management Office (ADMO) headed by Datu Luis Lambac and his council Datu Joel Unad and Datu George Mandahay, for their optimism and valuable support to the project. To the Barangay Council of Carmen especially to Barangay Captain Alfred Austral, NCIP XI, DENR XI, and Davao CENRO, for their unending support and guidance especially during the investigation and the filing of appropriate cases to the forest violators in Kalatong and Tabak-Carmen Area.
We are also indebted to Engr. Kristine Nova Macado for her help and patience to the project for almost 2 years but now focusing on her chosen career.
Furthermore, we would like to express our gratitude to all government offices and concerned agencies for their active participation during meetings and presentations of the proposed eco-cultural tourism initiative of the community. Finally to Mr. Alec van Dierendonck, President, and Mr. Wiebe van Rij, Vice-President, the EGIPF Incorporators, in charge of the overall supervision of the activities of the Foundation.