Binantazan nga Banwa / Binantajan nu Bubungan, Philippines
The Mamanwa and Manobo are two distinct ethnic groups that reside and traditionally manage a portion of Mt. Hilong-Hilong KBA particularly in the Municipalities of Santiago, Jabonga and Kitcharao all in Agusan del Norte, Caraga Region in Mindanao.
The Mamanwa of the Caraga region are the oldest existing group of people in Mindanao and are believed to be direct descendants of the Mambuti tribe in Africa. The Manobo is the largest ethnic family in the Philippines. The name “Manobo” is traceable to the Malay word “Mansuba,” a combination of “man” (people) and “suba” (river) as an ascription to where the Manobo usually dwell, which is by or on the river through floating houses - although it could also simply mean “man” or “person”. According to a 2010 census, the Ancestral Domain has a total population of 6,595 individuals distributed in approximately 800 households.
The Mamanwa are nomadic in nature, relying on hunting and gathering to survive and grow minimal crops such as yams to supplement their foraging activities. The Manobo’s subsistence pattern is, on the other hand, semi-nomadic relying mainly on shifting agriculture with hunting and gathering as supplementary activities. Some communities retained these traditional livelihood activities, but now that they are settled in more compact and permanent settlements both in town centers and in the uplands, the Mamanwa and Manobo have also diversified to other economic practices such as entrepreneurship and the provision of physical labor and other services. In general though, agriculture remains the primary source of employment, followed by forestry, inland fishing, and mining.
The co-existence of both tribes in the area and their frequent interaction have resulted to intermarriages between the two tribes which not only integrated their bloodlines but also their socio-political system, religious practices and cultural beliefs. Both the Mamanwa and Manobo believe in a supreme being they call Magbabaya, who is also the creator of all. They also believe in spirits and unseen beings inhabiting and guarding the elements of their environment and to whom recognition and respect must be accorded to lest they would be punished or plagued by unfortunate events. They understand each other’s dialect. Even with this link though, some communities in the ancestral domain has retained their distinct Mamanwa and Manobo traditions and beliefs. Those who live near the forest margins have also attested to the existence of Mamanwa clans that continued their nomadic existence in the forests of Agusan del Norte with very minimal contact with outsiders.
The Ancestral Domain of the Mamanwa-Manobo Tribe is located in the Caraga Region in Mindanao and covers portions of three municipalities in the province of Agusan del Norte, namely Jabonga, Kitcharao and Santiago. Aside from native title rights, the Government of the Philippines has legally recognized them as the owners of 27,057.45 hectares of this land through a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title or CADT No. 134 issued in 2010.
The Mamanwa-Manobo territory is mostly forested with primary forests covering 9,600.2 hectares while secondary forests cover 13,441.3 hectares. Grasslands (733.6 ha), agricultural areas (3,192.9 ha), and residential areas (48.2 ha) also make up the whole ancestral domain and contribute to the diversity of life in the territory. Within this territory lies their ICCA.
The Mamanwa and Manobo tribes of CADT 134 call their conservation area as Binantazan nga Banwa and Binantajan nu Bubungan, respectively. “Binantazan” and “Binantajan” mean “protected” while “Banwa” and “Bubungan” mean “forested mountain.” It is located along the eastern border of the Ancestral Domain and has a total area of 1,546.5 hectares. Of this, 1,397.14 hectares is primary dipterocarp forest while the remaining 149.38 hectares is secondary dipterocarp forest.
The central feature of the Mamanwa-Manobo ICCA is Mt. Panlabao, the highest peak within the ancestral domain and also the most sacred of all areas in the territory. They describe it as inereg or inajagan in the Mamanwa and Manobo dialect, respectively. Both words mean that their reverence for the area is so deep that the fear of its destruction drives both the Mamanwa-Manobo and the spirits dwellers of the said mountain to keep it to themselves and away from others who might harm it. It is for this reason that a ritual is necessary whenever anyone goes near or intends to enter the sacred premises.
The Mamanwa-Manobo’s reverence of the Panlabao and its surrounding forests is rooted in their belief that it is the birthplace of their ancestors. It is the home of their spirits that provide the “baylan” their spiritual and medicinal wisdom and healing abilities. Although many have learned the mainstream society’s ways of earning cash for a variety of their needs and wants, the Mamanwa-Manobo still go back to the Binantazan nga Banwa / Binantajan nu Bubungan for their primary and basic needs for survival such as water, food, medicines, shelter and protection. Protection of these forests also means protection of their cultural identity as Mamanwa - Manobo people and securing the resources for the coming generations.
History and Activities
For the Mamanwa-Manobo, all resources within the Ancestral Domain are gifts from “Magbabaya”. As much as they are entitled to benefit from the gifts they are also required to protect and conserve it for their future generations.
Resource use and utilization in the ICCA is very limited to fishing, hunting, trapping, and gathering of forest products. These activities are governed by the communities’ traditional beliefs and the practical communal knowledge of taking just enough for their needs, from the right place, at the right time using conservative methods and with due respect to the spirit overseers of the resources.
Centuries of interaction with this environment has allowed them to develop practical techniques and simple equipment for these activities. These are essentially manual and even those with equipment are selective to ensure that populations of their needed plants and animals are sustained. They have also attuned these activities with the natural cycles of the environment including the climate.
These conservation practices are manifested in their hunting and gathering techniques. Mamanwa-Manobo hunters do not catch pregnant wild pigs and deer. They have designated certain times of the year as off-season for hunting to avoid coming across pregnant and young pigs and deer. They have also designed traps using weight and height estimates to ensure that only adults are caught.
Harvesting timber also has certain restrictions. Trees that are identified as homes of spirits such as the balite tree (Ficus sp.) are barely touched while trees with vines tangled around their trunks should not be harvested because this means that snakes will frequent the house made with its timber.
For all these practices, a ritual and a simple prayer asking for permission to take from the bounty of nature and the asking of forgiveness for the disturbance or for whatever fault the hunter or gatherer might commit in the process is offered to the spirit overseers.
These are just some of the unwritten but communally understood and obeyed traditional rules in resource use and utilization. This allowed the continued existence of the rich wildlife in the ICCA as well as the cultural life of the Mamanwa-Manobo tribe.
All 1,546.5 hectares of the ICCA is included in the Mt. Hilong-Hilong Range Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), which is also one of the priority conservation areas in the country and forms part of the Eastern Mindanao Biodiversity Corridor (EMBC) and the Lake Mainit Watershed. It has also been classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the BirdLife International in 2001 primarily due to the presence of the Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle.
The Forest Resource Inventory conducted by the community in February 2013 has resulted in a floral species count of at least 190 species including White Lauan Shorea contorta, Red Lauan Shorea negrosensis, Bagtikan Parashorea malaanonan and the highly threatened Almaciga sp. According to the KBA Profile compiled by country’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Mt. Hilong-Hilong Range KBA is home to “at least 120 species of birds, and 59 of these (50%) are confined to the Philippines. For frogs and reptiles, at least 41 species were recorded and 26 (63%) of these are Philippine endemics. For mammals, at least 45 species were documented and 20 of these (44%) are Philippine endemics. At least 31 globally threatened vertebrates were noted and previous records list 17 globally threatened plants.”
Mt. Hilong-Hilong shelters one Near Threatened and eight Vulnerable amphibians; 14 Vulnerable, one Near Threatened, one Endangered, and two Critically Endangered bird species; and four Vulnerable mammalian species. In terms of floral species, seven are Vulnerable, four are Endangered and five Critically Endangered. This globally threatened wildlife includes the Philippine Eagle, the country’s national bird, and “Magkono” or the Philippine iron wood. Furthermore, conservation International (CI) – Philippines recorded 23 restricted range species of vertebrates in this KBA.
Enclosing a sizeable block of montane dipterocarp forest in Eastern Mindanao, the Mamanwa-Manobo ICCA serves as a carbon pool holding an estimated 323,174.77 tons of carbon in trees. This is based on the 2013 carbon stock quantification conducted by the Mamanwa-Manobo community with assistance from PAFID-NewCAPP. This forest keeps the climate cool in the said part of the Philippines and also buffers the area from strong winds and typhoons.
The Mamanwa-Manobo’s territory encompasses two major river systems in Agusan del Norte which are important as tributaries for the Lake Mainit Watershed and as potential sources of renewable hydropower electricity. These rivers are the Puyo River System and Asiga River System. The Binantazan nga Banwa/Binantajan nu Bubungan cradles the head source of Asiga River while it contributes to the Puyo River through the Maraat, Kibongbong and Bagosangay creeks that have their sources in the ICCA. This makes the ICCA an important part of the Lake Mainit Watershed that supplies lowland communities particularly in Jabonga, Santiago, Kitcharao, Tubay and Cabadbaran City with water for domestic uses and agricultural irrigation. This could be a potential source of support for conservation initiatives in the form of Payment for Ecological Services (PES).
The forests within the ICCA currently contribute to the reduction of risk from landslides and floods particularly in the municipalities of Jabonga, Kitcharao, Cabadbaran and Santiago all in Agusan del Norte. However, if mining is not halted and degraded forests around it are not regenerated, the next generation may not be able to enjoy the same benefit.
Management and Governance
The Mamanwa-Manobo Ancestral Domain Management Council of CADT No. 134 (MMADMC) , as the ancestral domain’s indigenous peoples’ organization, is the focal structure responsible for the management of the entire domain in collaboration with the sectoral tribal councils. The Sectoral Tribal Councils are composed of clan leaders and respected elders who directly deal with territorial and resource management. Decision-making is essentially on the shoulders of the sectoral leaders except when an event, activity or project could greatly affect the whole ancestral domain, because this is under the responsibility of the MMADMC.. The MMADMC officials are also the sectoral leaders and they meet on a monthly basis to discuss updates on projects and resolve issues and concerns affecting the domain.
The Mamanwa-Manobo community is fraught with challenges and issues both from external and internal sources. These threaten the very lifeline of the ICCA and the Mamanwa-Manobo community as well. Threats and issues include land tenure security; weakening of traditional knowledge and governance mechanisms; conflicting interests and leadership struggles; unstable peace and order; forest degradation; river siltation and flooding. The greatest threat to the ICCA is mining.
The Mamanwa-Manobo recognizes that they will need help in keeping the ICCA intact as the challenges that lie ahead are evolving into more complex situations. They developed a Community Conservation Plan (CCP) last December 2013 to sustain and improve protection and conservation efforts for the Binantazan nga Banwa/Binantajan nu Bubungan. The CCP also generally seeks to improve the Mamanwa-Manobo’s well-being as grassroots stewards of the ICCA and the whole AD. The MMADMC shall be responsible in implementing the plan, however, capacity-building activities are needed to help improve their skills and knowledge. Particularly needed is training on project management, leadership, financial management, organizational development and project development.
Support from both the Government and private institutions is very much welcome as long as the Mamanwa-Manobo’s rights as grassroots stewards of the ICCA are respected and as long as interventions are culturally sensitive. Any activity or support should abide by the plans and policies enshrined in the CCP. Programs on strengthening the cultural foundation of ICCA initiatives and providing support for economic upliftment are encouraged as priorities to ease the pressure on the environment.
What’s Next and Lessons Learned
DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Region XIII has started ticking off targets included in the CCP. The said government agency has prioritized the Mamanwa-Manobo community (CADT 134) to receive support for reforestation and livelihood through its National Greening Program (NGP). It has also provided assistance in food security projects such as FAITH or Food Always In The Home that provides vegetable seeds to ensure food and livelihood security at the household level. Ten Mamanwa-Manobo youth and leaders have also been deputized as Wildlife Enforcement Officers (WEO) to strengthen monitoring and protection initiatives in the ancestral domain. Arrangements for additional WEOs and logistical support to them are already ongoing.
The ICCA Bill is still on its way to becoming a National Law in the Philippines. The Mamanwa-Manobo community, along with other Indigenous Peoples Communities, is looking forward to its speedy approval in order to have a more concrete legal basis for the special recognition and appropriate support to ICCAs in the country. However, while waiting, the Mamanwa-Manobo are putting their optimism onthe declaration of the Mt. Hilong-Hilong Range KBA as a Protected Landscape. Once approved, it could secure financial, technical and logistical support for the implementation of the CCP aside from providing an additional layer of legal protection for the ICCA. This could therefore boost protection and conservation efforts for the Mamanwa-Manobo ICCA as well as provide the necessary support for their livelihood needs. The Mamanwa-Manobo is also open to inclusion in the proposed Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) so that they can participate in the government’s efforts at protecting the environment.
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