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Pangasananan, Philippines


The Pangasananan is the whole territory of the Manobo people situated in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, Region XIII (Caraga), Mindanao, Philippines. Covering a total area of 69.96 km2, it is bounded by Bunawan, Agusan del Sur in the West-Northwest, Trento, Agusan del Sur in the Southwest, Pamaypayan, Surigao del Sur in the Southeast and Bislig City in the North-Northeast and East. It is located at approximately 208 km from Davao City, Davao del Sur and 152 km from Butuan City, Agusan del Norte.

Pangasananan (root word: pangasan, the act of obtaining food and other needs i.e. timber, ritual materials, decoration, household materials etc. and “anan" as suffix denoting a place).


For the Manobo people, the Pangasananan is everything they need. It provides them food, shelter, medicines, water and identity. Its destruction is also their downfall. Hence, it is of prime importance for them to protect, conserve and manage it to ensure their survival.


The Manobo Community
The ICCA is home to over 1,500 members of the indigenous Manobo people living in 6 hamlets namely Baguis, Bayabas, Sote, 84-F, Anislag and Silang.


The community is of farmers and agroforesters. Each family has their own patch of land for upland rice cultivation and subsistence farming. Most families plant vegetables, banana, durian and root crops for selling to the village and/or city market. Others also gain income thru abaca farming, lowland wet-rice farming, working as laborers, transporters, selling forest products such as honey and wild meat, and small-scale selling of pulp-wood such as falcata, umbrella, and mangium. Cultivation of chickens, pigs, goats and carabaos is also practiced by some households to contribute to the family income. Some families fish and collect shellfishes from streams, rivers and lakes in the ICCA. Many are employed as managers, workers, guides and/or guards in the Tinuy-an Falls Eco-Tourism site.


The life of the Manobo is governed by beliefs especially of the supernatural or spirit world. These spirits are believed to be owners/guardians of everything that the people utilize or need for their survival. Arts, music, dances and songs of their ancestors have been lost to them. Many of the Manobo have been influenced by the mainstream culture that demands entirely different strategies for coping up, causing deviations from their traditional ways. These have caused the structure of leadership to gradually change and shift into one with an overlay of the contemporary civil structures. The groups are also largely Christianized such that only traces of the original Manobo belief systems and lifeways are left. The national education system has also largely penetrated the community with an equivalent impact on the newer generations becoming more concerned with what needs to be learned from the formal institution, ignoring their customs altogether. The distinctive character of ethnic dress has also mostly given way to commercial clothing, with ethnic materials finding their ways to the community through purchases from other Manobo communities.


The Manobo people in the Pangasananan admits that they are losing grip of the lifeways that ensured their survival up to this day. The only remaining strong link to their forebears is the territory they have inherited, the spirits that dwell in it and the rituals that connect humans and spirits.


Management and Governance of the ICCA

The Manobo Tribal Council of Sote or MATRICOSO is the indigenous peoples' organization responsible for the management of resources within the Pangasananan as well as community development. Matters of peace-keeping, conflict resolution and territorial security are the responsibilities of the Hawudon (community leaders). The Bagani, or traditional warriors, help in the enforcement of policies, physical security, and apprehension of illegal activities. The Kamala'asan, respected and influential elders in the community, act as counselors to the Hawudon. Decision-making still resides with the Hawudon.


The territory itself is divided into nine (9) sectors to better manage it. The sectors are named after major water bodies in each area namely Danao, Tinuy-an, Tabonan, Anislag, Mag-usa, Baguis, Daganluson, Sungkuan, and Sayaw. Each sector is headed by a Hawudon. The whole territory also has a chief. His role is more of oversight in nature since each sector already has a leader. Any infringement of community laws are processed by the sector leader first and goes up to the Council of Leaders and Elders if the issue is not resolved at the sector level.

The Baylan (spiritual masters) do not have decision-making powers and are also not involved in enforcement of community laws. His/her role is mainly in the conduct of major rituals that require invoking the more powerful spirits in the Pangasananan and beyond. This is important. No major activity may proceed without prior consent from the spirits, a communication that only the Baylan can facilitate.


Biodiversity and Ecological Significance
The ICCA is part of the South Diwata/Bislig Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and the Bislig Important Bird Area (IBA), which features endemic lowland dipterocarp forests with 21 vertebrates and 9 plants that are globally threatened. According to BirdLife International, the Bislig IBA hosts threatened and restricted-range bird species namely Mindanao Brown-dove, Mindanao Bleeding-heart pigeon, Spotted Imperial-pigeon, Silvery Kingfisher, Rufous-lored Kingfisher, Wattled Broadbill, Azure-breasted Pitta, Philippine Leafbird, Little Slaty Flycatcher and Celestial Monarch. The Pangasananan forest is also a breeding ground for the critically endangered Philippine Monkey-Eating Eagle and the entire area is part of its feeding ground.


In 2018, a carbon-stock quantification study conducted by the Manobo and PAFID1 estimated 470,755.05 tonnes of Carbon in its forests and approximated floral species richness of 189. This forest keeps the climate cool in the said part of the country and also buffers the area from strong winds and typhoons. In 2012, although unusual, a strong typhoon (named Bopha/Pablo) hit the community but did not do much damage to infrastructures. It instead devastated the forests in the Pangasananan. This same forest also cradles the Tinuy-an Watershed that irrigates rice lands, farms and plantations, and also a source of water for domestic and industrial use of Bislig City dwellers.


Conservation
For the Manobo, all resources within the Pangasananan are gifts from the Supreme Being, Magbabaya. Resource use and utilization in the ICCA is governed by traditional beliefs and the practical knowledge of taking just enough for their needs with due respect to nature's spirit guardians. Centuries of depending on the immediate environment for their survival has allowed them to develop practical and essentially conservative techniquesto ensure that populations of important flora and fauna are sustained. They have also attuned these activities with the natural cycles of the environment. These conservation practices are manifested in their subsistence activities. In hunting, they have designated certain times of the year as off-season for hunting to avoid coming across pregnant and young pigs and deer. They 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 not touched and needs special rituals to be used. A ritual asking for permission to take from the bounty of nature and entering sacred sites are conducted in reverence to the spirits. Thru this ritual, the Manobo also ask for forgiveness in advance for any offense he/she might commit in the process.


History and Activities
According to Manobo elders, their forebears were the masters of the forests. Pre-Spain, they lived in scattered clan dwellings freely occupying areas near creeks and rivers and planted root crops in small gardens, hunted wild game, fished, and collected edible fruits and leaves to sustain their needs. They depend on herbal medicines readily available in the forest to cure the sick. They depend of their rituals and chants to secure connection with the spirits whom they regard as neighbors, guardians and resource managers. These forebears, the elders say, came from the neighboring forest of the current Agusan del Sur in search for a new area to exploit. When the Spaniards came, some Manobo ran farther into the forest to evade the strangers and they continued to live as they did. Some joined the Spaniards who gathered and settled in a flatland close to the upper portion of the big river that traverses the present-day ancestral domain and leads down to Bislig.


From this point up until the mid 1950s, the Pangasananan was almost entirely forested. But logging companies, most notably Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines, Inc. (PICOP), operated for more than 50 years through government issued permits. Aside from clearing the forest, the company also planted foreign tree species for pulp production. Commercial logging stopped in 2008, but logging roads opened by the company allowed migrants easy access to the forests, who cleared more forest and took residence in the Manobo territory without consent.


Towards the end of its contract, the company inched closer and closer to the remaining forest home of the Manobo Domogoy clan, which inevitably brought the Manobo face to face with threats to lives and livelihoods – houses were burned, farms destroyed, tools confiscated, and Manobo people criminalized. With nowhere to run and everything to lose, the Manobo Domogoy clan finally stood up to the abuses.In the late 1990s, then young Manobo men named Jun and Virgilio with their patriarch Isidro Domogoy founded Sitio Sote on the road leading to their forest with the intent of stopping logging operations. They used a piece of bamboo called “taragong" to gather the people and act as human baricades against the company bulldozers and armed men, which effectively hindered the continuation of forest destruction in the area.


The struggle continued and without a legal document securing their rights on their ancestral territories, the Manobo forged partnerships with the local church, armed groups, some migrant settlers and non-government organizations to help keep the company and other interest groups at bay. They also formed their own ragged and poorly armed warriors called Bagani in 2006; applied for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title to legalize ownership of their territory in 2008; and crafted a Community Development Plan in 2010 to start building a better future for the generations of Manobo people to come.


And the tides started to change.


In 2011, the Bislig local government finally recognized the Manobo community's important contribution to the protection and conservation of the Tinuy-an watershed. Management of the Tinuy-an Falls Eco-tourism is now shared with the Manobo Tribal Council of Sote (MATRICOSO), the community's organization. MATRICOSO is also given 10% of the profits for use in community development, support to territorial security and allowances for Elders and Leaders.


In 2017, their legal claim over the Pangasananan was given a boost by its inclusion in the Philippine ICCA Project supported by UNDP2, GEF3 and the Philippine Government thru BMB-DENR4 and NCIP5. The Pangasananan was given much focus primarily to register it into the Global ICCA Registry and help bring much-needed light on the community's efforts to conserve nature. For this end, research and documentation on indigenous knowledge systems and practices related to nature conservation and protection were conducted. Mapping and forest resource inventories were also accomplished to assess coverage and health of the forests. A Community Conservation Plan (CCP) was also crafted in 2018, which was adapted into the more comprehensive Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP) the following year. Biodiversity-friendly community projects were also supported.

Today, three decades hence, finally recognised by the government as the legal owners of their ancestral domain, the Manobo people is left with only about 2,000 hectares of old-growth forests, a mere 29% of the whole ICCA. It could have been worse if it wasn't for the Manobo community who put their lives on the line to protect the remaining forest and the entire territory.


Threats, Challenges and Needs
This patch of biodiversity heaven, however, is a microcosm of the country's environmental situation – rich, important but threatened by both anthropogenic activities and natural calamities. According to the Eastern Mindanao Biodiversity Corridor Conservation Framework, “forest conversion into agricultural lands by way of slash-and-burn farming and plantation establishment, timber poaching and unsound logging practices are the major threats to biodiversity."


Republic Act No. 11038 or the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 proclaimed the Tinuy-an Watershed as one of three additional protected areas in the Caraga region. This overlaps with about 40% of the ICCA, which came as a surprise to both the community and the government agency tasked with managing protected areas. Due to a lack of proper coordination with the community, this planted a seed of doubt in the Manobo's hearts. The fragile relationship between the government and community was once again put to test.


Aside from external challenges, the community admits they have internal issues to contend with. They identified the need to strengthen their Manobo cultural traditions in order to keep from losing their unique identity and also to ensure that their efforts today could be continued by their children by heart, not just by need. Trust issues also recently sprouted and is shaking the governing structure of the Pangasananan. The 10-percent share from Tinuy-an Falls Ecotourism income is at risk of being mismanaged.
Despite these, the Manobo community continues to protect the remaining block of primary forests in their ancestral domain and makes sure that areas outside their designated protected area and Wildlife Sanctuary are sustainably managed.


Sustainability
With the recent approval of their ancestral domain claim, the community hopes to find more partners that could help them in developing and protecting their territory with guidance from the CCP and ADSDPP. The local government, NCIP and DENR already started efforts at interfacing community plans with their own existing plans for community development, cultural strengthening and nature conservation. Highlights of the CCP include reinforcement of riverbanks to minimize erosion and siltation; reforestation of denuded areas and water sources; relearning the Manobo culture; annual celebration of the ICCA; management capacity-building; and deputation of their Bagani as Wildlife Enforcement Officers. Biodiversity-friendly community projects concerned with supporting socio-economic needs such as potable water systems, livestock cultivation, and agroforestry development.

1 Philippine Association For Intercultural Development, Inc.
2 United Nations Development Program
3 Global Environment Facility
4 Biodiversity Management Division
5 National Commission on Indigenous Peoples