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Dumagat and Alta Sacred Grounds of Ancestral Domain, Philippines


The Subkal’n-Is’suwi ICCA, or the Sacred Grounds of Ancestral Domain, is a protected area located in the Philippines, covering just over 524.65 km2 (including 20.57 km2 of marine area) and also a part of Sierra Madre Mountain Range (SMMR). The ICCA is primarily tropical/subtropical broadleaved forest, and is governed by the indigenous communities of Dumagat and Alta, which consist of 6 distinct communities (Barangays of Diteki, Real, Dibalo, Dibut, Dikapinisan, and Dimanayat) representing 2,410 people overall. The Dumagat and Alta are strongly connected to the environment they live in. All of their traditional practices and daily ways of life such as traditional hunting, traditional fishing, and farming are connected to the “Subkal’n- Is’suwi” whom they inherit from their ancestors. They value all of the resources found in their ancestral land because they believe that it came from the Supreme Being they called “Makidepat” and that they should protect and preserve it as a legacy for the next generation.

History and Activities

The ICCA declaration took place on the 13th-14th December 2019, and was held in the Dibut (coastal community). The activity was participated and attended by the Tribal Chieftains and volunteer indigenous forest guards from the 5 settlements mentioned above and the Municipal Indigenous People Mandatory Representative (IPMR) Cipreano Dela Torre as well as the National Commission of Indigenous People (NCIP) Provincial Officer Ronie C. Caanawan. Declaring the Dumagat and Alta Ancestral Domain as an ICCA aimed to strengthen the traditional governance and management in safeguarding the Indigenous communities’ values, traditions, and biodiversity as well as reminding the indigenous youth the importance of conserving and protecting the land they inherited from their ancestors. The ICCA is guided by its Community Conservation and Protection Plan (CCPP), which provides strategic actions in restoring the ancestral domain by environmental protection and developing sustainable and biodiversity-friendly approaches to livelihood development.


The ICCA also meets the definition of a protected area, and the Dumagat and Alta have assigned it IUCN’s Protected Area management category II: a “natural or near-natural area, protected to conserve ecosystems, but also allowing cultural, spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and visitor use”. The ICCA is home to different various animal species such as deer, wild boar, monkeys, and different kinds of birds. The forest area is also composed of many different edible plants such as rattan, wild rambutan, balobo, and ferns. Furthermore, there are Dipterocarp species such as Apitong, Bagtikan, Mayapis, Palosapis and other hardwoods which they are using for housing construction and boat construction for the fishermen. The rivers also have different species of fishes, shrimps, and snails. The abundance of different wildlife species is enough to sustain the everyday needs of the tribes and provides shelter for them.

The main livelihoods of the Dumagat and Alta tribe are the traditional hunting and fishing, as well as planting of crops such as camote, banana, and coconut. The ICCA is also a source of medicinal plants used by the Dumagat and Alta in healing activities. Designating Subkal’n-Is’suwi as an ICCA ensures that the diverse flora and fauna have a home, including for the Critically endangered Philippine Eagle and other threatened species such as Rafflesia species, Giant flying foxes, and Red and White Lauan as well as many other many endemic species of birds, mammals and reptiles.

Management and Governance

The community and its members have full legal rights to all the resources within the ICCA, and community decisions on management are made by elected people on a governing council. However, the Subkal’n-Is’suwi ICCA faces a number of challenges. Weak enforcement of traditional governance, wildlife poaching and other destructive activities, unrecognized role of Indigenous Forest Guards, and the lack of stable and sustainable source of livelihood for the Dumagat and Alta Tribe. There also remain issues around biodiversity decline, and support is needed by the Indigenous communities inside the ICCA in capacity building for fund sourcing and accessing support in developing sustainable and biodiversity friendly enterprises. Other capacity building needs include leadership and project development and management.

Lastly, with the influx of migrants and the increasing need for resources such as raw materials and food, extraction of resources inside the ancestral domain has become destructive and unsustainable. Access to technology has exacerbated this exploitation and has slowly driven Indigenous youth away from their values and traditions. The area was opened for logging concessions and became the source of wildlife trade until the declaration of a total log ban in the Philippines in May 1991 particularly in the old-growth forest under the administration of late President Corazon Aquino. With negative results from these anthropogenic activities, the Dumagat and Alta have started pushing forward for its protection.The declaration of the ICCA is a milestone for the Dumagat and Alta in pushing forward their rights in their Ancestral Domain in Self-governance and protection and conservation of their resources that are greatly linked to their culture and traditions.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in January 2021. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has not yet been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.