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Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw, Philippines


Geographical Location

The Ancestral Domain belonging to the Higaunon of Agtulawon Mintapod Higaunon Cumadon (AGMIHICU) is situated in the barangays of Kalabugao and Hagpa of the municipality of Impasugong, and Brgy. San Luis of the municipality of Malitbog, all in the province of Bukidnon, in Northern Mindanao, Philippines. The Ancestral Domain contains a total land area of over 143 km2.

The community is traditionally divided into two large gaop (tribal villages), Mintapod and Agtulawon, which form part of the “Lompatag”, the sacred ground of Higaunon communities in Northern Mindanao. This area comprises the montane rainforests of the Mt. Kimangkil Range near the tri-border of the provinces of Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Sur.

During the participatory mapping of the community’s ancestral domain in January 2019, the community described two different parts of their ICCA, namely: Patagonan and Bahaw-bahaw. Patagonan encompasses a land area of 39 km2 hectares while Bahaw-bahaw covers 69 km2. In total, the ICCA of the Higaunon community of AGMIHICU spans an area of 109 km2, or 76% of the total Ancestral Domain. Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw consists of primary forested landscape, which is largely montane rainforest dominated by Philippine Oaks (Lithocarpus spp.) with several Philippine Dipterocarps.

Higaunon Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples

The Higaunon are a minority ethnic group, inhabiting the mountains of Northern Mindanao. The “Higaunon” word came from the word “gaun”, which means “one who ascends the mountains from the coastal plains in reference to their ancestors who originally lived in the plains and moved to the highlands to avoid strangers” (Tebtebba, 2011). They identify themselves as highlanders, recognizing the presence of lowlanders who settled in their area whom they refer as Dumagat. They used the word Dumaan (daan – means old) or Hintulok (originally from this place) for self-identity. (AGMIHICU ADSDPP, 2009)

Upland farming forms the primary livelihood of the community in AGMIHICU where abaca (Musa textilis, an endemic plant of Musaceae family cultivated for fiber production), maize, root crops and rice are the main crops cultivated. Rootcrops like sweet potatoes (camote) and yam (adupa, labug) are abundantly produced in the area. The traditional kaingin farming as a key economic activity has relatively declined, as the majority of the population have shifted to conventional crop cultivation. Despite this, the processing of non-timber forest products (such as wild abaca and honey) for subsistence use and as an additional income source has been sustained. Traditional hunting for subsistence and gathering of a number of non-timber forest products including herbal medicine is still being practiced. Higaunon women within the community formed an association called Kalandang Weavers and are active in producing high-quality Hinabol cloth, the traditional hand-woven textile among Higaunon communities derived from the fine fibers of abaca. It is traditionally used in gifts and peace offerings.

The Higaunon and their Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw

The culture and traditions of the Higaunon people is closely linked to their forest and environment. The land and resources within their ancestral domain, for instance, have been primarily used by the community for cultural activities and practices. Higaunon communities’ motivation for the conservation of their Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw is linked to the intimate and deeply-rooted relationship with their environment. They use their own traditional resource management and conservation practices to protect these areas for their historical, spiritual, cultural, ecological and economic significance.

Since time immemorial, the forested landscapes covering most of the ancestral domain have been maintained and designated by the community as Patagonan and Bahaw-bahaw, their ICCAs. These two types of ICCAs have distinct spiritual, historical, ecological and cultural values and are governed by the Higaunon community through their unique customary policies.

Patagonan is revered by the Higaunon community of AGMIHICU as sacred place of worship, as these areas are dotted with their sacred places and are home to their spirit forests. They believed that these areas are the dwelling place of nature spirits and the Supreme Being they called “Magbabaya”. Higaunon communities manifest their relationship to their environment, the nature spirits abiding in it and the Magbabaya through offering rituals as means to communicate with them. . For instance, a Pamumulakaw ritual is conducted to manifest their relationship to the usefulness of water and to the spirits that dwell therein. Talabugtâ ritual, on another hand, is a ritual offered to the spirit of land or soil. Panumanod ritual is offered to the forest spirits which also constitute the ritual for hunting.

Patagonan is a binukid or Higaunon word which refers to places declared by the owner of the gaop as a sanctuary, or an area reserved for future generations. With this, Patagonan are enjoined with strict customary policies. It also serves as a haven for passing wildlife, as hunting and gathering of natural resources are forbidden.

The other ICCA type managed by AGMIHICU is called Bahaw-bahaw. These areas refer to places where the community is allowed to hunt and/or gather forest resources, but where harvesting and resource use is governed by the community’s traditions and customary policies. Bahaw-bahaw are the locations where hunt for subsistence, and harvest non-timber forest products for food, medicine and livelihoods. Bahaw-bahaw function as buffer zones to Patagonan.


Brief History

The history of the Higaunon can be drawn out from mantukaw, a kind of oral tradition which is chanted only by their privileged Datu or tribal elders. Higaunon has a strict rule not to share their stories without asking the permission from their ancestors’ spirits through religious rituals. History for them is sacred and valued as one of their few treasures. (AGMIHICU ADSDPP, 2009)

Origin of the Higaunon People

As written by De Vera and Zingapan (2004), Mintapod’s origin story recounts a great flood that submerged the entire territory until only Mt. Kimangkil remained above water. The sole survivor was Apo Entampil, a pregnant woman who escaped the cataclysm by climbing the mountain’s peak. Because Mt. Kimangkil afforded her life, Apo Entampil set down laws to protect the mountain and instilled the restrictions to her children over time. In due course, Apo Entampil’s descendants increased and spread throughout Mindanao, becoming known as the Higaunon, Manobo, Maranao and other Mindanao groups. The narratives liken the Higaunon, Manobo and Maranao to “fingers on a hand” – closely related by blood. Hence, the oral histories suggest that the rationale for customary laws protecting Mt. Kimangkil is the mountain’s role as a refuge from extreme natural calamities. Datu Mantangkilan recounts that many generations after the deluge, Apo Pabulusoh was born in the Kimangkil range and became a datu. Unlike the present custom however, Apo Pabulusoh’s investiture was not performed by humans but rather was directly commissioned by spirits who taught the Apo ethics and laws for a good society. Apo Pabulusoh was the ancestor who began defending the territory and instituted protection measures for the land and the forests, effectively claiming the area and defining the talugan in the process.

Community Conservation Initiatives

As early as late 1990s, the community with support from various Civil Society Organizations/Non-Government Organizations (CSOs/NGOs) has been proactive in implementing programs and projects which aim to support the sustainable management of their ancestral domain.

On 1998, AGMIHICU began processing its ancestral domain claim with assistance from Fr. Vincent Cullen Tulugan Learning and Development Center (FVCTLDC). It is also during this time that AGMIHICU, with support from Non-Timber Forest Products – Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP), implemented sustainable livelihood programs specifically engaging in community-based enterprises such as Hinabol weaving and food processing.

On 2005, the Philippine Association for Inter-Cultural Development (PAFID) assisted the community in the construction of a 3-dimensional model of their ancestral domain. And, eventually, in 2008, a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) was awarded to AGMIHICU with assistance from the UNOPS-DAR/IFAD-Northern Mindanao Community Initiatives and Resource Management Project (NMCIREMP) and various groups including FVCTLDC, NTFP-EP, Kaanib Foundation, Indigenous Peoples Apostolate (IPA), Asian Council for People’s Culture (ACPC), Josefa Segovia Foundation (JSF), IPEX-AnthroWatch, Balay Mindanaw, and Green Mindanao.

On 2009, AGMIHICU together with Anthropology Watch (AnthroWatch) first delineated the boundaries of their Patagonan in Mintapod through a GPS survey and made an initial resource assessment. In 2015, NTFP-EP assisted the community in the full delineation of its Patagonan. This occurred at a time when Indigenous leaders were calling for the conservation of ICCAs in the country. Since then, AGMIHICU key leaders headed by Datu Amay Mantangkilan Cumatang, the head claimant of AGMIHICU and Insaan (tribal elder) of gaop Mintapod, have proactively participated and engaged in endeavors to promote and protect their ICCA.

Responding to increased calls from Indigenous leaders around the country, the Philippine government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) implemented a national project to officially recognize ICCAs within the country as an effective means to forest conservation. With this, the Philippine ICCA Project entitled, “Strengthening National Systems to Improve Governance and Management of Indigenous Communities Conserved Areas and Territories” has been implemented by the government through its Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF). AGMIHICU is one of the ten sites in which the project is being implemented, and has been assisted by NTFP-EP Philippines as its Local Responsible Partner (LRP) for the project.

With support from this project, AGMIHICU has undertaken ICCA documentation through participatory mapping, documentation of their Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices, and conducting a Forest Resource Inventory for their Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw. As a result of these activities, AGMIHICU has fully delineated its ICCA, developed its Community Conservation Plan (CCP), enhanced its Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP), and finally, on March 14, 2019, AGMIHICU declared its Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw.


Based on the participatory biodiversity assessment conducted with the community, critically endangered and threatened species of flora and fauna have been observed within the ICCA. Most notable is the presence of the endemic Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) which is categorized by both IUCN and the national government as Critically Endangered. On 10th May 2018, a juvenile Philippine Eagle was observed at the ICCA in Mt. Sakat along gaop Mintapod. Community members attested that the ICCA is breeding ground of the Philippine Eagle.

Other notable fauna observations within ICCA include the following species, several of which are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by IUCN: Philippine Brown Deer (Rusa Marianna), Philippine Warty Pig (Sus philippensis), Philippine Macque (Macaca fascicularis), Mindanao Bleeding Heart (Gallicolumba crinigera), and Writhed Hornbill (Rhabdotorrhinus leucocephalus).

A participatory floristic survey found Critically Endangered species of Philippine Dipterocarps such as White Lauan (Shorea contorta), Red Lauan (Shorea negrosensis), Tanguile (Shorea polysperma), and Bagtikan (Parashorea malaanonan). Observed flora species classified as vulnerable included Kalingag (Cinnamomum mercadoi) and Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis), which are both culturally significant to the Higaunon community.

Further, the ICCAs of the Higaunon community of AGMIHICU are an essential part of the Upper Pulangi Watershed. The rivers and streams within the ancestral domain feed the multitude of rice paddies and agricultural areas, notably in the barangays of Hagpa and Kalabugao, which is considered to be the grain capital of the municipality of Impasugong, Bukidnon.


Higaunon Traditional Governance System

Magbabaya, the Supreme Being revered by Higaunon ICCs/IPs, is central to the life of Higaunon people. His nature spirits are manifested in rituals conducted by Higaunon Datu.

According to Biernatzki (1973), the Indigenous Political Structure (IPS) of Higaunon is based on a Datu (kadadatu-i), in which one or more datu serves as representative of the tribe, settler of conflict, and ritualist, among other roles. A Datu heads a particular gaop which is usually a sitio and actively involves in social, political, and religious tribal activities. The number of Datu increases by time through investiture (dang-ol). A Supreme Datu or masikampu is recognized as the highest datu of the Higaunon and functions as the head of the community. However, many datu are unwilling to take the title of being a masikampu as Higaunon datu deeply honor humility.

The Higaunon in this community recognize certain leaders or heads of settlement which they address as Amay or Amba. Both Mintapod and Agtulawon communities, including the other small communities, have joined hands and agreed to become one territory, in consonant with their tultulanon.

AGMIHICU ancestral domain, consistent with the principle of self-delineation, includes the following traditional territories or gaop: Agtulawon, Mintapod, Pulahon, Kabagtukan, Bontongon, Amosig, Tug-unganon, Lonson, Lamingan, Naabat, Paculab, Mahagwa, and Hagpa Proper. Each gaop is headed by a datu and represents the community’s council of elders called “Insaan”.

The Insaan of AGMIHICU serves as the management body of the Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw, enforcing their customary laws called Bungkatol ha bulawan daw nang ka tasa ha lana ko Ipoan ku Pinaglaw. The Bungkatol ha Bulawan is the body of laws that makes up Higaunon customary laws and serves as the basis of Higaunon datu in managing their ancestral domain. Each Insaan then exercises jurisdiction over ICCAs within their gaop. Collectively, the council of elders in consultation with their Sangka and Pamalukan (second-line leader) manage the entire ancestral domain. (Cumatang, et al., 2018)

‘Pamanigan’ are the community’s traditional forest guards. A Higaunon member is chosen and delegated by an Insaan of his/her gaop as Pamanigan given he/she possesses the qualities desired by the Insaan. Each gaop of AGMIHICU assigns two to three Pamanigan who are tasked to monitor the condition of Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw within their gaop’s jurisdiction. The Pamanigan then feeds back the result of the Panlaoy to the Insaan through the meeting of the council of elders. Violators of the customary policy are penalized through sala (salaon), a ritual conducted by Insaan.

Threats to the Ancestral Domain and ICCAs

The community is faced with various threats from inappropriate development, encroachment, perpetuation of illegal activities, insurgency and loss of their Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices.

Among these threats, the community identified the construction of national highways within their ancestral territory as the most threatening. Although the community in general is in favor of the road construction, they are threatened because the project is being implemented without Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Currently, two national highways are being constructed in the area. These are the Damay to Gingoog road which will pass through gaop Mintapod and the Kalabugao to Butuan road which will pass through gaop Mahagwa. The Damay to Gingoog road will also impact portions of the forested area although community members were ensured that the road will not pass at Sanggayan (Mintapod’s Patagunan). With these openings, community members are worried that this will intensify existing threats in the area such as trespassing, timber poaching, and wildlife hunting among others.

Aside from the national road construction, insurgency caused by the long-standing conflict between the government forces and a non-state armed group, which persisted for decades, poses imminent threat to the ICCA. The armed struggle has greatly affected the movement and livelihoods of the community.

On encroachment, there are community members who have sold their farmlands to lowland non-indigenous dwellers. This is true for the case of Brgys. Kalabugao and Hagpa. Now, the majority of the lands devoted to agriculture (for instance rice cultivation) are owned by non-indigenous citizens who originally lived in the lowland. During the past years, locals have leased their land to oil palm corporations

AGMIHICU, and especially the community in gaop Mintapod, is considered as the cultural capital among the Higaunon people in Northern Mindanao. However, with the increase in-migration of non-indigenous people for land and out-migration of indigenous community members for livelihoods in the lowland, there is an on-going threat of loss of indigenous knowledge and practices among the Higaunon community. Many of the community members and proposed leaders who have attained education are now living in the lowland.

Measures Undertaken to Address Threats

With the passage of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997, AGMIHICU has gained ownership of its ancestral domain

However, this does not secure the ICCAs of the community from extractive and destructive activities, as entities and corporations could still apply for free, prior and informed consent to operate within the ancestral domain. With this, the community has been actively engaged in producing ICCA documentation, in in building the capacity its leaders in order to increase the community’s ability to respond to threats.


The Higaunon community of Agtulawon Mintapod Higaunon Cumadon has developed a five-year Community Conservation Plan (CCP). The plan stipulates the objectives, activities, and sustainability policies envisioned by the community to advance the sustainable development and conservation of their Ancestral Domain and Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw. AGMIHICU sees the implementation of Enhance School of Living Traditions (ESLT) as means to intensify transfer of their Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices from the tribal elders (culture bearers) to the next generation. The community is also set to engage in a REDD-plus preparedness program as part of their ICCA initiative.

Due to the threats from inappropriate development, persistence of illegal activities, disregard to their right as Indigenous Peoples, and changing climate, the community needs the support of government agencies and civil society organizations in the continued advancement of their sustainable development and conservation causes. Amidst these threats, one of the striking needs of the community is the immediate recognition and support to their Pamanigan (community forest guards) in enforcing both customary policies and environmental laws.

One of the lessons learned throughout the ICCA Documentation process undertaken by the community is that ICCAs can be an avenue for different government agencies such as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Local Government Units, and the Civil Society Organizations/Non-Government Organizations to collaborate and advance the development and conservation needs of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples.


The Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan of Agtulawon Mintapod Higaunon Cumadon.

Cumatang, B.D., et al., 2018. Documentation of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices of the Higaunon Indigenous Cultural Community/Indigenous People of Agtulawon Mintapod Higaunon Cumadon.

De Vera, D.E. and R.M. Zingapan, 2004. Task Force Cumadon Collaborative Planning for an Ancestral Domain. The International Center for Research in Agroforestry.

Tebtebba Foundation, 2011. Understanding the Lumad: A Closer Look at a Misunderstood Culture.

Kalasan (Forest), 2009. A video presentation for the Patagonan daw Bahaw-bahaw of Agtulawon Mintapod Higaunon Cumadon (AGMIHICU) produced by Non-Timber Forest Products Task Force (NTFP), Fr. Vincent Cullen Tulugan Learning Development Center (FVCTLDC), and AGMIHICU.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in August 2019. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has not 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.