Experiences and Challenges of the Indigenous People in Co-managing Forest Resources: The Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Community Association
Datu Ontog Logong
Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Claim Association (LASADCA)
Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines
Our tribes, the T'boli and Ubo tribes, have been the dwellers of a large tract of land in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines. Since time immemorial, we have considered this area our home, our ancestral domain. Since the area was classified as forestland, the government assumed the responsibility in managing the natural resources.
With the issuance of Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2, Series of 1993, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) identified, delineated, and recognized our claim to our ancestral domain. We are aware that the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) given to our tribes is not a land title. However, it provides for some sort of tenurial security to our dwelling place. With the issuance of CADC to the T'boli and Ubo tribes, the government officially acknowledged our right to manage the natural resources within our ancestral lands. We are required, however, to submit an Ancestral Domain Management Plan (ADMP) anchored to our Indigenous Knowledge Sytems and Practices (IKSP).
When the CADC was issued to the tribal elders, we recognized the need to form an Interim Consultative Body (ICB) composed of tribal leaders and barangay captains of 18 barangays1 which covered two CADCs. The two CADCs (CADC 003 for the Ubo tribes and CADC 004 for the Tboli tribes) have a total land area of 19,377 and 20,475 ha respectively. The ICB drafted guiding principles governing the formulation of ADMPs. Consistent with the principles of participatory planning, we formed an ADMP Local Planning Committee (LPC) composed of able community members. During the planning stage, the ICB agreed to develop one ADMP for both CADCs since most of the forest resources are concentrated in the Ubo tribe's area. The Ubo tribe agreed to share these resources with their brothers, the Tboli tribe.
After several months of planning and consultations, the LPC produced the ADMP representing the sentiments, dreams and aspirations of our tribes. The plan passed through a series of presentations and reviews from the municipal to national levels. More than a year after its presentation to the national level, the plan was approved by the DENR Secretary.
Prior to the approval of our plan, our tribes recognized the need to have a legal identity. Eventually, the Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Community Association (LASADCA) was founded and formally recognized by the Philippine Government. The association represents both the Tboli and Ubo tribes including migrants who are considered members of the tribal communities by virtue of their long association with the tribes.
In all the activities described above, the DENR through the USAID-assisted Natural Resources Management Program (NRMP), with technical assistance from Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), and the Local Government Units had a significant input. Without them, our dream to manage our own environment would not be possible.
With regard to our traditional food sources, we have considered in our plan the need to improve the production of rice and corn. The production volumes of our main traditional crops have not risen beyond subsistence levels. Rice yields are only 50 cavans/ha on average and about 70 cavans/ha for irrigated areas. Low yields are caused by insufficient farm inputs and technology support systems and near absence of farm machinery. To address these problems, the following activities will be implemented within the next five years:
As part of our traditional farming practices we allow the farmlands to rest or lay fallow to restore soil fertility. We have incorporated agroforestry systems in our plan for these areas. Fallow areas are utilized for fruit tree production. Other areas are set aside for the propagation of bamboo, abaca and bananas. The agroforestry areas are planted with cassava and sweet potatoes as well as indigenous forest species such as Igem and Tuai (Bischofia javanica).
Setting aside agroforestry areas was primarily a response to growing economic constraints. At the same time, it helps to meet increasing demands for sawlogs. Bamboo production is vital in the expanding furniture industry and for construction purposes. In Lake Sebu and its vicinity, bamboo is extensively used for fish traps and fish cages. To date, some of our members have already planted agroforestry crops after several trips and cross-visits to agroforestry farms sponsored by NRMP.
Our tribes face the challenge of rehabilitating 16,000 ha of denuded areas in Lake Sebu's six barangays (Upper Maculan, Halilan, Klobe, Lamdalag, Lamlahak and Tasiman). However, we lack the funds to implement this task.
We have always practiced the indigenous way of taking care of our forests. To hasten the growth of forest trees, we have plans to replace the defective, mature and over-mature trees according to the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) law. Our plan is to replace one tree with five young trees. We also plan to enforce indigenous laws to prevent forest fires and illegal timber harvesting.
Our tribes desire to utilize non-tmber forest products such as rattan, nito and others on a small scale. Along this line, we have prepared a Resource Use Plan for rattan. The plan was affirmed by the DENR.
In the 1980s, our tribes participated in rehabilitation activities of the Allah Valley Watershed Development Project implemented by the DENR. The DENR promised to give us 30 percent of the proceeds of all planted species, mostly yemane (Gmelina arborea). Over time, we have observed the fast growth of yemane. We have proposed to replace Gmelina with native species. However, we were not allowed to replace the mature yemane because of restrictive policies and legislation.
With the assistance from the local government unit and DENR, grasslands will be delineated on the basis of physical landmarks. These areas will be planted with native tree species and fruit trees. Community members shall be given the prerogative to set aside portions of their areas for multi-cropping.
Our tribes established a community forest reserve located in Barangay Lamfugon (within the Ubo ancestral domain claim). It is the only existing traditional forest reserve and we intend to continue managing this area according to NIPAS's strict protection zone category laws where only protective activities, research and customary rites are permitted.
Traditionally, hunting grounds encompass all forested areas. In the case of the Tboli and Ubo tribes, hunting grounds will be restricted to the wildlife sanctuaries located in Barangays T'konel, Lamlahak, and Lamfugon with a total area of about 8,000 ha. We plan to revive these hunting grounds to preserve wildlife habitats. To realize this plan, existing forests will be sustainably managed. Hunting will follow traditional practices which are found to be sustainable. Deputized groups will enforce the hunting regulations and patrol the sanctuaries.
Forest management requires skills. We acknowledge that our IKSP are not sufficient to effectively manage our domain. Our people have to learn technical skills necessary to effectively implement the components of our ADMP.
Upon affirmation of our ADMP, we prepared an Annual Work Plan including a Resource Use Plan. Realizing that our tribes do not have the financial resources to implement our ADMP, we proposed to selectively replace the mature Gmelina trees in multiple use zones and utilize the income for the rehabilitation of open and denuded areas of our domain. After more than a year, our plans still have not been approved. Consequently, we are not allowed to harvest trees within our domain because Lake Sebu is covered by a watershed declaration where cutting is prohibited.
We do not understand why our tribes are not allowed to replace the exotic species with our very own native species that are suited for watershed conservation. We do not understand why this cannot be implemented considering that this is part of our endorsed ADMP.
Our Datu System gives our leaders, like me, blanket authority to decide the fate of our tribes. This has been our practice since time immemorial. However, this is not consistent with the standard operating procedures that the outside world requires. To address this issue, we have formed different committees to implement the various components of the ADMP. Most of the time, however, the committee heads still wait for our final decision before initiating any activity. We have to train our people to depart, to some extent, from this behavior.
As mentioned earlier, our tribes do not have sufficient financial resources to rehabilitate 16,000 ha of open and denuded forestlands. We have to find ways to generate funds to restore the lost species of our very own home. We have to obtain funds to manage and protect our very own dwelling place sprawling over the entire 39,852 ha of lands in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.
We are proud to say, however, that even without any financial assistance our people were able to protect our domain from illegal activities. Noteworthy was our effort to link with agencies like Bread for the World for its Food for Work Program. During the El Niño phenomenon, we were able to access DOLE/Philippines through their Social Development Program for financial assistance, which also included several sacks of rice in exchange for seedlings grown in our nursery. We are proud to mention that we have produced more than 100,000 indigenous seedlings through our "bayanihan" efforts.
1 A barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines