By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
SAGADA, Mt. Province – The indigenous peoples forest management here is still alive because the community specially the elders continue to assert its practice – Batangan (Central Sagada term for pine tree farm), according to an elder, “this is a concrete example of the community’s self-determination”.
Jaime Dugao said their forest management is the essence of autonomy, a form of a people’s self-determination. Thus, he further said that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) should not interfere and enforce the P.D. 705 otherwise known as the Forestry Code of the Philippines in the municipality because the traditional and indigenous (Sagada’s) concept of communal and private properties are different from of the law.
He is however grateful that the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) has documented their Batangan system and recognized it.
He explained that the Batangan is a system handed down from the time of their forefathers to conserve and protect their forest.
The forest areas in the municipality, except those covered by the Mission Compound, are considered communal until today. However, the pine trees are considered private property (owned by clans). The reason is, it was their forefathers and the succeeding generations who planted the said trees. That, he said, defines ownership.
Moreover, the concept of rights over the land area in the communal forest is based on stewardship. If a clan or family, he said, has cut all the trees they planted in a certain area, their right to the land will be forfeited. It will be turned over to others who are willing to plant.
The right over the land, he further explained, should be coupled with a commitment to nurture the trees planted.
Massive cutting is strictly prohibited. Thus, the people only cut what they really need.
He also shared that during forest fire incidents, the people are mobilized to help stop it specially in areas where trees are still young. However, he also pointed out that natural forest fires do help in the forests’ ecosystem. This, he said, is when the trees are bigger and can withstand the forest fire. The reason, he pointed out, is that after the fire, new pine tree saplings grow and the burnt grass serves as a fertilizer to the soil that stimulates the budding of the saplings. The saplings will then be transplanted to the Batangan areas where trees were cut.
Though the trees in the Batangan are privately owned, these are strictly not for sale. Lakay Esteban Bosaing explains that it’s purpose is to have available wood to be used for house construction, wedding celebration temporary structures or for a dead’s coffin. Moreover, he said, those families that do not have a Batangan can ask for at least two to three trees among the clans who have more trees as long as it is for the afore mentioned purposes.
Moreover, he said, conflict cannot be avoided in the community and whenever a case arise from individuals who claim trees that were not included in their Batangan, the Dap-ay is there to resolve most of these conflicts.
Emerging problem in forest management
Meanwhile, Bosaing laments that today, some families and clans are starting to survey the areas in the communal forest where their Batangan are located. Some had applied for tax declaration in the Municipal Assessors Office. This attitude, he said, is contrary to the essence of Batangan. Since time immemorial, their forest is communal, he stressed. The only thing that gives the clans jurisdiction authority over a certain land is their Batangan. Technically, he further said, they do not have the right to apply for tax declaration especially if the community or the elders are not consulted.
He also gave emphasis that Sagada has been famous to live by the line, “Adi bukodan di Gawis” (Share the Resources). He hopes that those individuals who plan to apply for ownership of community forests will abide by the said line. Specially, he said, they have what they call Inayan – the community’s concept of concsience. “Saan ka nga agaramid ti saan nga umno tapno madayaw ka,” (Those who abide by the good moral practices will be honored) he said. These examples of belief and practices, Bosaing said, should be strengthened so that the peoples’ forest management will cotinue for the benefit of the future generations.
It is also a challenge, he said, to the Municipal Assessors Office to inform and consult the elders or the Lupon whenever there are applications for tax declaration since the Batangan has been documented and incorporated with the systems of the PENRO. If this sytem, he said, is really recognized, the role of the elders to protect it should also be recognized and respected. # nordis.net