A Biotech Home for Neglected Orphan Trees: Controlling Change; Que sera, sera (Conclusion)

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, February 10, 2014

LET every house be pitched in the middle of its plot, so that there may be ground on each side for gardens, or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country that will never be burnt and always be wholesome. -William Penn, 1681, as quoted in the book, “Man Made the Town,”1987.


The march of civilization gives us a glimpse of how human beings exerted efforts to control change in their environment.


Among western nations, members at the top pyramids of feudal societies controlled towns and land resources. That includes settlements, hunting grounds and the forests around it. Control over the land and settlements soon moved towards democratic forms of administration but "in the interest of society as a whole, the processes of change have, in some measure, been guided and directed," according to Michael Middleton, in his book entitled "Man Made the Town."

In the Cordillera, control over the land and the utility of its resources was community guided.

In the days of yore, the land resources are recognized, utilized and managed for specific purposes as settlements (ili), forest and hunting grounds, grazing lands (pundagan), clan wood lots, rice and irrigated farms, as well as “kaingins,” or gardens for the production of root crops, legumes and vegetables.

Family and individual decisions and actions on land utilization comply with community tradition, customary laws and policies, not cast in stone, but orally transferred and deliberated by the elders.
Embedded in the consciousness of local residents, ably coached by elders, indigenous practices regulated against indiscriminate harvesting and use of forest and watershed resources. For example, the Tinguian tribal elders in Abra, keepers and enforcers of tribal law, employed the “Lapat’s” prohibitions to protect, preserve and manage the forest resources.

Thus, in the coverage areas of the “Lapat,” wild game are not to be hunted during their mating season, including those that are pregnant or with young off springs, according to Mr. Philip Tinggonong, himself a Tinguian and retired Provincial Planning and Development Officer.
The “lapat” also has rules governing the cutting of trees and against encroachment into the watersheds. Community members, out of respect are obligated to follow the decisions of their elders in enforcing the “lapat,” he said.

The other major tribes in the Cordillera like the Bontoks, Applai, Ifugaos and Kalingas have similar practices of forest and watershed management and protection. But like the “Lapat,” these customary practices are slowly lost along with the passing away of the elders. Today government rules, regulations and its functionaries are solely the authorities over the control of the land and its resources.

Government rule and systems including the interpretation and application of the Indigenous Rights Act (IPRA) over the years did not reinforce but weakened indigenous peoples (IP) control of their common resources. It hastened instead, encroachment, titling and filing of ancestral claims over the forests, watersheds, and grazing lands. Over time, common IP lands were sold to private entities, who are not necessarily members of the indigenous clans, families or tribes in the locality – which is both tragic and a travesty. By tradition, and as recognized in the IPRA, ancestral lands are not meant to be sold or transferred to outsiders.

On one hand, these developments follow earlier decisions by colonizers and the government for the full integration of indigenous communities into the national life.

Today, aside from its mountainous and rugged terrains, the government’s control of the land and development quest ushered the transformation of the nature and characteristic of the Cordillera from its IP moorings into a more common outlook with the rest of the country’s communities and its environment.

From North to South, land use in the Philippines was not well planned.

Any place can be built-up with homes, industries, factories, office buildings, and/or squatted on. The wanton burning of the forests proceeded on every year, simply cut, farmed and occupied. Many rivers and creeks have dried and flow with silt and trash with the occurrence of rain. Rivers passing through settlements and flow year-round are toxic. This creeping disaster in our mountain environment is more disastrous with wider consequences to lowland communities.

Speaking of the thrust of development, I would have put emphasis on the regions unique cultural and geographic features as basis for their administrative divisions. It would be more people-oriented and responsible to see the country’s regional divisions named as Ilocos, Cagayan, Cordillera, Tagalog, Bicol, etc., rather than viewed as numbers, 1,2,3,4....

As provided for by law, the government has that power to provide the necessary and appropriate care, protection and preservation of the Cordillera region’s forests and watersheds, in partnership with the people. The current state of affairs of the Cordillera’s forest, watersheds and natural resources, puts into doubt whether that partnership was real, understood, or just another “que sera sera” that is even enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. What is Cordillera autonomy again?

To control change, protect, preserve, and responsibly manage the nation’s resources for a better Philippines, is best realized in real partnership with the people, who must know and understand their roles in community and nation building. The government and the citizenry must really make this work and happen in national and local governance.

Meanwhile, the clonal garden in Pacdal, Baguio City, that serves as biotech nursing home for our neglected orphan trees, and part of the modern ways to secure the integrity of our watersheds is yet to become fully operational. Que sera, sera, I hope things will turn out well for us. That’s not meant as a put down. It challenges us all to make up our minds on those things that are important for quality survival in our highlands.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on February 11, 2014.


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