MEMBERS of the Dumagat tribe of Mt. Mingan Nueva Ecija joined with drug surrenderees to plant high-value fruit trees in a program supported by the local government unit of Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija and the Haribon Foundation last month.
More than two dozen participants joined the effort to plant mango, rambutan, guyabano, langka, and coffee, as well as native trees such as narra and duhat.
“In the midst of the holiday season, rehabilitation is taken to another level by communities living in and around one of the last remaining habitats of Philippine Eagles or Haring Ibon in Luzon,” the Haribon Foundation said.
Though the trek to the planting site took less than half an hour, the group had to walk through rough terrain, steep hills, and even through the Dupinga River. Depending on the weather, the latter could be a life-giving conduit to fish and fresh water or a life-taking channel for floodwaters and mudslides. Even the surrenderees joked that the trek itself was more difficult than their daily jog.
Despite the challenge, the group was able to successfully plant trees that will not only help in rehabilitating areas on Mt. Mingan, but will give back to communities in Gabaldon.
“Tree planting is what Gabaldon needs. It is an investment that could save the future generations of the municipality,” said Sam Manalastas, Haribon community organizer.
For the past several months, Manalastas has been working with Dumagat members and other sectors in the town of Gabaldon to come up with a Critical Habitat Management Plan. The plan involves five years of conservation actions to help protect the Haring Ibon of Mt. Mingan, which live not too far from growing municipalities in the lowland areas like Gabaldon or San Luis in Aurora.
Manalastas adds, “By planting trees, they are helping not only the biodiversity of Mt. Mingan, but their municipality as well by becoming resilient against climate change impacts.”
Paying forward in an era of challenges
As the surrenderees enjoyed the outdoor activities, Dumagat members received income from the activity paid by the LGU. Their forest expertise and knowledge of Mt. Mingan have been valuable to surrounding non-IP communities.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case in other conservation areas.
During the World Conservation Congress last September in Hawaii, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special
Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples stated, “The way that conservation has been addressed in the past is really this exclusive approach to conservation, which has resulted in the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples in all the continents…”
As the present administration’s war on drugs continues on in many areas in the country, the public remains divided on what to expect. With killings still taking place, some groups support the call to arms against drugs and the crimes associated with it, while others declare it an assault to human rights and the judicial process.
But as we reflect in this season, this event put together by the LGU of Gabaldon might be a sign that not all areas in the country are unsafe for people, particularly those who tend to be among the most marginalized, like the indigenous communities or individuals seeking rehabilitation.
Through an inclusive approach to conservation, perhaps exposing more people to nature might provide a solution that gives back to more than just the recipients.
“…By inviting different sectors… we could build awareness, strengthen their sense of communal unity or bayanihan, and establish a deepened care for nature,” adds Manalastas.
ALBERT BALBUTIN/HARIBON FOUNDATION