THE HIGAONON OF MISAMIS ORIENTAL

Guardians of our remaining rainforests

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Bantaylasang forest guard volunteers

Bantaylasang forest guard volunteers

In 2010, the European Union (EU) and Anthropology Watch (AnthroWatch) spearheaded the program “Consolidating Forest Corridors through Sustainable Ancestral Domain Management” in northern and central Mindanao. The initiative was carried out in partnership with Upholding Life and Nature (ULAN), Rain Forest Restoration Initiative (RFRI) members, Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program (NTFP-EP) and the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE).

The project had a reforestation component using “rainforestation,” a forest restoration strategy promoted by the RFRI network that uses only native tree species to ensure the long-term sustainability and resiliency of the restoration efforts. Critical to the success of the program is the participation of indigenous groups: the Higaonon (Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon) and the Subanen (Zamboanga Peninsula) as the primary implementers of its component activities.

After five years this article revisits one of the rainforestation sites established through the efforts of the MAMACILA (Mati, Manibay, Civoleg, and Langguyod communities) Apo Ginopakan Higaonon Tribal Council located in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

MAMACILA has a total of 20 hectares of restoration sites divided into small areas and distributed across their ancestral domain. Dipterocarpaceae species like White Lauan and Red Lauan and other native trees like Ulayan and Bitaog were propagated and planted by the community members.

Since their tribe is very dependent to the forest, another strategy in rainforestation in which communities plant agricultural crops like yams, citronella and abaca, among others in between the tree species to meet their supply for food and livelihood was applied.

Because of this, community members can constantly check and protect the native trees while harvesting their crops. Moreover, the community also identifies members of the Higaonon Bantay-lasang or forest guards who are headed by an elder named Bae nay-akuman Puning Asenas, a messenger and guardian of the forest spirits. With her guidance, forest guards carry out their duties in conducting quarterly maintenance activities like brushing and weeding in their restoration sites.

At present, the young trees planted that now stand more than six feet add to the vegetation of MAMACILA’s ancestral domain and serve as a home to small fauna. Further studies are required to assess the longer-term impacts of the project to date. Aside from this project, MAMACILA also engaged in the National Greening Program (NGP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) since 2012.

Haribon Foundation is currently the convenor of the RFRI network that has eleven environmental organization members that are based in the Philippines. This year, RFRI will publish a case study that showcases eight partner communities and their experiences and recommendations on forest restoration programs in the country.

Like this story, restoration efforts, sustainable practices, and effective strategies of communities on reforestation projects are highlighted and shared throughout various partners in both private and public sector.

With this kind of material, awareness on the appropriate tree species to be planted and effective practices will spread to prevent further failures of restoration programs in the country.

Haribon Foundation is a founding member of RFRI. For more information on RFRI, visit www.rainforestation.ph.

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