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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 28 October) – Elders of the three tribes inhabiting Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidnon province on Thursday agreed to participate in the second phase of documenting cultural practices that could help the government in its efforts to conserve the protected area’s rich biodiversity.
Titled “Sociocultural Mapping and Documentation of ASEAN Heritage Parks,” the project received funding from the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Mt. Kitanglad became an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2009.
The documentation will cover batasan (cultural norms), customary laws, beliefs as well as resource management practices, among others. It will also identify sacred sites in the park. Baylans (spiritual leaders) and other practitioners of indigenous culture will serve as key informants.
“These things were not recognized by the educational and legal system,” Talaandig chieftain Datu Makapukaw Adolino Saway, who initiated the project, said during the meeting here Thursday with DENR-Bukidnon staff and the research team.
Saway said indigenous knowledge and practices must be documented, and if possible, institutionalized to ensure their preservation and continuity.
“A team of experienced researchers and cultural profilers known to the Kitanglad Council of Elders have been engaged to do this daunting task,” Forester Merlita Tabamo, Protected Area Superintendent of Mt. Kitanglad said.
Tabamo said that in Northern Mindanao, the projects include two other sites, the Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park in Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte, and Mt. Timpoong Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.
The project also covers parks in Regions 11 and 12, Caraga and MIMAROPA, she added.
Easterluna Canoy, executive director of Kitanglad Integrated NGOs (KIN) who leads the research team that will do the profiling activity, noted the importance of indigenous culture to biodiversity conservation.
She said this is reflected in at least three laws – the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act and its expanded version, Mt. Kitanglad Protected Area Act, and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act.
Section 2 (Declaration of Policy) of the Mt. Kitanglad Act states, “…The State shall ensure the protection of biodiversity, sustainable and participatory development, advance and protect the interests of its legitimate inhabitants and honor customary laws.”
Section 6 (Management Plan) of the same law provides for zoning that shall “give primary consideration to the traditional zones used and recognized by indigenous cultural communities.”
The profiling activity serves as a follow-through of a similar one done about three years ago by KIN and funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Its output is contained in the book titled “The Wisdom Keepers of Mt. Kitanglad” and published in 2018.
Tabamo said the output of the research can also help in Mt. Kitanglad’s bid to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
She said the Protected Area Management Board has approved a resolution to apply for such recognition but that they lack cultural data to support it.
The mountain range straddles 28 barangays in Malaybalay City and the towns of Manolo Fortich, Sumilao, Impasugong, Talakag, Baungon, Libona and Lantapan.
The first profiling project covered Malaybalay, Impasugong and Lantapan. The current one will include the remaining five areas.
Leodie Caare, a tribal leader in Barangay Dahilayan, lamented during the same meeting that Mt. Kitanglad is facing threats, particularly the illegal selling of lands to investors in the protected area’s buffer zone.
“Tua na ang daghang investor’s tungod sa dalan. Angay nato ning tabangan,” (Many investors are already there because of the road. We have to work together.) Caare said.
Dahilayan, a buffer zone of Mt. Kitanglad in Manolo Fortich town, has become well-known as a resort and other tourist attractions.
Caare, chief of the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers in his barangay, was ambushed on October 15 last year. Colleagues believed the attack was related to his opposition to the alleged illegal sale of lands in the buffer zone.
The incident forced Caare to seek refuge in a neighboring province for almost a year.