Domoguen: Lost in a new world, searching for the cloud forest

THE regional orientation on the implementation of the CHARM2 Scale-Up Project was conducted at the Pines View Hotel, Friday, January 20, 2017.

Two governors attended the activity, namely: Governors Pedro Mayam-o of Ifugao; and Bonifacio Lacwasan Jr., of Mountain Province. We expect to meet the other governors of the Cordillera during the provincial orientations in the coming weeks and days ahead.

Waking up to a modern world, I am in a daily quest, searching for the old cloud forest of our ancestors.

The orientation gave me the opportunity to continue this journey, to update myself with the current perspectives of both governors Mayam-o and Lacwasan, modern day rulers, on the conservation, implementation and enforcement of indigenous natural resources management and cultural practices in their areas of jurisdiction.

The local population in both provinces use to be very much adept in articulating their culture and traditions. These cultural practices in the form of dances, songs and the arts are now part of the celebrations during the observances of municipal and provincial festivals. However, their observances and realities in the pursuit of life by the natives has been but already lost to most in this generation.

For instance, not a few asked me about the relevance of the natives’ indigenous natural resources management and conservation practices in light of the continued deterioration and devastation of the cloud forest and community watersheds.

As IPs, we readily defend the relevance of indigenous practices to modern living with our observation about our mountains still teeming with native pine and some with more ancient natural forest cover like broad leaf trees and shrubs, compared to other regions of the country.

Last year, I realized how shallow the argument was when a vast area of the forest in Mountain Province was illegally logged. In later visits to the province, one only needs to see and realize that so much of the cloud forest has been removed and replaced with settlements, vegetable gardens, and/or simply logged and burned every year. Our sociologist and economist have yet to make an in depth study on the phenomenon. Does this blatant act of environmental devastation have a direct bearing to the erosion of our people's cultural practices and traditions?

What are its implications to quality survival and the pursuits of livelihoods in our mountains? We cannot simply rely on general impressions for information and guidance. Perhaps, a more detailed and shocking images of current and future realities can call sensible people back to action now.

In Ifugao, the practice of muyong and pinugo, viewed from various perspective is either a forest conservation strategy, a watershed rehabilitation technique, a farming system or an assisted natural regeneration (ANR) strategy intricately woven into the culture that links man and natural resources together, the relationship and its management and system producing a conscious balance in resource use and survival in a given terrain or territory.

It’s the original outlook of the pinugo and/or muyong that I wanted to see and hopefully experience during my subsequent visits to the place. I am not sure about what I saw, except that in Batad, I had expressed what I believed caused the collapse of the terraces among my friends in Ifugao, and earlier when I saw and pointed out the remnant of an eroded swidden which triggered the cascade of soil, rocks, and water down to the topmost paddy where water and silt gathered force before it moved as a mass breaking the terrace structures as it rolled and roared downwards.

Two things: I figured the silt and soil movement would not have happened in a rolling terrain if the surface has not been burnt the previous summer. And then the erosion of loosened soil that occurred was greatly aided by the rainiest typhoon dumping the largest volume of water in Northern Luzon, some 472 millimeters of rain in less than a day, according to Pagasa.

I recall chiding the Assistant Provincial Agriculturist and Environment Officer of Ifugao in one meeting about the muyong being converted into residential and commercial areas. He admitted that the original convictions of some people about the muyong and pinugo, may no longer be there.

I always confront this dilemma nowadays, a confusion about what is really in our cultures and traditions that are supposedly upheld and recognized by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA).

In our experience, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in implementing the IPRA has awarded public domains and lands to individuals and clans in the Cordillera. Watersheds and who knows, even whole mountains, have now been claimed as private domains.

We did not have much time together with Governors Mayam-o and Lacwasan during the CHARMP2 orientation. After the orientation, they were in a hurry to leave and attend to another meeting somewhere in the city.

For sure, I shall seek them out whenever we meet again here or in their own provinces to talk about the old forests and see if we can possibly bring them back.

Over the long-term, journalism may well announce that the practice of economics and politics, well aided by propaganda, has won over the day in totally dismantling the common forest. Like anywhere in the country, all lands in the Cordillera would be parceled out, owned by individuals, not as the ancient communities have once known and appreciated them.

I continue to hedge my hopes with positive examples from our leaders who are adept and continue to respect the genuine mission and role of the people’s culture and traditions to the pursuit of community development. For instance, when incumbent Congressman Maximo Dalog Sr., was Governor of Mountain Province, one of his favorite project was tree planting. He encouraged his people to pursue the project with stories inspired by the people's “batangan” and “tayan” system. As governor, his speeches about the conduct and promotion of the Lang-ay festival were anchored on the people’s culture of “lang-ay.”

As our society evolves with its members becoming priests, doctors, lawyers, philosophers, and technicians, may our culture and traditions continue to propagate its own searchers and pathfinders like those people of old who ultimately sit as elders, poets and story tellers dispensing the light of life to the people in this, our noisy and blaring world.


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