THE Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) has joined forces with Indigenous Communities (ICs) to ensure the welfare of wild Philippine Eagles.
In partnership with Mandai Nature, PEF launched the "Saving Indigenous Cultures, Rivers, and Endangered Biodiversity (Sacred)" project on Saturday morning, November 25, at the Philippine Eagle Center.
Dr. Jason Ibañez, PEF's director for research and conservation, said Sacred aims to protect the wild Philippine Eagle population by safeguarding their nesting sites, benefiting both the ICs and the wildlife in the area.
The project's objectives include enhancing the capacity of indigenous leaders, implementing formal protection and management, establishing new carbon sinks, and promoting green jobs and economic opportunities for the ICs.
He also said the project will focus on five ancestral domains, aiming to protect at least ten pairs of Philippine Eagles in less-explored mountain ranges with limited conservation investment.
The initial phase will occur in the Tago-Pantaron Mountain Range in Mindanao, covering over 260,000 hectares and serving as a crucial area for biodiversity and ICs.
Identified threats to the region include agriculture, logging, wildlife exploitation, weak conservation motivation, unclear land-use policies, and insufficient financing. There was also a concerning level of deforestation in the area, attributed in part to the absence of specific national legislation.
“I believe that the Indigenous People have very important wisdom and knowledge with respect to protecting the forest and species also the forest is the foundation of their so we believe there is a strong motivation for them to preserve the forest to preserve their culture, their livelihood, their very ways of life,” Ibañez said in a media interview.
Dennis J.I. Salvador, PEF's executive director, acknowledged challenges in providing conservation incentives to ICs, especially given their status as some of the country's poorest.
“I think ang [the] challenge really is because the primary is rooted with the fact that many of these indigenous people in a remote area and they are among the country’s poorest of the poor and so we have to deal with addressing their basic needs as well and providing conservation incentives so they have ownership in conserving nature,” Salvador said.
Dr. Jessica Lee, assistant vice-president of Mandai Nature, explained the significance of naming the project Sacred, emphasizing that it not only focuses on eagle conservation but also acknowledges the cultural and symbolic ties associated with the bird.
She shared insights from focus group discussions with indigenous groups in Bukidnon, where the Philippine Eagle holds spiritual importance, being considered a spirit animal with immense value.
“I mean for all of us the Philippine Eagle is a threatened bird that needs to be protected but for these local and indigenous groups, it was more than just that. It was their spirit animal, everything about that bird you know being there brings value to them and the absence of the Philippine eagle in their sites is actually considered a bad omen or not beneficial so to recognize those spiritual ties I think brought a whole new layer into our conservation work,” Lee said.
The Sacred Project is a two-year commitment of Mandai Nature to PEF. RGP