Vol. 5, No. 4, Fourth Quarter 2000

By Malcolm Cairns


This paper examines the close relationship of Bukidnon tribes with the forested slopes of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park in Mindanao, Philippines, and how their claims for ancestral domain may interact with the park’s conservation mandate. The study is placed into historical context by reviewing attempts to assimilate the tribes under successive Spanish, American and Philippine governments, and their steady displacement by waves of migrant settlers. Natives were quickly relegated to marginalized minorities in this new society, and invariably responded by retreating further up the mountain slopes. It was through this process that the tribes now find themselves pressed around some of the last intact remnants of their ancestral homeland, the Mt. Kitanglad Range.

The park’s rich biodiversity is threatened by rapid deforestation on its lower slopes, fueled by logging, wildfires, vegetable gardening, swiddening, and rising population densities – from both high in-migration and fertility rates. Native belief that nature is controlled by a hierarchy of spirits, whose wrath must be avoided, guides the tribes in a respectful attitude to the environment. Indigenous practices such as safe havens for wildlife, preservation of keystone tree species, and restricting swidden size indicate a conservation approach to resource management. The tribes reacted to the degradation of their ancestral lands in 1993 by organizing and creating a network of “tribal guardians” to maintain vigilance on the forest margins. Some seizures of poached lumber have been made and the initiative appears to be gaining momentum. The community-based park protection (CBPP) that is evolving spontaneously in these forest margin villages is internally–driven and has been enabled by reviving and strengthening existing tribal institutions. This argues for further empowerment of these communities by formally decentralizing forest protection to their control.

The tribes’ demonstrated commitment to conservation suggests that granting them ancestral domain would not be antagonistic to National Park objectives – but could form the basis of a contractual agreement in which the tribes would guarantee protection of the forest margins in exchange for commensurate development programs. The cultural diversity of the tribes has contributed to maintenance of the park’s biodiversity, suggesting that cultural conservation should be an integral goal in National Park protection.


As we approach the closing years of the millennium, new and innovative approaches to National Park protection are urgently needed. Margins of forests that contain much of the Earth’s biodiversity continue to retreat at a worrying pace. The continued expansion of road infrastructure, often to facilitate logging, brings with it waves of land-hungry migrants eager to convert the logged-over forest into agricultural uses; these pioneer communities generally continue small-scale logging of the remaining smaller diameter trees, collect non-timber forest products, hunt and trap game, and bring other human pressures to bear on protected areas.

Most of the relatively pristine wildlands that have been gazetted under protected area systems have historically been insulated from these pressures by virtue of geographic isolation, difficult terrain, rampant disease, and environments generally hostile to human habitation. These were not unclaimed lands, however; since time immemorial, indigenous communities (ICC) occupied these forestal ecosystems and evolved cultures and resource use strategies in response to their environment. Centuries of trial and error yielded rich indigenous technical knowledge (ITK) of how their biotic resource base could be managed to meet their survival needs. Anthropological studies conducted since the 1950s (e.g., Conklin, 1957) have concluded that many of these systems, usually swidden-based supplemented with hunting and gathering, were admirable systems that demonstrated sustainability and an intricate knowledge of the local environment.

During the latter half of this century, rapid deforestation and the relentless encroachment of more technically advanced and aggressive migrants have brought both economic and socio-cultural turmoil to tribal groups. This invasion was accompanied by the imposition of new versions of government, education, religion, law and justice, resource tenure, and capitalist economies – all foreign concepts that marginalized ICCs. The national government not only did not recognize the ICC’s ancestral land claims, but also proclaimed them as illegal squatters on public domain. With the cultural absorption or detribalization that inevitably followed, came concomitant erosion of the indigenous knowledge and resource management practices that had underpinned the sustainability of their interaction with the local environment. Hence, the synergistic linkages between biological and cultural diversity became clear (Gurung, 1994) – and provide a cogent framework for strategizing new approaches to biodiversity conservation.

Those charged with National Park protection have generally viewed human settlements as incompatible with conservation objectives and in need of resettlement. Years of experience have aptly demonstrated that the paramilitary approach to park protection is untenable. Forced resettlement became increasingly unpalatable in democratic countries and Forestry Departments were woefully under-resourced to police expansive protected area boundaries. Recognizing the futility of relying on force to keep farmers out of the forests, park planners instead tried to ‘distract’ them from park resources by offering more attractive livelihood alternatives. This strategy gave birth to a whole generation of ‘Integrated Conservation and Development Projects’ (ICDPs) that attempted to reconcile park conservation objectives with the socioeconomic needs of communities living in its periphery. Although the concept is laudable and a step in the right direction, early evaluations have not been encouraging. Development initiatives in park buffer zones tended to attract in-migration (or at least discourage out-migration) and exacerbate encroachment pressures on forest margins. Furthermore, the causal linkages between buffer zone development projects and reduced pressure on adjacent park boundaries were not sufficiently clear.

There is a growing consensus that the best hope for effective protection of National Parks lies in the decentralization of stewardship responsibilities to local communities on the park periphery. This would necessitate the negotiation of a ‘social contract’ between national and international stakeholders concerned with biodiversity conservation, and buffer zone communities intent on economic survival and where possible advancements in living standards. This agreement would essentially guarantee buffer zone communities the benefit of development interventions in exchange for their active participation as vigilant guardians of protected areas. Although this concept sounds fine in theory, it leaves unanswered critical questions of identification of: which sector of the local community maintains the most compelling vested interest in preservation of the wildlands in question (i.e., the potential target group with whom the social contract would be entered); the appropriate terms of the contract; and institutional mechanisms through which it could realistically be implemented.

This paper hypothesizes that the increasing global trend for ICCs to assert their ancestral claims provides a firm basis for designing a social contract that would strengthen ethnic identities, harness native initiative in protecting critical ecosystems, and build constructive partnerships between government agencies and tribal organizations. The following case study of a key National Park in the Philippines assembles empirical evidence that demonstrates a commonality of agendas between ancestral domain claims and wildlands conservation. Tribal communities who occupy and have de facto control of buffer zone areas of the park articulate a self-interest in its protection and it is only logical that they be empowered to achieve that end.

The author will argue that de jure recognition of ancestral lands and empowerment of tribes as custodians can give rise to highly motivated, community-based park protection (CBPP) that is indeed compatible with conservation agendas. Based on this proposed park/people model, policy perspective needs to shift from viewing ICCs as a threat – but instead, as potentially their most committed allies in wildlands preservation.


2.1 The Provincial Setting

Research was conducted at the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park in Bukidnon, Northern Mindanao. Bukidnon (lit. mountainous) is an inland province perched on a plateau. Its higher elevation favors it with a relatively cool climate; the average annual mean temperature is about 230 C. The wet season is not well pronounced, with 2000-2750 mm of rainfall annually. February and March tend to be driest months, while June to September receive peak rainfall levels.

The plateau drains through a series of seven deeply incised canyons that intersect it. Several mountain massifs, including the Mt. Kitanglad Range, add to the province’s rugged terrain and inspired its name.

While the 1990 census put the population at 843,959 with a 2.94% growth rate, it is likely to be closer to one million today. The provincial economy continues to be overwhelmingly agrarian-based. Uncontrolled logging and heavy in-migration of land-hungry settlers since World War II have exacted a heavy toll on Bukidnon’s forestal areas, leaving many watersheds seriously degraded.

Although there is continued debate on the origins and ethnolinguistic distinctions between the tribes and subtribes that inhabit Bukidnon (Biernatzki, 1973; Opena, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1982; Javier, 1978; Saway, 1981, 1988; Briones, 1989; Brandeis, 1993; Sario, 1993; Del Rosario et al, 1994), the issue is largely immaterial to this paper; despite minor variations in linguistics, dress and housing, Bukidnon tribes generally share a common world view of: force of nature personalized by a hierarchy of ruling spirits under a supreme God called Magbabaya; the need to placate these guardian spirits and treat the environment carefully to avoid their wrath; and a strong sense of the sacredness of their ancestral homelands. Hence, discussion of the ‘Bukidnon’ (lit. people from the mountains) in this paper refers to native tribes in the province in a general sense, except the Manobo, a distinct, although linguistically and culturally closely related tribe.

Since Lantapan is the cultural heartland of the Talaandig tribe, there is unavoidably a strong ethnic bias in many of the perceptions and practices described in this paper. Supportive examples are often cited from other tribes to strengthen the data and broaden the extrapolation domain of the conclusions.

2.2 The Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park

The volcanic peaks of the Kitanglad (lit. place where lemon grass abounds) Range dominate the northcentral portion of the Bukidnon plateau and have long been considered the ancestral homeland of the native Bukidnon tribes (lumad). In addition to their cultural significance, these mountain slopes represent a wider strategic importance to Mindanao as a vital watershed area feeding several major rivers. Rapid deforestation on its lower slopes has prompted major reforestation efforts that have met limited success.

Conservation efforts on Mt. Kitanglad were initially motivated by the presence of the endangered Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) on its slopes. Recent research has indicated a much wider conservation value; Heany and Peterson (1992) concluded that it provides habitat to some of the richest known vertebrate fauna in the Philippines, including a large portion of endemic species. Floral surveys have also revealed rare and endangered species (Amoroso, 1994; Madulid and Pipoly, 1994). In recognition of its biodiversity value, Mt. Kitanglad was gazetted as a National Park in 1990, and more recently, was chosen as one of ten priority sites for conservation and protection under the National Integrated Protected Areas Systems Act of 1992 (NIPAS). The Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR), charged with implementation of the NIPAS Act (DENR, 1992, 1995; DENR et al, 1993), has drafted an initial park management plan that was approved by each of the eight municipalities whose territory is spanned by the 47,599-hectare park.

The park has recently become a unifying focus for tribal groups surrounding its boundaries. A joint ancestral domain claim has been filed with DENR (Saway, 1995) by the Tala-andig, Bukid-non and Higaonon tribes. The 41,5000-hectare claimed encompasses the entire National Park and outlying forestall areas on the northern and western borders. Their application is strengthened by clear recognition of ancestral domain and customary rights within protected areas by the NIPAS Act (DENR, 1992).

DENR is thus faced with the challenge – or arguably the opportunity – of reconciling ancestral land claims with protection of Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park.


The research was conducted as a component of the COPARD2 workplan under the USAID-sponsored SANREM CRSP3, and built on an earlier investigation of forest margin farming systems by the author in 1993.

Although the research team was based in Lantapan municipality, and the findings are thus biased towards the south-eastern quadrant of the park buffer zone (see Map 2), it attempted to address the wider rationale and potential implementation of park protection through de jure recognition of de facto ancestral land claims, and subsequent empowerment of tribal communities in the buffer zone as the most logical forest guardians.

A review of secondary data was initially conducted to elicit a cultural understanding of Bukidnon ICCs, and build a historical picture of land use in the province. After meetings were held with park management and tribal leaders to explain the objectives of the work, a panabi ritual was then held to demonstrate respect of local customs and seek cooperation of the spirits in facilitating the research.

Fieldwork began with key informant interviews with a sample of datus (tribal leaders) purposely selected for their proximity to the park’s forest margins. The success of any strategy for CBPP will rely heavily on their cooperation; their inclusion in the planning stages of setting research priorities and designing park management is thus vital. Informal, open-ended interviews sought to determine tribal leaders’ perceptions of the significance of the Mt. Kitanglad Range to the tribes; indigenous resource use practices that demonstrate the careful environmental management and sustainability; past and current causative agents of deforestation; indications that tribal organizations are spontaneously understanding their own initiatives in park protection; pathways by which the tribes could cooperate with DENR; and strategies for buffer zone management. This paper synthesizes and presents the findings of the work completed to date.

Meanwhile, the research is continuing with a more detailed survey of farm households cultivating land either butting against, or within, the forest margins.

It is envisioned that this work will identify the ‘critical users’ of park resources who would constitute the target group of any development interventions attempting to provide other livelihood options and ameliorate encroachment pressures. Ten households will be interviewed in each of ten forest margin sitios (subvillages), providing a total sample of 100 respondents. A list of guide issues is again being used to structure the interviews. This work hopes to understand: ethnic and demographic dynamics at the forest margins; history of migration increasingly higher on the park slopes; land use and anticipation of converting more forest land into agricultural use; income sources; problem identification and ranking; farmer use and perception of tree crops; forest products harvested; farmer cognition of environmental changes during his residency in the area; and the same park-related issues as discussed with the datus.

It is intended that this work provides a voice to tribal claimants of the Mt. Kitanglad Range, and contributes to the debate on the workability of meshing local cultural objectives with national and global conservation agendas.


4.1 Historical Context of Ancestral Land Claims: The Lumad Retreat

Before debating the merits of the land claim and its interaction with the conservation mandate of the National Park, it is useful to consider the following thumbnail sketch of the history of native occupation of what is now known as Bukidnon, their increasing contact with lowland cultures, and eventual subjection to centralized national government.

The first inhabitants of Bukidnon are thought to have probably originated in Indonesia and arrived on Mindanao’s shores around 500 BC through an island –hopping migration pattern (Lao, 1980, 1985).

Through the ensuing centuries, they were: visited, and greatly influenced by Chinese traders and Islamic groups; successfully colonized by the Spanish (1596-1900), Americans (1907-1942), and the Japanese (1942–1945); and later absorbed under the political hegemony of lowland Filipinos (Philippine independence was in 1946). Evidence indicates that the Bukidnon tribe had expanded northward into the coastal areas of what is today Misamis Oriental (Opena, 1979, 1982; Lao, 1980) – that “. . . Visayan settlers had already driven the Bukidnon to the mountains before the Spaniards arrived” (Biernatzki, 1973, p. 22). This was to be the beginning of a long retreat that continues even today.

The Spanish called the natives “Montesses’ (lit. inhabitants of the thickets) and by 1596, Jesuit missionaries were already in Northern Mindanao to civilize and Christianize them, bringing the colony more firmly under Spain’s control. It was not until the 1880s that the Jesuits succeeded in penetrating the vast wilderness of the Bukidnon heartland and described a plateau of gently rolling cogonal grasslands (Imperata cylindrica), intersected by deeply incised river canyons, and flanked by forested mountains (Anonymous, 1956; Cole, 1956; Madigan, 1969). The Bukidnon were scattered in small settlements on the hillsides, at the forest edge and usually near rivers. They lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle: growing sweet potatoes, upland rice, corn, cassava, taro and squash in small kaingin (swiddens); hunting wild pig, deer, monkeys, and forest rats; catching some riverine fish; and gathering edible native plants (Cole, 1956; Burton, undated).

Grasslands were generally avoided since plows and draught animals were unknown to the Bukidnon, and Imperata fallows were too difficult to manage under a slash-and-burn system with only rudimentary tools (Cole, 1956; Madigan, 1969).

The missionaries mounted a vigorous ‘resettle, civilize and Christianize’ campaign; resettling the disparate native bands into barrios (villages) on the plateau was seen as necessary to provide protection against raiding non-Christian groups, facilitate development, allow visiting priests to easily contact them, and consolidating the community around the church. The Christianization of the Bukidnon (Cullen, 1973, 1980); abandonment of their nomadic lifestyle on forested mountain slopes in favor of sedentary residence in towns and barrios on the grasslands; and increased contact with Visayan settlers, caused tremendous social turmoil in the native community. Cole observed the rapid changes in Bukidnon traditional cultural patterns during field research in 1910 (1956, p. 6):

The newly established villages were, for the most part, replicas of the less advanced settlements of the Christianized Bisayan of the coast. The datus, or local headmen, were being replaced by “elected” village officials, and in some towns the dress was changing toward that of the civilized peoples … It is evident that the wild life is largely gone.

This trend was accelerated by Manuel Fortich in 1914 during his tenure as the first Governor of Bukidnon during the American colonial period; recalcitrant natives were sometimes threatened with prison if they refused resettlement. Disk plows pulled by draught animals were introduced, allowing the natives to turn over the Imperata sod and expand rice and corn cultivation on the grasslands (Madigan, 1969; Lao, 1985). As transport to coastal markets gradually improved, coffee and abaca were introduced as major cash crops.

The American administration brought with it another potent catalyst for cultural change – a western styled education system. By 1908 settlement ‘farm schools’ began to be organized with the intention of providing practical livelihood skills in farming and home management; basic reading, writing, and arithmetic; and installing a sense of democratic principles and political awareness (Anonymous, 1956; Lao, 1985). These vocational–oriented schools gradually evolved into more academic institutions and were absorbed into the public school system. In 1918, a Compulsory Education Bill was passed to enforce school attendance and local police were sent to round up truant Bukidnon children (Lao, 1985).

As alluded by Cole (1956, p. 6), the social fabric of the Bukidnon tribal society was further weakened by its subjugation to the centralized government of the Philippine state. The province was carved up into municipal, barangay (village), and sitio (subvillage) political units and the tribal power structure was gradually supplanted by a civil government administration.

Datus, traditionally the leaders and mediators of tribal communities (Biernatzki, 1973; Claver, 1973; Opena, 1974b), saw their power evaporate as provincial governors, municipal mayors, and barangay captains became the legitimate source of political power. Datuship faded from importance as government officials took over most of its functions. The centralized government was also accompanied by a western-based legal system meant to replace the batasan (customary laws) that had traditionally been administered by the datu.

Although natives understood little of this system, they were informed that it had relegated them to the status of illegal squatters on the land of their ancestors.

Detribalization of the Bukidnon, ostensibly to integrate them into a larger Philippine society, was thus inevitable as their traditions of spirituality, government, education, justice, and land tenure were challenged and replaced by outside influences. This loss of cultural identity was aggravated by progressive displacement from their ancestral lands. After World War II, the trickle of migrants arriving in Bukidnon swelled to a flood. Mindanao was vaunted as the ‘Land of Promise’, and attracted waves of settlers from crowded Luzon and the Visayas; most came to the Mindanao frontier seeking to claim a piece of farm land as their own, or find employment in the booming logging industry (Madigan, 1969; Lao, 1992). This was an era of uncontrolled logging in Bukidnon, resulting in rampant destruction of its upland forests (Madigan, 1969; Kummer, 1991; Lao, 1992; Poffenberger and McGean, 1993). Migrants followed the logging roads and cleared kaingin from the logged-over areas, resulting in rapid conversion of forestal areas into agricultural use. In addition to spontaneous migration, the Bukidnon Governor initiated a campaign to advertise the province’s vast unclaimed frontiers and assist in-migration by land-hungry settlers (Madigan, 1969; Lao, 1992); the intention was to accelerate Bukidnon’s economic development.

The effect of the combined spontaneous and government-sponsored migration is evident. During the 42 years from 1948 when the migration boom gained momentum until the most recent census in 1990, the population of Bukidnon multiplied by a factor of 13.3. Population densities likewise rose from 7.7 to 101.7 persons per km2 during this same period. Despite this staggering growth, it is notable that Bukidnon’s population density (101.7) is still only half that of the Philippine national density (202.3); this imbalance suggest that Bukidnon will probably continue to attract migrants from more crowded regions for some time yet.

The Bukidnon were ill-equipped to adjust to this inflow of dumagats (lit. people of the sea [Christian lowlanders]); they found themselves increasingly marginalized in a complex and competitive society – naïve to the ways of commerce; ignorant of lowland law; parochial and politically unorganized; and lacking formal education or financial resources. Unscrupulous traders exploited the natives’ vulnerability, as observed by Lynch (1947, p. 476):

. . . they [Chinese merchants] fill them [Bukid-non] with alcohol, enticing them to drink more and more. Finally, after wasting a week in the transaction, the poor Bukidnon returns to their forests feeling the effects of their drunkenness, with no money, with no abaca . . .

More seriously, the Bukidnon were alienated from their land almost as easily as the abaca (Musa textilis-Manila hemp) that Lynch describes. Land routinely changed from native to migrant hands for a few tins of sardines, three bottles of ‘Fighter’ wine, or cancellation of small debts. Barrio life thus became increasingly Visayan as the Bukidnon sold their residential lots and farm near the barrio and retreated to the periphery.

The natives’ apparent carelessness with their ancestral lands can be explained from several perspectives:

Progressive domination of community structures in the barrios by migrants alienated the Bukidnon and left them feeling as second-class citizens. As a relatively non-confrontational people, their response to escape domination by the migrants and the loggers was withdrawal, usually further up the slopes.

The concept of private land ownership was foreign to the Bukidnon; it was tribal custom that land was not ‘owned’ by individuals, but used on an usufruct basis within the territorial jurisdiction of his datu.

Abandoned or fallowed land reverted again to common property usable by any member of the community. As noted by Biernatzki (1973, p. 45), “In the mind of the Bukidnon seller, the land itself is inalienable, and the dumagat buyer has no continuing rights to it and can be thrown off at any time.”

The Bukidnon were not accustomed to using draught animals and plows that would have enabled successful cultivation of cogon grasslands on the plateau; they were easily convinced to sell these areas near the barrios and move closer to forest margins more conducive to their traditional kaingin system.

Madigan (1969, p. 49) noted, “Still attached to a shifting swidden agriculture, he does not see much value in a single, particular plot of land. Thus when given a title to land, he doesn’t need much inducement or motivation to sell it.”

It was the natives’ experience that whenever land disputes with migrants were submitted to the lowlanders’ judicial system, the more worldly and politically connected Dumagat would invariably prevail. Hence when migrants settled on their fallowed swiddens and claimed them as their own, the Bukidnon’s only recource was to retreat further up the slopes.

Finally, refusal by the state to recognize the natives’ historical claims to the land and its communal nature undermined tribal initiative in trying to protect their ancestral homelands.

Tribal lands that had traditionally been common property carefully managed under datu supervision were reverted to a dualistic system of private ownership (strictly controlled by the title-holder) and open access commons (uncontrolled and subject to ‘tragedy of the commons’– type scenarios).

In addition to heavy in-migration, the proliferation of cattle ranches (1910 –1915), pineapple (since 1928) and more recently sugarcane plantations (from 1975) in Bukidnon are notable since they occupy large tracts of fertile land that could otherwise have accommodated many small-holder farms. Arguably the consolidation of large land-holdings on the plateau by wealthy investors and corporations has displaced mostly migrant farmers – pushing them onto the lower footslopes, and in turn, forcing the natives onto the upper slopes of the watershed. Bukidnon is the leading province targeted under the Philippines current land reform program4 (Ledesma, date unknown).

This section of the paper has attempted to provide a historical context to the case study of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park. It traces the long retreat of Bukidnon’s lumad—and explains why their backs are now against the last forest remnants, facing a society that trivializes their beliefs and culture, and questions their right of stewardship over the land of their ancestors.

4.2 Catalysts of Deforestation on the Slopes of Mt. Kitanglad

The forest margin has receded rapidly on the park’s lower slopes, indicating an urgent need to conceptualize new and innovative approaches to protecting its boundaries. In the Lantapan study area, deforestation has advanced to the collar of the volcanic peaks. In designing new strategies for buffer zone management, it is instructive to first analyze the underlying dynamics of human activities that threaten the park’s conservation value. The following insights were gained from key informant interviews with Talaandig datus on the park’s perimeter in Lantapan.


Farmer respondents spoke in a united voice in identifying logging between 1967 to 1983 as the major cause of deforestation on the park’s perimeter. Rough roads were carved up the footslopes for the extraction of red lawaan (Shorea sp.), white lawaan, wild pine (Casuarina equisitifolia) and tungog (Phyllocladus hypophyllus). No compensation was paid to the barangays whose territorial jurisdiction was being logged and few local jobs were created. Only a few natives were hired to guide the loggers to the biggest trees.

There was no replanting or other silvicultural management after logging and, farmers pointed out, even trees near the headwaters of rivers were cut.

When asked how the forest was destroyed, many Talaandig responded that Fortich had cut down all the trees, they were keenly aware that the Rozfor (Remedios Ozamis Fortich) timber concession5 that degraded much of their forests was connected to the highest political echelons in Bukidnon (see Lao, 1992, p. 100). This begs the question of how, after the wealthiest and most privileged families have plundered the natural wealth of the forests, can the most resource-poor communities be asked to protect the remnants?

Forest Fires

The second factor most often cited was the outbreak of major forest fires during El Niño-induced droughts in 1973 and 1983. Some respondents thought that the forest fires began in the cogon grasslands on the lower slopes, probably swidden fires that went out of control. It spread rapidly into the park’s interior fueled by the highly combustible dried mossy forest and resinous pine trees. Possibly the logging may have contributed to the severity of the burn by leaving dried brush on the forest floor. DENR (1995, p. 4) estimates that 6,477 ha were damaged during the 1983 blaze alone. Farmers on the upper slopes lost coffee and abaca plantations.

The forests would have regenerated naturally and recovered from the fire – but the combination of logging roads and charred forests catalyzed a migration into these areas and their conversion into agricultural land. The fire had already accomplished much of the work and little additional labor was needed to bring the land into cultivatable shape.

Land Privatization and In-migration

Lantapan was not immune to the post –war flood of land-hungry migrants from Luzon and the Visayas.

Talaandig datus were generally welcoming of these new arrivals and often provided them with land at no charge during the early years. As the notion of private land gained currency in the 1950s, this also encouraged land sales by the natives. Some declared their fields for taxation (Declaration of Real Property), and after cadastral surveys, were able to upgrade to a Torrens Title. Land was no longer communal and subject to control by the already-weakened datus, but could be sold for individual gain. Thus many natives, aware that they could open a new kaingin further up the slopes, were easily persuaded to sell their land near the barrios and roads to the dumagats. This was also motivated, to some extent, by a fear of cultural absorption and domination by the lowlanders. Hence the Talaandig stuck to the strategy that has characterized native migration patterns throughout this century – avoid confrontation and retreat up the mountain.

Ethnographies of Talaandig datus describe the temporal patterns in ethnic composition in Lantapan barangays. More accessible villages near the Sayre Highway, and those near the poblacion (political centre of the municipality) attracted the greatest in-migration. Datus interviewed in Alanib, for example, told of an ethnic milieu that was 80% Talaandig and 20% dumagat during their boyhood. Migrants to Alanib often got a foothold in their adopted home by tenant cultivating Talaandig-owned land are now a minority constituting 16% of the village population. Most have sold their land and worked as tenants on dumagat farms or sell labor in the sugarcane plantations.

With the improvements that were made to the road to Basak in 1991, this trend appears to have shifted to the upper portions of the watershed. The upper barangays tend to have high projected growth rates—including 9.68% in Cawayan. This suggests heightened encroachment pressures on the forest margins in the upper watershed in the future. The barangays that continue to be isolated by poor road infrastructure, Kaatuan and Captain Juan, are less attractive to migrants and exhibit low growth projections. These figures speak convincingly of the catalyzing role of roads in bringing human pressures to bear against fragile ecosystems.

The spatial pattern of ethnic composition in Lantapan is also shown. The concentration of migrants in the political centre of the municipality and the more accessible lower end of the Manupali watershed is most striking–compared to the Talaandig majorities in remote barangays near the forest margin and in the upper reaches of the valley. This verifies that the buffer zone of the National Park is under the de facto control of the Talaandig and supports the argument that tribal organizations need to be empowered to take an active role in park protection.

Arrival of Mid-Latitude Vegetables

The arrival of one ethnic group from Luzon warrants particular mention since its migrants are credited with introducing high value vegetable crops to the footslopes of Mt. Kitanglad. The Igorots of Mountain Province, Central Luzon were attracted to Bukidnon by its similarities to their homeland; the vegetable gardening that they practiced in the Cordilleras was well adapted to the cool temperatures and higher elevations of the upper Manupali watershed and land was much more accessible. By the mid 1980s, vegetable farming began to expand rapidly on the landscape–cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, Chinese cabbage, and most importantly, potatoes.

Potatoes enjoyed a lucrative market in Cagayan de Oro and were the Igorot’s preferred crop. They rented land from the natives, usually on the upper slopes where the temperature was cool and the soils not yet exhausted. Unlike the traditional kaingins of the Talaandig, the Igorots cleared away all logs and brush, dug out tree stumps, and used draught animals to cultivate the soil into a fine seedbed. The fields’ vulnerability to severe erosion was not a major concern since the land was rented and the growers had no long-term interest in its condition.

The potato industry began to fuel deforestation when bacterial wilt built up in the soil after two to three crops, causing severe yield declines. To avoid this disease, the general practice was to harvest only two potato crops, and then switch to another crop. New fields that had never grown a crop of potatoes – and hence would not yet be infected, were then sought for planting the next potato crop. This meant that the Igorots were transient on the landscape – seeking black fertile soils near the forest margin, renting it for two crops of potatoes6, and then moving on in search of the next disease-free plot. As the Visayans and Talaandig began to emulate their Igorot neighbors, the demand for prime potato land induced many farmers to follow logging trails further up the slopes and convert fire-damaged forest into potato fields.

Intensive vegetable gardening is often criticized as being threatening to the conservation objectives of the park due to its role in deforestation, degradation of soil properties, and liberal use of chemical inputs. It should be recognized however, that the introduction of high value crops has enabled farmers to finance nutrient inputs (both chicken dung and inorganic fertilizers) and the evolution from rotational kaingin systems to permanent cultivation. This land-use intensification means that a larger population can be supported on a smaller land base; this is vital to buffer zone management if we are to alleviate the pressure for farmers to encroach into the park in search of agricultural land.

High Fertility Rates

Talaandig culture places high values on family and fertility levels remain high; much of the population growth in Lantapan is attributable to the excess of birth rates over mortality rates. Seven to twelve children are the norm. This bodes poorly for future park conservation in terms of: increasing demographic densities and demand for resources in the buffer zone; low educational levels mean that most children will have few livelihood options other than finding their own plot of land to farm; the native tendency to not out-migrate, but reside in clan clusters in their village of birth; and gains in standard of living will be thwarted as long as population growth continues to out-pace economic growth. The prospect of large communities living in poverty in the buffer zone remains a significant threat to the future of the Mt. Kitanglad Range.

Shifting Cultivation

Kaingin and the use of fire was also strongly associated with loss of forest cover. Respondents described shrinking fallow periods as they grew upland rice and maize in repeated swidden cycles – leaving soils exhausted and colonized by Imperata. This cogonal land was then abandoned and the farmers moved further up the toposequence to clear virgin land from the forest edge. It was often these degraded fields on the lower slopes that were easily sold for a pittance to dumagat migrants.

Community Lumber Needs

The population explosion on the forest margin required lumber for house construction. Much of this was probably cut from new kaingins being cleared, or by selective carabao logging on the forest perimeter.

Timber extraction for local needs was likely to have been a relatively minor factor in deforestation, causing some forest degradation in localized areas surrounding settlements.

Small-scale logging by farmers was a significant threat however, when financed by businessmen. It was usually the poorest strata of communities, under the pressure of economic necessity, who were vulnerable to propositions to poach timber. They were provided with credit and equipment on the condition that they would covertly extract lumber for delivery to the financier. Boards were concealed under piles of vegetables smuggled out in trucks. This was more common prior to the Bukidnon logging moratorium in 1992.

However, in the absence of close monitoring, it will persist at low chronic levels as long as farmers living in poverty on the forest margins do not have more attractive livelihood options.

This brief description of the dynamics underlying deforestation in Lantapan identifies some of the challenges that must be addressed by any proposed framework for CBPP of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park. The following section of the paper will present evidence that the culture of the Bukidnon tribes has at its core a deep respect for the sacredness of their ancestral lands and the need to approach the environment with respect. If these spiritual values and customs can be revived and strengthened, there are grounds for strong optimism that empowering tribal organizations as guardians of the forest can address both cultural and conservation agendas.

4.4 The Compelling Tribal Interest in Preserving the Mt. Kitanglad Range

In developing an argument that the ancestral land claims of ICCs are not antagonistic to the wider conservation objectives of the National Park, it is essential to demonstrate that the lumad have a self-interest in protecting these lands and would perform effectively as forest guardians. What is the evidence that the natives have traditionally preserved the environment in the past – and are motivated to continue this stewardship role in the future?

The tribes’ perception of the mountains as sacred is essentially the core issue that both justifies the ancestral domain claims and, this paper will argue, nurture as close and protective relationship with nature.

Respondents described the sanctity of Mt. Kitanglad as: the domain of a variety of unseen spirits; the origin of their ancestors; and as their source of livelihood.

4.4.1 Spirits: The Supernatural Forest Guardians

The daily activities of Bukidnon natives are interwoven into their world view that nature is controlled by a host of guardian spirits (migbaya) under the rule of a supreme God called Magbabaya (Cole, 1956; Cullen, 1973, 1980; Banaynal, 1980; Saway, 1981; Briones, 1989). Six spirits are believed to govern the most critical components of their livelihoods: water, the soil, bees and honey, the forest and its wildlife, crops’ abundant growth, and wealth (Banaynal, 1980; Saway, 1981). These supernatural beings dwell in rocks, trees, cliffs, mountains and rivers and, it is believed, control what happens within their sphere of influence.

It is essential to the Bukidnon that they maintain harmonious relationships with the spirits and seek their assistance “toward the fulfillment of immediate felt needs, such as a good harvest, a successful hunt, or the cure of illness” (Cullen, 1973, p. 2). This appeasement is achieved by performing rituals, providing offerings, and observation of taboos and prohibitions. Failure to show respect, however, may provoke anger and punitive actions in the form of a crop failure, sickness, or other disasters that may threaten the safety of the whole tribe. The lumad perception that nature is governed by guardian spirits that must be shown respect means by extension, that nature itself will be treated respectfully – or risk supernatural sanctions.

This worldview, with minor variations, is common amongst all indigenous groups in Bukidnon. Since their practices are a product of their own cognition of reality, the lumad’s interaction with the environment is guided by compliance with the compliance with the spirits, taboos, and omens. Talaandig datus explained that harvest of nature’s resources is always accompanied by rituals, first seeking permission and then giving thanks. Before beginning to open a kaingin, panalabugta rituals are performed, sacrificing a chicken and offering betelnut, colored pieces of cloth and few coins to seek permission from the spirit of the land, Talagbuta, to clear that specific plot. Pangibabasuk rituals before planting ask assistance from the spirit of the crops, Ibabasuk, in providing good yields.

A successful harvest is concluded with a pamahandi ritual to give thanks to the spirits and Magbabaya for blessings received during the cropping season. Corn harvest is celebrated with a pamuhat ritual as a gesture of thanksgiving. Young corn called lagon is ground and cooked in banana leaves to make a delicacy called binaki. Nearby villagers will be invited to join the feast in the lumad tradition of handogan – sharing what you have with others. Hunting was accompanied by similar rituals. Lime, tobacco and betelnut are placed in a balite tree (Ficus sp.) to implore the assistance of the spirit of the forest (Mamemelig) in guiding the dogs to the scent of the wild boar. A successful kill is concluded with a panganuyo, a prayer of thanks for the spirits’s benevolence.

Other researchers have documented similar examples of native resource management balanced with the need to respect the environment and maintain harmony with the spirit world. The Bukidnon, like most ICCs in the Philippines, believe balite trees to be inhabited by a powerful engkanto spirit that would inflict sickness and death on anyone who cut down its dwelling place. Cutting balite is thus generally prohibited or, as described by Banaynal (1980, p. 71), when balite are found growing in an area intended for kaingin and it becomes necessary to cut them down, the Talaandig may make offerings to the resident engkanto and wait for its reaction. If the offerings remain intact, this is interpreted to mean that the spirit has agreed to transfer to another tree and permission has been granted. Alternatively, if the offering is scattered, this indicates that the spirit has not found an alternative dwelling and permission is refused. Cole (1956, p. 98) recorded a variation of this farmer-balite interaction during his fieldwork with the Bukidnon in 1910. The farmer would lean a sapling against the balite tree and address the engkanto: If there is a man living in this tree, here is wood for you to use as a sign. If you are unwilling that I cut this tree, throw this wood away. If it pleases you to have this tree cut down, then leave this pole where it is. He would return to the field the following day and if the sapling was as he left it, this signified that consent had been granted.

Talisay and Kalamangan trees are also associated with spirits by some informants while others considered all big trees to be inhabited. Briones (1989) and Javier (1978) both mention the Tigkalasan Manobo’s (also sometimes referred to as Tala-andig7) practice of placing chicken eggs on the stumps of felled trees to appease the spirits that had resided in them.

Certain peaks and slopes of the Mt. Kitanglad Range are particularly sacred and are equated as being the church of the Talaandig. Flags, altars, and other religious paraphernalia used in communing with the spirits and Magbabaya can be found in these locations. They are strictly off-limits for hunting or swiddening and women and children may be forbidden to enter. On the forested slopes above Sungco, an area known as Tuminungan Plaza is carefully protected by the local datu; the clear boundary between farmer’s fields and the pristine forest of the sacred area is evidence of the efficacy of tribal sanctions. Within the Mt. Kitanglad Range, many peaks are revered as places of worship (Saway, 1995) and consequently protected.

Other spots on the park’s landscape are protected by taboos and fear of malevolent spirits. Lake Kigiba, for example, is believed to be inhabited by an evil spirit that will inflict leprosy on anyone who bathes in its waters. Pananawa Hill, near Malaybalay, is similarly avoided out of fear of a pair of giants thought to inhabit it. Any hunter venturing nearby will be troubled by evil spirits and unable to sleep at night. Omens may also affect resource use practices. The lumokon, a wild dove, is widely known as an omen bird. Its call, depending on the direction from which it is heard, indicates if a chosen swidden site will be suitable or should be abandoned (Arquisola, 1980; Agbayani, 1993). The call of the kulago, a night bird, is believed to foretell a plague or some misfortune.

These examples suggest that the Mt. Kitanglad forests have traditionally been buffered from overexploitation by the highest possible authority – the spirit world. Burton’s (1985, p. 23) conclusions about Manobo resource use patterns are probably equally applicable to other Bukidnon tribes:

. . .they take precautions in everything they do to avoid the violation of taboos and offending the spirits. This inter-play between the human and the human and the supernatural inculcates respect for nature. Thus trees are not cut down without a propitiatory ritual; wild game are not killed without the suguy; the crops are not planted without seeking permission; and the yield is not harvested without the taephag ritual. Ecologically, the Manobo are conservationists and protectors of the environment.

4.4.2 Ancestral Homeland

All Talaandig are familiar with the creation myth that describes the origin of their tribe (Saway, 1981). It tells of a great flood that submerged the world, leaving only the upper peaks of Mt. Kitanglad and Mt. Kalatungan above the waters. A lone man called Agbibilin escaped drowning by seeking refuge on the top of Mt. Kitanglad. Meanwhile, across the valley a woman by the name of Ginamayong had saved herself by floating in a wooden drum and finally beaching on the peak of Mt. Kalatungan (lit. wooden drum). After the floodwaters receded, this couple found each other and eventually bore eight children–four sons and four daughters. At Magbabaya’s instruction, Agbibilin allowed his children to intermarry and establish separate residences. As the four couples multiplied, they became the ancestors of the Talaandig, Maranaw, Maguindanao and Manobo tribes that eventually spread throughout Mindanao.

Based on this myth, the Talaandig consider Mt. Kitanglad and Mt. Kalatungan to be the father and mother mountains of the tribe. They are sacred as both the origin and burial grounds of their ancestors.

Many respondents expressed strong sentiments that the Mt. Kitanglad Range is central to the identity of the Talaandig tribe – that their cultural identity and the ecology of the slopes are inextricably interwoven. Preservation of the forest, they said, is synonymous with protecting their culture. It was their objective to preserve the mountain range long before anyone thought of gazetting it as a national park – and they would continue to do so even without DENR’s assistance.

4.4.3 Source of Economic Necessities

As already described, the Talaandig are reliant on the benevolence of the spirits in assisting them in securing their economic needs from nature. They equate the forest with: their market place that provides them with wildlife, fish, honey, wild fruits and berries, and other native edible plants; their construction supplies outlet that provides timber for building a shelter, rattan to lash the pieces together, and nipa or cogon for roofing; and their pharmacy where herbal plants are gathered to treat injuries, diseases, and use as contraceptives. Thus the forested mountains have a spiritual significance as the provider of all the Talaandig’s needs.

This attempt to explain the lumad’s spiritual, cultural and historical relationship with the Mt. Kitanglad Range provides persuasive insights on why the tribes are likely to be the most committed guardians of the park borders. The most positive prospect for successfully conserving the Mt. Kitanglad Range is precisely that it is not strictly an externally-driven agenda – but does in fact respond to the felt needs of the tribal community. Their high motivation coupled with their physical positioning on the park’s periphery argues strongly for their enlistment as the custodians of the park forests.

4.5 Indigenous Resource Management

In addition to spiritual influences on resource management, there is also evidence that the Talaandig have evolved very pragmatic practices to moderate resource extraction and ensure sustainable use.

4.5.1 Hunting

One of the most striking examples of a conservation approach to resource management is the concept of tangkal – a recognized safe haven for wildlife where hunting or trapping is strictly forbidden. If a pursued pig or deer crosses the boundary into the tangkal, the chase must stop and the dogs are called off. This indigenous concept is analogous to what conservation planners now call a strict protection zone – and acts as a reservoir to buffer wildlife populations from over-harvest. The resolve of the tribes to protect tangkal from encroachment should not be underestimated. When a government program attempted to resettle 350 Iglesia ni Kristo families in a Higaonon tangkal in Barangay Hagpa, Impasugong in 1984, the natives armed themselves to fight to protect it – until the government backed down (Lao, 1992, p. 161). Another example of judicious wildlife harvest is prohibitions against killing immature wildlife or deer heavy with pregnancy (Burton, undated).

4.5.2 Preservation of Trees . . .

. . . As Food Sources for Bees and Wildlife

From their observation of nature, the lumad recognize which tree species are key food sources for wildlife and preserve these as hunting sites. Baganalan trees are conserved as food sources for birds, while the wild pig prefers to forage on fallen gasa and balite (Ficus so.) fruit. Kalamagan and olayan (Lithocarpus) trees would be protected as important sources of nectar for honey bees.

. . . As Medicinal Herbs

Bayog, bitaug (Calophyllum inophyllum) and other trees with curative properties are spared the axe while clearing land and carefully protected for future use.

. . . As Raw Materials for Handicrafts

Tribal restrictions prohibit cutting shoots of bamboo species (Bambusa spp.) used in weaving; conserve grasses such as sud-sod (Fimbristylis globulosa) that are woven into mats; and nurture rattan (Calamus spp.) for later harvest.

. . . And to Protect Streams

Plants that are categorized as mawahig (water-bearing) are conserved to maintain the water table and prevent erosion of stream banks. Planting abaca (Musa textilis) near favored fishing spots is thought to protect the water source and prevent streams from dying out even during prolonged droughts. Balite is also considered as key to stream ecology; its protection by spiritual sanctions may be strategic in maintaining watershed hydrology.

4.5.3 Swiddening

Like many swidden-based cultures, the Talaandig evolved cultivation practices that demonstrated both an intricate knowledge of their environment and an intentional strategy to minimize the ecological impacts of their activities.

The position of star constellations and indicator trees, such as kadugi, kalamagan, and talisay, were used to monitor the passing of the seasons and judge when it was time to begin clearing the kaingin (Saway, 1979, p. 7). In choosing a site, the headwaters of streams were avoided both to protect the water source-and because drying the slash sufficiently for a good burn was problematic in sheltered valley areas. Moderate slopes were preferred to enable falling the trees downslope in a relatively uniform pattern, leaving more exposed soil for planting between the fallen trunks. Working in sloping fields also required less bending over compared to level areas. The floral composition of prospective sites was noted to judge soil properties and the most suitable crop. For example, the presence of lawaan (Shorea sp.) indicated black, fertile soils (tabunok) in which abaca, maize or coffee would thrive; olayan suggested impoverished, reddish soils

(pulahan) that should be limited to less demanding crops such as sweet potatoes or cassava.

Swidden size was determined by throwing a bolo either over-hand-or more difficult, backwards between the kainginero’s legs (lambog tag talikuran – lit. throw it backwards). The distance of the throw marked the boundaries of the plot to be cleaned. The rationale behind this unusual practice was that the distance of the throw was indicative of the farmer’s strength, and the size of the swidden that he had the capacity to maintain. From an ecological viewpoint, these smaller swiddens would have been less vulnerable to erosion;

coppicing of tree stumps left in the field and seed dispersal from forest adjacent to the plot assisted rapid forest regeneration during the fallow period.

After burning the slash and allowing the soil to cool, rice and corn were dibbled directly using standard swidden technologies. After two to three crops, increasing colonization by hard-to-control grasses demanded high labor inputs for weeding, prompting the farmer to fallow the plot or alternatively, plant perennials such as lutya, abaca, pomelo or avocado.

These few examples of indigenous resource management practices suggest a tradition of careful manipulation of the environment – balancing the extractive demands of the Talaandig with the ecological resilience of nature. This conservation approach to resource management needs to be revived, strengthened and aligned in any strategy for management of the park’s buffer zone.

4.6 Tribal Conservation Initiatives

The final measure of the tribe’s determination to bring an end to the assault on the Mt. Kitanglad Range is the initiative that they have demonstrated in organizing a united response to the threat to their ancestral lands. While external agencies continue to wring their hands over issues of boundary locations, park zoning, and buffer zone management, for several years already tribal organizations have rallied around the park perimeter to form the front line of defense … and are clearly leading the way in protection of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Nature Park.

4.6.1 Formation of the Tribal Guardians

For years now, tribal communities on the park boundary have had a front row seat in witnessing the failure of a highly centralized approach to forest protection. As the forest margin continued to retreat up the slopes of Mt. Kitanglad at a rapid pace, they found themselves being viewed by the state as suspects – the villains responsible for the problem. In response, in 1993 a group of 14 Talaandig datus coordinated in drafting a letter to DENR in which they offered to organize a tribal-based program to assist in forest

protection. Forest guardians known as bantay gubat (lit. guard of the forest) were organized in forest margin communities, provided with training, and deputized by DENR.

With this decentralization of responsibilities to the community, the tribal guardians became the eyes and ears of DENR. Datus held community meetings to explain this new community-based initiative in protecting their ancestral lands and emphasized their shared responsibility in enforcing park regulations. The expansion of kaingin into the forest would be no longer permitted. Hunting within park boundaries was banned, and

only dead or fallen trees could be extracted for lumber. The fact that responsibility for enforcement of these prohibitions now rested at the community level demanded a much higher level of accountability; flaunting the regulations would no longer be the sole concern of DENR – but would be a direct challenge to the datuship and tribal law. Within the community, social pressure to conform is enormous and the protection system became largely self-policing. The tribal guardians are not burdened with daily foot patrols along the park boundary – but simply maintain a cognizance of activities at the forest margin. Violations are reported to a high datu, who investigates, passes judgement, and imposes punitive measures based on tribal law.

Thus, both monitoring and enforcement are accomplished by the community without need of intervention by DENR. This strategy has gained momentum and a second tribal initiative has since assembled a network of 260 tribal guardians spread around the periphery of the park.

The active participation of tribal members in park protection appears to have reawakened their sense of responsibility for their ancestral lands – and with this, has almost certainly come a revived sense of cultural identity and historical roots in the Mt. Kitanglad Range. Four Igorot farmers have thus far been apprehended under this program for extending their fields into park forests and harvesting the lumber from the cleared trees. One repeat offender was penalized an 80 kg pig and several chickens, and in all cases, the lumber was seized and used for community projects. Even the Philippine National Museum has been stung by the tribe’s increased assertiveness in policing their ancestral lands. A field expedition that climbed up the slopes on a botanical survey was confronted and their specimens seized, for failing to seek permission from tribal authorities. These are positive indicators that if their ancestral domain claim is recognized, tribal organizations do have the initiative and ability to control access to the park and ensure its conservation objectives are not compromised.

4.6.2 Other Tribal Projects

Several other Talaandig initiatives demonstrating a conservation intent warrant brief mention:

A Talaandig Multi-Purpose Cooperative has been instituted that clearly states forest protection and reforestation as one of its key objectives.

The World Bank-supported Manupali Watershed Project provided farmers with fertilizers and seedlings and paid them to reforest critical areas of the watershed. Some sitios in Sungco rebuked this offer out of fear that acceptance of project wages and inputs might weaken their land claims. They were keen enough on the reforestation objective however, that they did accept the seedlings and planted them on their own initiative, refusing pay. They have now applied to the municipality for assistance in reforesting

another 50 hectares along the banks of the Alanib Creek, the major water source for Lantapan.

In 1975 a group of datus coordinated in setting aside 500 ha of pristine forest on the mid-slopes as a conservation area8. This reservation was registered with the Office for Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC) for legal recognition that would be necessary to prevent encroachment by organized squatters or corporations. This area continues to be guarded by the tribe.

These spontaneous initiatives by the tribes clearly demonstrate that the cultural values and beliefs that guide their behavior are directly compatible with the National Park’s conservation agenda. This shared vision of a pristine Mt. Kitanglad Range can form the basis of a social contract in which the state would grant the tribes’ ancestral domain claims – contingent on firm commitment that the park’s conservation value would be strictly protected by the tribes. This marriage between the ancestral domain and park protection issues is a logical union that will capitalize on their interlinkages and provide synergy between biological and cultural conservation.

4.7 Enforcement of Park Boundaries Through Existing Tribal Institutions

The proliferation of social forestry-oriented programs in S.E Asia acknowledges the years of failure by centralized, bureaucratic agencies in managing public forests. The current trend to devolve forest control to local communities requires that local-level institutional mechanisms must be put in place to provide a management framework. Community organizers are often brought in to build or strengthen local institutions and guide the community in designing a workable management plan. In this case study, the preparatory stage for communal management of the Mt. Kitanglad Range may be abbreviated because all the necessary components for CBPP already exist within tribal institutions – and are only in need of strengthening. An extremely cogent observation in a recent evaluation of Philippine social forestry programs concluded (Anonymous, undated, p.ii):

It is important to avoid repetition of past attempts to replace traditional organizational forms. . . with artificial structures that are insensitive to cultural realities . . . Build on existing collaborative mechanisms that are part of the culture and have the potential to evolve into sophisticated organizations over time.

The Bukidnon tribal institutions already are sophisticated – but have been eroded by the imposition of centralized state institutions. The following key concepts need to be revived and harnessed towards tribal stewardship of the park.

4.7.1 Datuship

In precolonial times, Bukidnon tribes were scattered over the landscape in small kinship-based settlements. Within each community, the datu (chieftain) was the head of the tribal power structure and was considered the father of his followers. Central to his position were his command of the community’s respect, and his ability to arbitrate disputes based on their unwritten customary law. Although the introduction of civil government has weakened the datu system, most barangays continue to function under dual tribal-civil


The datu will be a linchpin to the success of any CBPP initiative due to his leadership role, and knowledge of territorial boundaries and customary law. It is critical that datus be closely consulted in deliberations on park management and recruited as committed allies in its implementation.

4.7.2 Existing Territorial Boundaries

The concept of tribe came late to the Bukidnon; most lived in disparate swidden enclaves at the forest margin and were much like independent states (Burton, Pers. Comm.). There was no over-arching tribal structure that bound these scattered communities together in a unified tribal federation.

Each libulung (settlement) is territorially defined by duluna (boundaries) such as hills, mountains, ravines, creeks and rivers. Each datu takes care of all the people in his banuwa (township). He sees to it that his sakop (members or followers) establish his sakum [swidden] within his territory and that these ogaop (members) of his do their fishing and hunting within his boundaries (Opena, 1974, p. 20).

Thus, the landscape was carved up into independent territories under the control of the resident datu, and for the exclusive use of his followers. When civil government in Bukidnon began to absorb these settlements into a hierarchy of sitios, barangays, and municipalities, the same territorial boundaries were maintained in defining the new political units.

This is key to the notion of CBPP for two reasons. Firstly, these existing boundaries already carve up the entire park into discrete management units – each of which could be assigned to the protective care of a local community and its tribal guardians. This would diminish chances of conflict between communities – and heighten the initiative and accountability of community members for protecting “their” section of the park.

The second point is that these boundaries have long been recognized and respected by the natives under sanctions of tribal law – and would not be perceived as a new and oppressive regulation imposed by park management.

In this manner, the 28 barangays in eight municipalities that lie within the periphery of the park could be subdivided into smaller management units and monitored by local communities – creating an effective tribal buffer around the entire park perimeter. This could be coordinated by the Talaandig, Bukidnon and Higaonon tribes under the umbrella of a tribal federation, or each barangay could report directly to DENR.

4.7.3 Tribal Justice

Social control has traditionally been enforced in Bukidnon communities by customary laws (batasan) that have been handed down from generation to generation (see Burton and Canoy, 1991). The datu, assisted by his tribal council, investigated alleged transgressions against the batasan, weighed the evidence, and imposed sanctions on those judged to be guilty. Today, the tribal judicial process continues to operate at the barangay level, coexisting with the national legal system. Its decisions and dispensation of justice are recognized by the Philippine authorities.

This local judicial process could strengthen the ability of communities to police the forests in a culturally appropriate manner. Park protection regulations may be obeyed more readily if interwoven into the fabric of tribal laws; violations could be considered tantamount to crimes against the ancestral homeland and the spirits that dwell there. The tribal guardians could report anomalies to a high datu for judgment – with only more serious cases or repeat offenders being referred to DENR.

4.7.4 Tribal Organizations

Existing tribal organizations can provide the institutional framework needed for implementing an Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) in the park buffer zone. Saway and Salazar (1995, p. 6) note that high datus coordinate with tribal committees on: spiritual values and religion; oral histories; justice and equality based on custom and traditions; health and traditional medicines; indigenous farm technology, livelihood and cooperation, and maintenance of peace, order and security. Buffer zone

development projects designed to improve living standards and alleviate encroachment pressures on the forest margins will be multi-sectoral and may involve components of income generation, introduction of new crop germplasm and farming technologies, education, health and family planning, and so on. Thus, these different initiatives that may fall under the rubric of an ICDP can be planned and implemented in partnership with the appropriate tribal committee.

Tribal Development Plans and Barangay Development Plans are written annually to reflect, respectively, tribal and civic priorities, and are submitted to the municipality for funding. Both of these plans could be collaborative with park protection and development activities of an ICDP.

Finally, the recent formation of the Bukidnon Alliance of Tribal Communities (BATCOM), a federation of seven Bukidnon tribes, will facilitate intertribal cooperation in a park-wide conservation approach.

Thus, the institutional framework for tribal stewardship of the Mt. Kitanglad Range already exists in the form of: the respected authority of the datu; territorial boundaries that delineate the park into smaller operational units; a tribal judicial process to enforce regulations; and tribal organizations to assist in planning and implementing ICDP initiatives.

4.8 Strategies for Buffer Zone Management

The future of the Mt. Kitanglad Range will depend heavily on the ability of the buffer zone to cloak the park’s perimeter with an effective barrier – comprising: cultural (tribal vigilance of their ancestral lands); religious (threat of spiritual sanctions); legal (tribal customary law); moral (community norms); economic (alternative livelihood options); and physical (long distances inaccessible by road) elements. The proposed buffer zone is a belt of DENR-managed land on the mid-slopes, creating a corridor between the National Park boundary and privately owned A&D land. It needs to address the dual objectives of insulating the park core from the impacts of human activities, but simultaneously, providing products or ecological services useful to local communities. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to design a comprehensive blueprint for managing Mt. Kitanglad’s perimeter, ten operating principles are proposed as critical to


4.8.1 Demarcate Park Boundaries

The initial task is to eliminate confusion about boundary locations. In consultation with local datus, and with a GPS in hand, park management needs to walk the agreed park boundaries – installing temporary markers and recording precise map coordinates. Rather than install cement monuments (mohon) that are foreign to local communities, it is preferable to seek their assistance in planting species such as kilala (Cordyline fruticosa) or bamboo, that are readily recognized as boundary markers by Bukidnon tribes.

Participation in this process would instill in villagers a sense of ownership and responsibility for the boundary lines. Further expansion of agriculture, logging, or hunting would be strictly forbidden beyond the boundary, and enforced by the tribal guardians. The same process would be repeated for both the outer boundary of the buffer zone, and the internal boundaries that divide the park into smaller, community-controlled

management units.

4.8.2 Deputize Tribal Guardians

The initiative of datus in mobilizing tribal guardians to protect the forest should be commended and strengthened. DENR should provide them with training seminars on park regulations, deputize them, and otherwise capitalize on the opportunity to develop strong relationships of trust and partnership with buffer zone communities.

4.8.3 Education Campaign

A public awareness campaign would sensitize buffer zone communities about the park’s objectives and regulations, and emphasize their key role in conserving their ancestral lands. The message should not be overly focused on biodiversity conservation, but should be couched in a more meaningful frame of reference for resource-poor farmers, e.g., regulation of watershed hydrology. Radio is the most effective media for reaching isolated households on the forest margin. In the schools, special attention should be paid to native ways of learning so that environmental messages are presented to students in culturally appropriate formats (see Pechora, 1993). The oral tradition of the Bukidnon could be tapped, for example, to convey environmental themes in ballads, poetry or proverbs.

4.8.4 Restricted Land Transfers

The flow of migrants to the upper slopes of Mt. Kitanglad must be stemmed by imposing limitations on rental and sale of land within the buffer zone. One workable option would be for tribal councils to register as legal entities and then apply to DENR for 25 year Community Forestry Management Agreements (CFMA) for that portion of the buffer zone within their territorial jurisdiction. This would divide the buffer zone into several contiguous CFMAs, each under the stewardship of a different tribal council. Applying CFMAs as a buffer zone tenurial instrument offers several advantages:

The communal tenure of a CFMA fits well with the tribes’ traditional concept of land as common property for the mutual benefit of the entire community. Equitable exploitation rights to resources within the CFMA area would be managed by the tribal council.

CFMAs are inalienable and non-transferable, preventing new migrants from settling in the buffer zone.

The guiding principles of CFMAs – forest rehabilitation and sustained yield management – are equally appropriate for buffer zone management. Management plans for CFMAs could be tailored to accommodate considerations specific to park protection.

CFMAs would provide DENR with institutional leverages to ensure that the buffer zone was being managed in a manner consistent with park protection objectives. Although it is democratically more problematic to impose limitations on the transfer of Alienable and Disposable (A&D) land on the lower slopes of Mt. Kitanglad, tribal leaders sensitized to the seriousness of the problem (given the native propensity to sell land and migrate further up the slopes), may help dissuade their members from land sales.

4.8.5 Incorporate Indigenous Knowledge

Tribal ITK and traditional resource management practices should form the basis of efforts to restore the buffer zone’s ecology. Forest species providing useful products need to be planted in the buffer zone, thereby alleviating the need for harvest within the park. A preliminary list of farmers–suggested species includes species identified as performing key ecological services within the ecosystem. For example, planting abaca, balite, or other’ water-bearing’ plants near streams helps maintain water levels. Honey production could be stimulated by planting kalamagan and olayan to attract bees and provide nectar. Some herbal contraceptives and other medicines that have become scarce could be propagated within buffer zone agroforests. Rattan, bamboo, and other species used in cottage industries can be planted in the shaded understorey of large canopy trees. Preferred timber species could be planted to satisfy domestic lumber needs. And farmer knowledge of tree properties, such as which species are unsuitable for high elevations

(gmelina, molave, manggal), fruit trees that combine well with forest species (nangka, marang, bugka), or trees associated with dry stream beds (gmelina, eucalyptus), could feed into agroforestry design. Gradual enrichment planting of the wide variety of trees, shrubs, herbs and vines used by the lumad would evolve into diverse, man-made agroforests that would minimize park-people conflicts.

Park management could also benefit from the insights of tribal indigenous knowledge. The farmer-developed system of broadcasting wild sunflower (Thitonia diversifolia) seeds to smother out Imperata swards could be useful in rehabilitating the fire-induced cogonal grasslands in the park interior. Farmers suggest planting gasa, baganalan, and balite to increase food availability for wild boar, monkeys, birds, and other wildlife. And, they note, lawaan is the favored tree of the Philippine Eagle.

4.8.6 Rehabilitation of Ravines

Deeply cleft ravines that extend down Mt. Kitanglad’s slopes have maintained some of their natural forest cover. These are of conservation interest since they: protect small creeks that feed into the Manupali River; represent narrow repositories of biodiversity that extend down to the valley floor; and could function as wildlife corridors to the Mt. Kalatungan area on the opposite side of the valley. These ravines need to be protected from expansion of agriculture and rehabilitated through assisted natural regeneration and

enrichment planting of indigenous tree species.

4.8.7 No Burning Policy

Fire played a central role in the rapid retreat of Mt. Kitanglad’s forest margins and has left Imperata swards deep within the park’s interior (Mirasol, Pers. Comm.). Most fires originate in kaingenero’s fields. A no burning policy needs to be enforced in the buffer zone, as part of the tribal guardians’ mandate. Slash-and-mulch techniques could be introduced to those farmers wishing to continue using fallows in the short term, but ultimately, they should be assisted in adopting permanent forms of cultivation. Social pressure against burning will gain momentum as villagers include more tree crops on their farms and have a greater investment at stake that is vulnerable to wildfires.

4.8.8 Land Use Intensification

If growing populations are to be sustained on a stagnant land base, land use intensification must be a key component of any strategy for buffer zone management. Research in Indonesia has documented the desirable buffer zone properties of complex, multi-strata agroforests in terms of providing: most of the same ecological functions as natural forest cover; extended wildlife habitat; insulation of the park from human

activities; absorption of household labor; and substantial incomes from a wide variety of harvestable products (Michon et al, 1986, 1992; Deforesta, 1992).

Development of complex agroforests in the buffer zone of Mt. Kitanglad could be encouraged by: consulting farmers in identifying desirable species; inventorying which species perform best at varying elevational bands; identifying and addressing farmer constraints to planting trees; assisting in nursery establishment and propagation techniques; and standard extension methodologies such as demonstration plots, field trips, and training seminars. This initiative needs to be supported by a rigorous research program to identify appropriate agroforestry technologies for the Mt. Kitanglad landscape.

Cultivation of mid-latitude vegetable crops in less steeply sloped fields may be intensified by crop rotations, interplanting and relay planting; and made more sustainable through adoption of contour hedgerow and integrated pest management (IPM) Technologies.

4.8.9 Integrated Approach

The complex interplay of factors contributing to forest degradation on Mt. Kitanglad require a holistic and integrated programming approach; five central pillars of an ICDP should focus on:


– so tribal children participate more fully in Philippine society and have the option of pursuing professional occupations;

Health and family planning

– to reduce infant mortality, improve general health, and better meet the existing demand for family planning services;

Credit access

– to free natives from the parasitic grip of the suki system; and provide them with the investment capital needed to grow high value crops and intensify rotational swiddening into permanent cultivation;

Farming systems research and extension

– to identify and extend farming systems that: build on indigenous knowledge and practices; have high agrodiversity; provide attractive incomes; are sustainable; and are ‘park-friendly’.

4.8.10 Cultural Sensitivity

The rich biodiversity that scientists have documented on the slopes of the Mt. Kitanglad Range has been conserved under the stewardship of the lumad since time immemorial, and is intricately interwoven with their cultural identity: their senses of origin and attachment to the forests; their religion and need to maintain a harmonious relationship with the environment and its resident spirits; their ITK developed through centuries of experience; and their customary laws and communal land tenure that have shaped resource use practices. The strong interlinkages between cultural diversity and biodiversity suggest that cultural conservation should be an integral goal in national park protection (Gurung, 1994).

These initiatives are designed to reconcile the conservation objectives of the park with the socioeconomic needs of buffer zone communities – and include elements of both enforcement and development.

Development interventions aimed at alleviating forest encroachment pressure should carefully identify and target the ‘critical users’ group that is most heavily reliant on harvest of park resources. This group’s right to avail of the benefits of bufferzone projects would be strictly contingent on its active participation in park boundary enforcement. Projects located on the valley floor may assist in attracting population pressures away from the park boundary on the upper slopes, but in the long term, the jobs and incomes generated by a fast –growing Philippine economy may provide the most effective park buffer.


The tribes’ demonstrated commitment to conservation suggests that granting them ancestral domain of the Mt. Kitanglad Range would not be antagonistic to National Park objectives – but could form the foundation of a ‘social contract’ between the local stakeholder – tribal community – and the national/international stakeholders – represented by DENR. The negotiating process should not be overlay strenuous considering that both parties share a vision for park conservation, albeit for very different reasons.

Starting from this common ground, an alternative paradigm for park protection may be developed that views buffer zone communities not as threats – but as highly committed guardians of protected wildlands.

For both stakeholders, the core non-negotiable objective is preservation of a pristine Mt. Kitanglad ecosystem – and granting ancestral domain must be contingent on ensuring that the park’s conservation value is not threatened. The necessary mechanisms are already in place for the Bukidnon tribes to protect the forest on a community-by-community basis, and have already begun to function. If these buffer zone communities are able to effectively secure access to the park perimeter, then the conservation objective of the social contract has already been met; in return, buffer zone communities should be able to expect commensurate development programs that address their problems. Even if ancestral domain is granted, we are still left with the sobering reality of expanding communities of resource-poor farmers trying to eke a livelihood from the mountain slopes. As one Talaandig datu observed, the pain of hunger may force his people to violate their own laws of environmental conservation. This underlines the critical importance of combining biodiversity conservation with sustainable development in mutually supportive programming thrusts.

A siege mentality predominates in the uplands of Bukidnon. Environmentalists, alarmed by the Philippine forest’s rapid decimation in the last half century, are urgently seeking new approaches to protect remnant wildlands. Indigenous peoples are not only on the forest margins – but also on the political and economic margins of Bukidnon society. If they continue their historical retreat up the mountain slopes, the Higaonon, Bukidnon and Talaandig tribes will soon be humping into each other on the peaks of Mt. Kitanglad – with nowhere left to flee. Ironically, the tribes’ retreat will have ended on the same mountain peaks where their origin myths describe their beginning. It is in this context that the environmental stakeholders and the indigenous cultural communities are ‘circling the wagon’ around the Mt. Kitanglad slopes in a defensive posture to protect what is left. The cultural identity of the Bukidnon is so inextricably interwoven with the forest, the ecological survival of the park is strongly equated with their own cultural survival. Thus, the commonality of their conservation agendas should provide a basis for developing a strong coalition between the tribes, DENR, NGOs and scientists in park protection. The cultural diversity of the tribes has contributed to the maintenance of Mt. Kitanglad’s rich biodiversity, suggesting that cultural conservation should be an integral goal in National Park protection.

The paper has intentionally not appealed to issues of social justice or fairness – but by assembling empirical facts, has argued that the tribal communities who occupy the park’s buffer zone are, pragmatically, the only means by which the park can be effectively protected. Granting their ancestral land claims, contingent to conservation–related conditions, would provide a rallying point for their revived sense of ethnic identity and empowerment, and harness their initiative towards park protection.


This investigation was sponsored by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada under a project grant to the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF). The author gratefully acknowledged the invaluable assistance and coordination of both Drs. John Graham, IDRC Singapore and Dennis Garrity, ICRAF Bogor for making this work possible.