Protected Sierra Madre means life for IPs, the whole nation

Conclusion

ACCORDING to the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance Inc. (SSMNA), citing a 2004 study by Eken, et al. and a 2007 study by Langhammer, et al. key biodiversity areas (KBAs) are identified nationally using simple, globally standardized criteria and thresholds, based on the needs of biodiversity requiring safeguards at the site scale.

The Sierra Madre has at least 201 species of mammals, 556 species of birds, over 85 species of amphibians and 252 species of reptiles, of which 48 percent are endemic, with many of these near-threatened, critical, vulnerable and endangered.

According to SSMNA, a recent study published by the University of Kansas revealed that the nor thernmost par t of the range has yielded 101 species of amphibians and reptiles, suggesting further that more species within the range are yet to be discovered.

Furthermore, the study of Larry Heaney on the mammals highlighted Luzon, where the expansive mountain range resides, as the most endemic oceanic island in the whole world.

Besides the KBAs within the mountain range are three national parks and at least nine other protected areas.

SSMNA said its watershed supports the water supply in Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley, including Metro Manila.

The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park’s (NSMNP) 16 watersheds alone provide water to more than 1.5 million people.

It has a total land area of 2.8 million hectares, stretching from Cagayan Valley in the north of Luzon to Calabarzon in the south of Luzon, encompassing the 10 provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Quezon. There are 28 protected areas within the mountain range, including 12 KBAs.

Around 10 million people living within and around the Sierra Madre depend on its bounty—for food, water and medicine, shelter and livelihood.

An IP territory

MANY of the people living within Siera Madre Mountain Range (SMMR) belong to different indigenous people’s (IP) tribes. It is a shared territory by different IP tribes who had been its protector against various threats for centuries.

According to records at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), 11 IP tribes are living on Sierra Madre. They are the Agta or Dumagat, who occupy territories in Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Isabela, Aurora and Quezon; Bungkalot in Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino and Aurora; Isinai in Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya and Dupax Norte and Dupax Sur; Gaddang in Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Quirino and Cagayan; Ibanag in Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela; Itawes in Northern Cagayan; Kalahan in Southern Caraballo and Central Sierra Madre; and Yogad in Isabela.

There are a total of 15 different IPs with Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) or ancestral domain claims groups. These include six in the Cagayan region; five in Central Luzon; and four in Calabarzon.

Oldest form of conservation

DIRECTOR Theresa Mundita Lim of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau said IPs have long been the DENR ’s partner as steward of the environment.

Lim underscored the role of IPs in the sustainable management of the country’s natural resources, particularly within their so-called ancestral lands.

“For as long as they maintain their tradition, practice and culture, they are considered as our formidable partner in environmental protection,” Lim said.

She said the DENR has recognized IPs in some areas where conservation is at its finest. In June the DENR -BMB launched the project called Strengthening National “Systems to Improve Governance and Management of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ Conserved Areas and Territories.”

The program, funded by the United Nations Development Programme, seeks to identify IPs and their communities, and give them due recognition for successfully protecting environment and conserving their natural resources, which they consider their sacred tribal ground, from land and water, to the wildlife that thrive within them.

There are Indigenous Peoples and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCA) sites, which the DENR -BMB, through the project, aims to popularize in support of the country’s international commitment, particularly Target 11 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The 10 ICCA sites are in the provinces of Kalinga, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, Bataan, Palawan, Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte and North Cotabato. According to Lim, ICCAs may be sacred spaces or ritual grounds, such as sacred forests and mountains, indigenous territories and cultural landscapes or seascapes; territories and migration routes of nomadic herders or mobile IPs; sustainably managed wetlands, fishing grounds and water bodies; or particularly sensitive ecological settings, such as sacred areas on the mountain and hilltops.

ICCA is the oldest form of conservation, but many of these conservation practices were not properly documented, and some are even forgotten. Lim said IPs should be at the forefront of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation, considering that they are the ones who will be the ultimate beneficiaries of a healthy ecology.

As such, Lim said they should be empowered to become the government’s partner and ultimate protector of their sacred tribal grounds.

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.