Learning the Indigenous Way of Forest Management

A fourth year student of Easter College Inc. in Baguio City discovered, during a school immersion program, how an indigenous group in Ilocos Sur called the I-Lamag implements its own forest utilization, management, protection and ownership system.

Northern Dispatch
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I witnessed during our immersion with fellow students from the Easter College that the I-Lamag (people of Lamag) in Quirino, Ilocos Sur in upland northern Philippines practice an indigenous system of forest management and utilization, classifying their forests into communal forest and clan forest.

The clan-owned forest belongs to a family or clan within the community and called Lacub. Only clan members can utilize the product of a clan-owned forest, usually for housing needs. A member of the community can acquire any product from a clan-owned forest provided that he gets the consent of the eldest clan member.

The communal forest, on the other hand, is owned by the whole community and is considered part of their territory with boundaries identified through indigenous system. They utilize, manage and protect the communal forest through indigenous laws established by their ancestors.

Their communal forests include the mountains they named Palakiw, Mabuna, Ato, Lakkongen, Gadagad, Naitib, Paspasnong, Binnatog, and Badiyen. Various, plants, insects, animals and other living things are found in their forest. Among their activities in forest utilization are honey gathering and hunting.

The elders we interviewed say that neighboring villages are allowed to hunt in their communal lands as sharing among the communities and nearby villages is a tradition they practice. However, ownership of the area still belongs to the community.

The elders added that visitors are also allowed to experience honey-gathering activities in their forests.

My classmate from Easter College, Belinda Ngiwas, identified some of the common animals being hunted by the I-Lamag. They include the alingo (wild pig), ugsa (deer), baniyas (edible lizard), mutit (fox) and bakes (monkey) etc. In the earlier days, hunters usually use for hunting dogs, gayang or tubay (spear), silo (trap net), and trap.

At present, the use of hunting guns is allowed. Hunters share their game with their companions as a tradition. Hunting season falls on the months of September, October and January when farm activities do not demand much time. As hunting is done only during this period, the rest of the period allows the growth and breeding of the hunted animals.

Belinda found that hunters practice rituals related with hunting. In the forest, the hunters prepare dalikan (fireplace made up of three stones) and butcher a chicken as an offering to the gods and their ancestors for a blessed and productive hunting.

I learned that the I-Lamag prohibits the conversion of forests into an “uma” (swidden farm) but instead allow the “uma” to be done in “karuruutan” or “wellawel” (grass lands) areas.

The elders in the community impose multa (fine) to any violators on the established community norms on forest utilization. The multa is usually agreed upon by the elders in the dap-ay (the indigenous socio-political system) after hearing the side of the violator. The most common violations noted are forest fires and taking of lumber without permission.

Like other indigenous forest systems in the Cordillera, the I-Lamag forests are being threatened. Communities trace this threat from the state policy that the latter owns the forest and the resources located therein. Presidential Decree 705 or the Revised Forestry Code reiterated the mentioned policy. The elders said that this state policy is contradictory to their indigenous system of ownership, utilization, management, and protection of their forest.

They have proven to maintain their system by their collective struggle against the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC), which was given a permit by former President Marcos to log their communal forest in the 1970’s. Bulatlat.com

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