Remembering Datu Dumapal: Forest guardian, wisdom keeper of Mount Kitanglad

Datu Dumapal with grandson. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 27 August) – Datu Dumapal, christened as Benecio Docenos, a leader of the Bukidnon-Daraghuyan tribe inhabiting Mount Kitanglad Range passed away last year. In his honor, I’d like to share my fond memories of him as a forest guardian, a wisdom keeper, a cultural adviser, a smart fellow whom we regarded as the “summa cum laude of trainings” organized by the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs (KIN) for indigenous peoples, a versatile artist and a blacksmith.

Best of all, he was a friend and ally, and a gatekeeper of the sacred spaces inside the protected area that forms part of their ancestral domains.

Aside from his humorous ways, he remained curious about technology. He loved to do things not usually done by most other chieftains, like sculpting images, a hobby among young tribal artists.

Like other datus and baes, he only went out of his community after Mt. Kitanglad became a protected area. In fact, in one Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) meeting that tackled prohibition of tree cutting to preserve the forest he commented, “Maayad pa diay sa amo ta amin dan balay di’ kanay sa utaw” (The monkeys are better than us because they have homes).

Datu Dumapal was introduced to me by then Park Superintendent Dr. Felix Mirasol right after the first PAMB meeting that we both attended for the first time in 1996. He came to the meeting to know “how come their area was made a national park.” He understood that the protected area would include their ancestral domain; yet he was relieved after the park management declared that their rights will be respected and that there will be support for livelihoods and trainings meant for IPs and tenured migrants. He was also glad to know that KIN would assist them.

PASu Felix ushered him to me and introduced us formally. We shook hands. Dressed simply in collared white shirt and faded loose slacks, he spoke with a kind, respectful voice. He invited me and my staff to visit their village in Sitio Inhandig. He warned about crossing the waist-deep waters of Sawaga River. (Truth is my staffers Jovita and Roy protested that it’s actually “shoulder- to neck-deep, and begged not to be sent there again as the place was veerry far, veerry cold, and the place they had for a village meeting was under the trees. Good Heavens!).

The Mt. Kitanglad Cultural Heritage Center in Olanguhon, Brgy. Dalwangan, Malaybalay City. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

But Datu Dumapal assured several times that he and his members would assist us in crossing the strong current (especially if it rained some hours before) and accompany us in our trek. A striking memory of him was to see him barefooted in the few occasions he attended the PAMB meetings and went to the KIN office.

Two years later, he was awarded as one of the Outstanding Kitanglad Guard Volunteers (KGVs) for their success in forest protection. The awarding happened at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Regional Office. Then DENR Regional Executive Director Vicente Paragas deputized them as community-based forest protectors. As such, the KGVs serve as the “eyes and ears” of the PAMB and as informal DENR extension forest officers, since they were tasked to stop illegal logging, suppress forest fires, and educate residents on the importance of forests and biodiversity.

For that occasion, I remembered rushing to a department store to buy Datu Dumapal a pair of rubber shoes because for me, “Cagayan de Oro is not a good place to walk barefoot!” He wore his rubber shoes on stage all right, but quickly removed them after the awarding program. For a time, he likened his shoes to a trophy to be displayed.

What saddens me to this day is the fact that Datu Dumapal was the eldest and high chieftain of his tribe, yet his passing went mostly unnoticed by partners in environmental protection in government, the civil society and the public at large.

His younger sister, Bae Inatlawan, whom he designated in 1998 as the next tribal chieftain, wanted to give him a decent burial. Thanks to Facebook, we got immediate help from close friends, and [his] daughter Lorie was able to buy him a white casket. He was laid to rest in their own cemetery, in their not so far village in Olanguhon where the Mt. Kitanglad Cultural Heritage Center, their own tulugan, stands.

Built in 2007, this elegant tribal heritage structure was his first accomplishment as tribal engineer working in collaboration with Datu Doms Aligpulos Decano and technical assistance from Architect Anna Maria Gonzales and two UP-Diliman architecture students, Paolo Aguila and Jhun Fabre. The engagement of these three architects is another story to be told among many outstanding episodes on tribal creativity, determination and governance.

Thank you very much, Datu Dumapal for your trust and high regard for us in KIN. We cherish you and your memories in our hearts, always. May your soul rest in peace. We miss you, we love you. (Ma. Easterluna S. Canoy/for MindaNews)

(The author is the executive of Kitanglad Integrated NGOs based in Malaybalay City. She holds a master’s degree in Anthropology from Ateneo de Manila University.)