PEACETALK: To the indigenous eye, the forest is the resource

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/08 June) — If we were to put a monetary value to each fully grown tree, which can absorb 50,000 gallons of water every rainfall; shed tons of leaves that are converted to rich fertilizer that nourishes plants that nourish other life forms; cools our surroundings at the equivalent of 40 air conditioners at full blast; and multiply that by the number of trees in one square kilometre; and multiply that further by the number of years that we human beings get for free – would it ever be equal to the amount of money the number of board feet we will earn after say, five-ten-fifty years of relentless logging, environmental degradation?

Add to that the monetary value of food, dress, dances, rituals, weather forecasting (ethnometeorology), governance and justice systems, flora, fauna, sacred places, lore and history.

Deduct from that the same amount of money we spend on flood victims, landslide victims, health problems, rehabilitation and disease that result from lack of nutritious food and fresh air that forests would have readily provided. Would the equation or the sum or the dividend or the difference be all worth it? Do we even have the numbers right now in our heads?

With that value that is mind-boggling to compute, one researcher said, “No government can afford to lose its own cultures.”


The journey for Lumad recognition in the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) did not start yesterday, last year nor in the last decade. Like many of its fellow Lumads in Mindanao, it has suffered, in the words of researchers – minoritization – with the entry of settlers and their different versions of development.

Many policies, mostly conflicting ones, have been passed but remain wanting to be fully implemented, because they have been conflicting in the first place.

Many days are celebrated in honor and in the name of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) – World IP Day, IPRA Day, UNDRIP Day – almost something to celebrate any day.

But there are glimmers of hope. Twenty-seven years after EDSA Revolution, sixteen years after the passing of IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act), ten years after Resolution 269, five years after Muslim Mindanao Act 241 – it was pronounced by the ARMM Government in January of 2013 that there are no legal impediments in implementing the IPRA in the ARMM.

Moreover, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) now has a Mindanawon chair, an IP, a lawyer and a lady at that, and brings with her an awareness and consciousness level unique to our context.

In January this year, the NCIP issued an En Banc Resolution reiterating their commitment to implement their mandate under the IPRA and things are cranking off to a relatively good start.

Though long in coming, these two developments provide a glimmer of hope in the journey of the Lumads. It is hoped that the endless passing around of the Lumads in the ARMM, marginalized as they are, would finally come to a stop.

The ongoing theme for World IP Day is: “Indigenous Peoples Building Alliances: Honouring Treaties, Agreements and other Constructive Arrangements.”

We support the call of the Lumads in the ARMM for all of us to look at IPRA again as the government’s peace agreement with the Indigenous Peoples. As pacts and agreements were forged orally in the ways of our forefathers, manifestation of this Word of Honor is the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and the full implementation of the law.

In many of our roundtable discussions someone asked why the IP development agenda is not highlighted. The answer may be just lying around and we who are in the mainstream may have yet to see it. For many of us, the resources that we can make millions from are individual trees; cubic meters of rock, gravel and sand; ores of gold, copper, manganese; vast tracks of forested land that can be levelled for pineapples, bananas and African palm that are actually foreigners to local soil. But to the indigenous eye, the forest is the resource.

It’s the same forest that protects us from warm weather, the same forest that protects us from flooding, landslides, disease. How can we just eradicate forests whose services we have always had for free? Only a mind with distorted mathematics would justify sense and logic in such an equation.

The Lumads in the ARMM – Teduray, Lambangian, Dulangan Manobo and Higaonon – need all the support they can get. From us who are in privileged positions, let this be a call. Remember that we, too, at certain points in our respective histories, also suffered oppression from the powerful and the mighty. Let us not be the oppressors of today by depriving the Lumads of what are rightfully theirs.
 As one IP leader said it, “You can consult us anytime on sustainable development. We have been doing it for thousands of years.” (Aveen Acuña-Gulo is Project Manager of IPDEV, a project empowering indigenous peoples in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)