Higaonon datu first Asian to win forest protection award

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/ 26 October)- Higaonon tribal leader Amay Mantangkilan Cumatang is the first Asian to win the Darryl Posey Fellowship Award from the International Society of Ethnobiology, Dr. Mary Stockdale, the group’s co-chair, said.

Stockdale represented the ISE on Wednesday in the local awarding of the fellowship to Cumatang, whom she described to have possessed “wisdom and courage as his most distinct traits.”

PRIDE OF HIGAONONS. Amay Mantangkilan Cumatang (left), a Higaonon tribal chieftain in Impasugong, Bukidnon is the first Asian to receive the Darryl Posey Fellowship Award from the International Society of Ethnobiology.
MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

In the plaque’s citation, the ISE noted that Cumatang won the award “in recognition of his lifetime’s service dedicated to protecting and passing on his cultural heritage and ancestral forests, for the benefit of future generations.”

“With climate change occurring due to forest loss and degradation, everyone in the world owes a debt to a hero like Amay (Cumatang), who is standing on the frontline, defending the remaining strands of the forest,” Stockdale said.

She stressed that Cumatang has been doing his work in the face of great danger to his own life and to the lives of his loved ones.

Stockdale cited Cumatang’s “immense traditional knowledge of the forest, carrying ecological wisdom that has been passed down through many generations.”

She said that Cumatang has put the long-term interests of the forests and his people “ahead of short-term profits.”

“In his hands-on forest stewardship, Amay ensures that indigenous ‘best practices’ in resource management are observed and as a forest person, he constantly monitors the possible impacts of the harvesting of rattan and other NTFPs (non-timber forest products) on the forest ecosystem,” Stockdale added.

Cumatang has been at the forefront in protecting the biodiversity-rich Mt. Kimangkil.

In 2009, Stockdale said that Cumatang was one of the few who steadfastly fought the threat of large scale logging in the Agusan side of Mt. Kimangkil.

“Other threats, which he has effectively opposed, together with the other members of his tribe, were mining and oil palm plantations and many other schemes which would affect the particularly diverse forest that he is trying to protect,” she added.

The ISE noted that Cumatang “did not fail” in his decades-long commitment to preserve the forest, especially their sacred sanctuaries or ‘patagonans.’

Stockdale said the Higaonons’ ancestral domain “is one of the most intact forest areas left in the island of Mindanao.”

In his message read by Cecille Ignar of the Bukidnon Environment and Natural Resources Office, Gov. Alex Calingasan said that Cumatang is a “pride of Bukidnon, Bukidnon needs people like him.”

Datu Magdalino Pandian, indigenous people mandatory representative to the Bukidnon provincial board, described Cumatang as a “gauge for other datus.”

But Cumatang’s family and supporters cited that it took the international community to notice his deeds first.

“There was no recognition of his efforts at the local scene (before the Posey fellowship),” Benny Cumatang, a nephew of the awardee, told MindaNews.

In his response, Cumatang cited the dangers they faced but added that they will continue to pursue their work in a peaceful way. He also admitted that they continue to face the threats of logging and mining operations, along with plantation projects.

“We were able to address some of the concerns, but some remained. We wanted to use sala (indigenous justice system), but it cannot be done right away, it is hard,” Cumatang said through an interpreter.

Cumatang received the award on May 21, 2012 in Montpellier, France during the 2012 ISE Congress.

Stockdale said there is a financial support component to the fellowship but refused to reveal the figures. She said the fund is being administered by the Fr. Vincent Cullen Tulugan Learning Development Center to support Cumatang’s projects.

She said the initial works that have been done include the boundary delineation of the patagonans or sacred forests of several communities, forest patrolling by the youth, and the development of rice paddies.

Leaders of the Agtulawon Mintapod Higaonon Cumadon (AGMIHICU), headed by  Cumatang, said that the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) awarded to them in 2008, covering 14,313 hectares and straddling 13 villages in Impasug-ong and Malitbog towns, is a legal recognition that they own the area.

Ruth Canlas, coordinator of the Non-timber Forest Products Task Force (NTFP-TF), the group that nominated Cumatang to the fellowship, urged the government to provide support to the tribe’s development initiatives.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)