Bukidnon Lumad leaders, DENR sign MOA on foreign-funded project

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/09 August) — Leaders of indigenous peoples in Bukidnon signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for a foreign-funded watershed management project to ensure protection of their customs and traditions and to express their cooperation.

Datu Migketay Victorino Saway led tribal leaders in the signing during the launching Thursday of the P6.31-billion (US$154.1 million) Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project (INREMP), which covers Bukidnon and three other provinces in the Philippines.

Aside from Saway, 11 other tribal leaders acted as signatories for Bukidnon’s seven tribes. Datu Salimbangon Magdalino C. Pandian, the IP mandatory representative to the provincial board, was listed as chieftain of the Manobo tribe.

In an earlier press conference, DENR officials said the project aims to reduce and reverse degradation of watersheds in four river basins in the country.

The Upper Bukidnon River Basin covers six watersheds with a total land area of 479,871 hectares in 15 towns and three cities in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental. Sixty-nine percent of the population in those areas are indigenous peoples, according to the DENR presentation to reporters.

Dr. Felix Mirasol, chief of DENR-Bukidnon, said that after eight consultative meetings with the indigenous peoples, their leaders demanded a “cultural impact assessment study” before the project may start.

In the launching, the DENR signed a total of seven memoranda of agreement, the rest with local government units concerned.

The MOA requires, among others, the formulation of an Indigenous Peoples’ Plan (IPP) “to ensure that implementation of the project will be in line with the principles and mandates of the Indigenous Communities Conserved Areas (ICCA).” The ICCA “promotes peace, empowerment and rights to self-determination among IPs.” The IPP is a requirement in the ADB Safeguard Policy for Indigenous Peoples.

The signatory tribal leaders, according to the MOA, must also create an IP advisory council from the seven tribes to provide guidance and mentoring on customary laws and practices. The council must also recommend “appropriate action, plan, and policy” to be adopted by the INREMP’s Project Policy Management Council, which will have one member from the indigenous peoples.

The advisory council will review and recommend approval of all project proposals affecting the IPs “in order to ensure that projects requested or initiated by the communities will be sensitive to the cultures and traditions of the indigenous peoples.”

The MOA also provides for compensation for Lumads “who may lose their social support systems or ways of life so that a project can proceed” the amount of which will be based on “mutually agreed” terms.

It further states that the document will serve as “free and prior informed consent” of the seven tribes of Bukidnon.

But a source at the NCIP said they have to validate the MOA in the communities for it to be considered a valid FPIC process.

Section 33 of the NCIP’s Administrative Order No. 3 Series of 2012, cited that the NCIP chair “shall sign the MOA in behalf of the NCIP as Third Party”.

“For projects where the Regional Director is authorized by this Guidelines to issue the corresponding certification precondition, the MOA shall be signed by him/her in behalf of the NCIP as Third Party,” a copy of the guideline posted online said.

AO3 is the “Revised Guidelines on Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) and Related Processes of 2012.”

No NCIP official was included in the MOA as signatory even if NCIP-10 regional director Roberto Almonte and NCIP commissioner Cosme M. Lambayon attended the signing.

Mirasol said the IPs committed to join the project and guide the implementers, “so they (implementers) will not go wayward in their implementation.”

The local government units likewise committed to give counterpart funds for the construction of roads, he added.

The signatories further agreed to the principles of mutual recognition and respect, sharing of information, transparency and truthfulness, cooperation and co-stewardship, mutual protection of all life, and mutual responsibility to help each other in times of need.

The DENR led the launching rites of the seven-year project at the Kaamulan Folk Arts Theatre in Malaybalay.

INREMP is funded by the Asian Develoment Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Global Environment Fund Facility, Climate Change Fund, and the Philippine government.

The DENR cited that the project is community-based and will get support from other agencies.

Bukidnon will get about US$42.5 million of the US$154 million-fund for INREMP, while around US$21 million will go to Lake Lanao. The funds will be allocated to river basin and watershed planning, small holder institutional investments, capacity enhancement on river basin and watershed management, and project management and support services. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)