DENR, UNDP embark on $6.78-million program to protect ‘sacred’ tribal grounds

Jun 28, 2016

by Jonathan L. Mayuga - June 28, 2016, BUSINESS MIRROR


The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will embark on a $6.78-million project to boost environmental protection and biodiversity-conservation efforts in tribal sacred grounds, or indigenous community conserved areas (ICCA), in the Philippines.

The project, called “Strengthening National Systems to Improve Governance and Management of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (Philippines ICCA Project) will be implemented by the DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and Philippine Association for Intercultural Development.

The project will be partly funded through a grant of $1.75 million by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). It will be implemented through a cofinancing mechanism by the national government and other project partners.

The approved project states that the Philippine ICCA Project will be packaged as a medium-sized grant.

While GEF has committed under Cycle 5 $1.75 million for four years (2016 to 2019), project proponents are expected to generate a total of $5 million for cofinancing or counterpart funding from the government, Civil Society Organizations, UNDP, and indigenous people (IP) community itself.

The project aims to strengthen the documentation of ICCA and enhance the capacities of IP and popularize ICCAs in support of the country’s international commitments, particularly Target 11 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Aichi Target 11 states that “by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”

The project will be implemented in 10 pilot ICCA sites with established ICCAs, Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR’s BMB said.

These are in the provinces of Kalinga, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, Bataan, Palawan, Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte and North Cotabato.

Specifically, these are in areas identified to be rich in biodiversity or key biodiversity areas, namely, Mount Taungay in Kalinga, Mount Polis in Tuwali, Ikalahan/Lakanguya Unified Ancestral Domain, Engongot Aurora Sector, Kanawan (Ayta Magbakon), Balabac ancestral waters (Molbog), Mount Kimangkil (Higaunon), Dinarawan (Mamanwa), Mount Apo (Obo Manobo).

ICCAs may be sacred spaces or ritual grounds, such as sacred forests and mountains, indigenous territories and cultural landscapes or seascapes; territories and migration routes of nomadic herders or mobile indigenous peoples; sustainably managed wetlands, fishing grounds and water bodies; or particularly sensitive ecological settings, such as sacred areas on the mountain and hilltops.

Globally, an ICCA is defined as “Natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities—both sedentary and mobile—through customary laws or other effective means”

According to Lim, ICCA is the oldest form of conservation, but many of these conservation practices were not properly documented.

The four-year program, with co-financing components by UNDP and the DENR and its partners, seeks to recognize the effort of IP communities, not only in preserving their way of life but of protecting the environment and conserving local biological diversity, the country’s top biodiversity official told the BusinessMirror in an interview.

Lim said a national registry of ICCAs will be developed using a set of criteria with the help of the NCIP to achieve the program’s goals.

“This is a follow-through of our initiatives under the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project [NewCAPP] in support of the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity,” Lim said.

Lim added that the project will help strengthen the documentation of ICCAs in coordination with the NCIP.

“There are many areas that are key biodiversity areas being protected by IPs in the Philippines.  This project is in recognition of the effort of IPs who continue to protect these areas, which, in a way, help conserve biodiversity in those areas,” Lim added.

She said many of these so-called tribal sacred grounds are important to IPs because they are part of their homes, help provide shelter, food, clothes, medicine and livelihood.

Lim noted that some IPs consider wildlife as sacred, too, and they have been protecting these sacred grounds even before laws, such the National Integrated Protected Areas System (Nipas) Act and Wildlife Act, were enacted.

“Preserving their way of life is important.  By documenting these ICCAs, we may be able to learn from some of the best management practices,” Lim said.

In April more than 200 key leaders from various sectors attended the First National Conference on ICCAs at the University of the Philippines to declare support for sustaining the sacred sites.

The ICCA conference was specifically aimed to map out a national strategy framework and direction for ICCA in the country in consonance with the CBD, in which the Philippines is a signatory.

Lim said the program supports the strengthening of the protected areas management being pursued by the DENR.

Many of the country’s ICCAs are incidentally within ancestral lands of various IP communities. These are being targeted by multinational companies engaged in mining and agri-forestry.

It was learned   around 4.5 million hectares of land are currently covered by Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT), while another 4.5 million are covered by pending applications for CADT.  There are around 14,000 people belonging to different IP communities in the Philippines.

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