IT’S better than “FernGully” and “Avatar,” even “Plants vs. Zombies,” a cute video game that pits a homeowner and his plants against a marauding horde of the uncute undead.
Mainly because it’s better than these ecologically inspired media, the message is ambiguous and disquieting.
In Surigao del Sur, the Mamanwa and Manobo tribes oppose the Ventura Timber Corp. (VTC), which has been granted an Integrated Forest Management Agreement (Ifma) to manage their ancestral domain. This is based on an Oct. 19, 2010 Business Mirror article written by correspondent Bong D. Fabe.
The website of the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) defines an Ifma as a “production sharing contract” entered by the DENR and a partner.
The Mamanwa and Manobo tribes claim the logging firm failed to secure their Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), invalidating the Ifma.
Republic Act 8371, also known as the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1998, requires a company to first secure a tribe’s FPIC before it can develop an ancestral domain.
While an Ifma grants a company the “exclusive right to develop, manage, protect and utilize” the covered forest land and resources, the VTC is focused on marking and cutting trees, paying little regard for forest management and protection.
If the Surigao tribal drama were a movie and directors Bill Kroyer of “FernGully” or James Cameron of “Avatar” were at the helm, this would be the cue for the noble savage to save the forest from the attack of the killer acronyms.
Yet, although the tribes have lodged a legal protest and petitioned the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the DENR, the VTC’s Ifma has yet to be cancelled. Granted on Feb. 12, 2010, the Ifma grants VTC power over more than 7,000 hectares of forest land in three towns of Surigao del Sur and two towns of Agusan del Nore.
The indigenous communities elevated their cause to a higher court, that of the spirits and their ancestors.
As the Business Mirror reported, the Manobo tribe’s chieftain and “babaylan” (spiritual leader) performed the “pangapog” to invoke their ancestors and Magbabaya (God) to direct the felled trees to fall on VTC workers and their machines to fall into ravines. Business Mirror reported that a tribal member working with the VTC had to be hospitalized after a falling tree branch pierced his back.
In another ritual, a pig slaughtered as offering to the spirits and Magbabaya did not bleed. The injured worker also reportedly did not bleed when the branch protruded from his side. Both incidents were interpreted by a Manobo “hawudon (leader)” as a message that the spirits and Magbabaya did not want the ancestral domain to be encroached on and the trees cut for timber.
To the urbanized, these tribal appeals hint of the naïve and superstitious. Unlike the VTC, which relied on the Charlie Co. of the 36th Infantry Battalion to disperse the peacefully protesting tribal members, the Mamanwa and Manobo tribes may expect a fair hearing only in another court, where the laws and authorities favor the ancestral and communal over the acquisitive and destructive.
Among some residents of Barangay Matutinao in Badian, there endures the belief in “Talangban,” a city of supernatural beings residing in Kawasan Falls. Looking for this legendary city, S. said she met old men with beards that hung down like skirts, pythons and black dogs , who offered to take her there if she accepted a cigar and other gifts. S. said she refused to eat, drink or smoke anything because she wanted only to visit Talangban but be able to return home.
For indigenous peoples, that choice of coming home may be as mythical as a city ruled by fairies and the dead.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 31, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” column