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Feature Story

Indigenous peoples in the Philippines leading conservation efforts

August 9, 2019

The GEF-financed Philippine ICCA Project is working to strengthen the conservation, protection, and management of key biodiversity sites by institutionalising Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs). Photo: Orange Omengan/UNDP Philippines.
The GEF-financed Philippine ICCA Project is working to strengthen the conservation, protection, and management of key biodiversity sites by institutionalising Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs). Photo: Orange Omengan/UNDP Philippines.

In the Philippines, conserving unique biodiversity relies on the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities who live in direct contact with nature.

Indigenous leadership

An estimated 85% of the country’s key biodiversity areas are within ancestral domains.

In 2017, Philippine Association for Inter-Cultural Development, Inc. (PAFID) came up with this figure by comparing the data from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) on approved Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) and existing claims from Indigenous Peoples (IP) communities with the remaining forest cover data of the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (FMB-DENR).

This figure suggests that governance by IP communities is instrumental in protecting and conserving the remaining natural forests of the Philippines.

These areas are Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCAs). ICCAs may be sacred spaces or ritual grounds (such as sacred forests and mountains, indigenous territories, and cultural landscapes or seascapes).

The primary factors that threaten these areas and erode the role of indigenous leadership in conservation, are habitat loss and degradation; erosion of traditional governance – including loss of cultural links, traditional knowledge, and/or management practices; unsustainable tourism; and poorly planned infrastructure development.

Ancestral domain

Indigenous Peoples’ rights have frequently been overlooked in conservation efforts, but since 2010 UNDP has been working with 16 indigenous communities in the Philippines to delineate boundaries and map precious ecosystems, inventory resources, and document indigenous knowledge, systems, and practices.

In 2016, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in partnership with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), launched the UNDP-supported, and GEF-financed Philippine ICCA Project. The Project is working to strengthen the conservation, protection, and management of key biodiversity sites by institutionalising ICCAs.

Building momentum

The DENR through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) has been implementing projects to support and recognize the governance and management of ICCAs in partnership with the UNDP-GEF. This is consonant with the DENR’s vision of inclusive conservation to protect the country’s biodiversity.

The Philippine ICCA Project is building on progress made in an earlier UNDP-supported, GEF-financed project called New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP) which laid the foundations for recognition of ICCAs as part of the expanded protected area system.

NewCAPP worked with six IP communities on the documentation and recognition of their ICCAs, including, the Maeng and Banao in Abra, the Agta of General Nakar in Quezon, the Ayta of Maporac in Zamables, the Buhid Mangyan in Mts. Iglit-Baco in Mindoro and the Menuvu of Pangantucan in Mt. Kalatungan.

In addition to paving the way for the Philippine ICCA Project, the NewCAPP project triggered adoption of ICCA work by other NGOs and funding agencies such as USAID.

The Philippine ICCA Project focuses on 10 areas that have been identified as high in species richness or otherwise key in biodiversity. 

These areas can be found in Mount Taungay in Tinglayan, Kalinga, Mount Polis in Tinoc, Ifugao, Imugan in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya, Kanawan in Morong, Bataan, Engongot CADT in Aurora, Balabac in Palawan, Mount Kimangkil in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, Mount Apo in Magpet, North Cotabato, Mount Diwata in Agusan del Sur, and South Diwata-Bislig KBA in Surigao del Sur.

Myanmar delegates in Imugan, Nueva Viscaya
Myanmar delegates in Imugan, Nueva Viscaya. Photo: Orange Omengan/UNDP Philippines.

Know your rights

Previously there was no law that explicitly refers to the ICCA concept in the Philippines.

But, with project support, that is changing.

‘The ICCA Declaration is our contribution to address climate change’. – Helen Pojaras of Anticala, Butuan City

The “ICCA Declaration” is part of the IP communities’ bid to protect important cultural and biological sites within their ancestral domains from destruction and degradation by designating them as ICCAs.

With project support, project participants successfully lobbied to include ICCAs in the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (ENIPAS) Law of 2018.

 A salient provision on ICCA was included in the ENIPAS Law, specifically stating that:

‘ICCs and IPs concerned shall have the responsibility to govern, maintain, develop, protect and conserve such areas in accordance to their indigenous knowledge, systems, practices and customary laws with full and effective assistance from NCIP, DENR, and other concerned government agencies’.

Fight for your rights

As part of the ICCA Project’s efforts in supporting laws recognising ICCAs in Protected Areas, programmatic activities included: revising Ancestral Domains Sustainable Development and Protection Plan guidelines, Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board guidelines addressing Community Conservation Plans in Local Government Units’ Comprehensive Land Use Plans, and vetting DENR guidelines on NIPAS to ensure recognition of ICCAs in protected areas.

The project also helped strengthen indigenous leaders’ knowledge and skills in disseminating global information for decision making, articulating their needs and interests, and participating in policy and legislative development.

Making connections

To promote the development and implementation of co-management and ICCAs, and to build on progress made in the Philippines’ Protected Area system, the project coordinated a Myanmar-Philippines Learning Exchange on ICCA.

This learning exchange coordinated a 16-member Myanmar delegation (composed of government officials, CSO members, ethnic group representatives, and UNDP Myanmar personnel) and facilitated discussions with the leaders of the Ikalahan/Kalanguya IPs in Imugan, Nueva Viscaya, and the governor of the province. 

Mamanwa-Manobo Children in Hilong Hilong
Mamanwa-Manobo children in Hilong Hilong. Photo: UNDP Philippines.

Amplifying solutions

Since 2016, the project has demarcated more than 150,000 hectares of ICCAs in key biodiversity areas, inventoried vital flora and fauna living within it, documented the communities’ traditional resource management methods, and launched 10 biodiversity-friendly livelihoods that benefitted 50,0000 individuals (46% of whom are women).

Additionally, these inventories have helped Indigenous Peoples to recognise and designate natural resources over which they have stewardship, resulting in increased control, surveillance, and enforcement.

The ICCA Project exceeded its target of documented, declared, and registered ICCAs by 130%, or 154,868 hectares covered (against a project target of 118,848 hectares). This includes terrestrial sites and ancestral waters.

UNDP, through NewCAPP and the Philippine ICCA Project, has assisted the establishment and strengthening of the Bukluran ng mga Pamayanang Nangangalaga sa Kalikasan National ICCA Network. Simply known as Bukluran, it is composed of leaders of IP communities that are now working to advance the Global ICCA Consortium work and serve as the frontline in advocating for ICCA documentation, mapping, recognition and registration.

This piece was originally posted by UNDP Ecosystems & Biodiversity on Exposure.