“Respect needed for peace in Mt. Kitanglad”

Bae Inatlawan speaks to members and visitors of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan tribe in a community meeting in October 2014 in the tribe's Heritage Center, Olanguhon, Dalwangan, Malaybalay City| BukidnonNews.Net file photo

Bae Inatlawan speaks to members and visitors of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan tribe in a community meeting in October 2014 in the tribe’s Heritage Center, Olanguhon, Dalwangan, Malaybalay City| BukidnonNews.Net file photo

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/13 April 2015) Respect the spirits that keep watch over the environment to preserve the peace in Mt. Kitanglad, said the spiritual leader of the Bukidnon Daraghuyan tribe as different stakeholders called for coordination in ensuring the safety of birdwatchers and other tourists visiting Mt. Kitanglad, one of Bukidnon’s most prominent natural tourist attractions.

Mt. Kitanglad Range became a full-fledged protected area in November 2000 under the category of a natural park through Republic Act 8978 and was declared an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Site in 2009. Aside from being a protected area, the mountain range is home to the Bukidnon, Higaonon, and Talaandig tribes. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples approved the Bukidnon-Daraghuyan Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title covering 4,203 hectares, in March 2010.

Bae Inatlawan Adelina Tarino said she has reminded tour guides to respect the spirits of the area to avoid problems such as what happened to seven foreigners and two tour guides who got caught in the crossfire during an encounter between government forces and the New People’s Army in February this year.

All seven foreigners were unhurt, but one of the local tour guides was wounded. The incident has triggered the temporary suspension of the issuance of permits to birdwatchers pending an investigation and a review of current protocols meant to keep the peace.

Tarino said stakeholders should not forget that the tribe has declared the tribe’s ancestral domain a zone of peace.
The bae (female leader), also head claimant of the ancestral domain where the bird watching site is located, said the foreigners and their tour operators did not seek the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) of the elders of the tribe before entering the bird watching site in Sitio Mangasa in Barangay Dalwangan.

Obtaining the FPIC was one of two conditions specified in the visitors’ permit approved by the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) on January 29 for the group’s February 11 to 14 visit. The other was the instruction to “coordinate with the local government units (LGUs) in the locality.”

“I hope they will now learn from this experience. They have ignored our appeal before,” she said.
In 2012, the military, while in pursuit of alleged rebels, bombed portions of Mt. Kitanglad. (“Lumads decry Mt. Kitanglad bombing, demand ritual to appease spirits,” 19 May 2012)

Tarino described the bombing as “a violation of our culture and an affront to our ancestral territory.” She said it required a big ritual to appease the spirits (disturbed by the bombing).

“Our forests, rivers and other bodies of water, farms, animals, and plants were weeping because of the conflict and the bombing,” Tarino said.

Tarino said the military dropped bombs on suspected rebel positions in Dalwangan, particularly in Sinukat, Dinanghaga, and a portion of the Sawaga River near the tribe’s heritage center at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad Range.

As residents and stewards of the mountain range, which is a protected area, Tarino said they asked the military to apologize and attend a ritual to reconcile with their ancestors and the spirit guardians of their ancestral domain.

“If they were only firing guns, it could have been less frightening and damaging. But they dropped bombs, it destroyed the environment, it wasted the territory,” she said.

Col. Romeo Gapuz, then commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade told this reporter the military will verify the truth of Tarino’s allegations.

He said the military requested air support at the time “to ease the pressure in our troops” because they were “outnumbered.”

On May 7 that year, Tarino relayed the incident to then Gov. Alex Calingasan, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) regional director Corazon Galinato, then DENR provincial officer Felix Mirasol Jr., and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples regional director Pinky Pabelic.

In her letter to these officials, the Lumad leader asked Calingasan and Mirasol, the protected area superintendent, to facilitate a meeting between the tribe’s council of elders, the military, and if possible, the New People’s Army (NPA) guerillas.

Mirasol then said the DENR was unable to verify the report because “the area is critical.”

Tarino said the firing drove residents from their homes. Many of those who were doing “pahina” or community work at the time of the attack were also forced to flee.

She said the bombing destroyed a portion of the side of Mt. Dulang-dulang, the country’s second highest mountain, and caused landslides that affected the Sawaga River, the tribe’s main source of water for domestic and agricultural uses.

“For a week after the incident even the carabaos could not drink the river water,” she said, adding that residents were forced to leave their farms and animalsy, although they asked them to stay for their own safety.

Tarino also said that the explosions also forced animals out of the surrounding forests, including endangered Philippine Eagles, which have nesting sites in sitio Mangasa, Dalwangan.

She criticized the military’s alleged violation of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act by not obtaining an FPIC before entering their territory.

“From what they did in the attack, we can only conclude that they are not familiar with the law,” she said.
She said the attack not only compromised the peace and security of their area but also dishonored their sacred ritual sites and boundary markers.

“In the tradition of our ancestors, we do not even allow anybody from the tribe or from outside to enter those areas,” she added.
The bae, who is also a shaman, said the spirits of the mountains communicated to the tribe their sadness when they were disturbed by the bombing.

The Bukidnon-Daraghuyan tribe, she said, held two rituals to appease the spirits: the kaliga, a thanksgiving ritual from April 25 to 27 that year for the anniversary of the construction of the tribe’s Tulugan Heritage Center, and the “panungdan,” a ritual of offering.

But the tribe, Tarino said, has suggested that before the ritual could take place, the governor and the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) should order the cultural affairs committee of the board to arrange a meeting between the military leadership and the tribe’s elders.

They have also asked the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to request the communist underground to send representatives to the meeting.

The tribe appealed to the PAMB to compel the military to explain their action. In return, the Lumads said they will explain to the military their own role as stewards of the protected area. Tarino, a PAMB member, clarified they are not angry at the military; they just don’t want the incident to happen again.

“Don’t just bomb anything, and get an FPIC first before entering our area,” she said.

Col. Gapuz, now General Gapuz vowed to secure an FPIC from the Bukidnon-Daraghuyan tribe the next time the military enters the tribe;s ancestral domain in Mt. Kitanglad. (Walter I. Balane of MindaNews/BukidnonNews.Net)
(This also appears on “Women’s Voices” of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility)