UPDATED [COMMUNITY REPORT] Alanib River: Exploring dialogue in ensuring sustainable access to water (Last of three parts)

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By Aki L. Saway

SONGCO, Lantapan, Bukidnon (BukidnonNews.Net/23 January 2022) In the course of the problem of illegal tapping of water from the Alanib River, sacred ancestral river of the tribe, the Talaandig community was one in the intent not to wait for the problem to worsen.

The Talaandig Tribal Administration, headed by Datu Migketay Victorino L. Saway, and the Pasagi or Talaandig Council of Elders initiated a way to help address the problem. The Talaandig elders contacted the Municipal Government of Lantapan, the barangay government, and other concerned agencies to come up with a solution through dialogue.

There were two dialogues organized: the first was held on May 19, 2020 at the Covered Court of Barangay Songco, Lantapan, Bukidnon and the second was held on May 29, 2020 in Poblacion, Lantapan Bukidnon.

During these meetings, the stakeholders; officials, administrators and water users, discussed the concerns and possible solutions regarding the situation of Alanib River. The people who lost access to water because some farmers tapped water from the river for their farms, also joined the dialogue. Those who came from the lower part of the river where water was heavily depleted, also attended. The people deserved to have equitable benefit in terms of access to water.

The tribal elders used the dialogue to assert the Talaandig’s right to self-determination. The dialogues served as warning and a reminder that tapping water from the river is illegal. The latter trespasses water rights in the Philippines as provided in the Water Code or P.D. No. 1067 and customary law (FPIC) of the Talaandig Tribal Administration in harmony with the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or Republic Act 8371.

The stand of the elders remained: whoever trespasses or violates the tribe’s rights would be subjected to customary law. They have opted for enforcement of applicable laws.

The Talaandig Administration, the LGU and the barangay council, however, have also considered fairness in dealing with the situation. They gave the illegal tappers a chance to disconnect their hoses, a week before a planned enforcement operation. The parties have tapped the Philippine Army Special Force, the Philippine National Police- Lantapan Police Station, the Barangay Tanod, and the Talaandig Cultural Guards to enforce the provisions of the Water Code and the Talaandig’s customary laws.

The elders saw that enforcement was needed to address the concern of the public and the tribe to maintain peace and order in the communities.

Eventually, the dialogue became the venue for an agreement between the illegal tappers and the tribal and local government administrators so that the people and nature will not experience further deprivation. The ultimate goal for them was to have fair share and justice.

The dialogue organizers urged the water users of Alanib River to be more conscious and use the water responsibly. The hope was, in that way, Alanib River and the communities along it, will flourish again.

Among the points agreed were the need to measure the volume of water so that the parties can decide how to share the water resources equitably; in order for authorities to be able to measure, the tappers must first disconnect their hoses; that the farmers shall organize themselves so that in case of further concerns will arise it will be easier to manage; and that monitoring of the river will continue until the parties have agreed on a concrete plan of action for the next steps.

Day of Enforcement
On June 3, 2020, the Talaandig elders and local government representatives, in coordination with a composite team from the Lantapan Municipal Police Station, the Philippine Army Special Force, Barangay Tanods, and Talaandig Cultural guards assembled and inspected the area for compliance, as agreed during the dialogue. 

On the way, they found that hoses were still intact. Immediately, the team disconnected.

On June 4, 2020, the second operation was held in the peripheries of the Tulugan in Songco. A composite team from the Lantapan Police Station, Talaandig Cultural Guards, Barangay Tanod, Municipal Water Works checked the area for compliance and disconnected hoses of those who did not comply with the agreement.

The Talaandig Administration and Municipal Water Works considered the need by household water users to continue accessing water until the next phase of the plan of action, which, among others, was discussed on June 5, 2020. 

After the enforcement and the discussions for further actions, it was “a wait and see” situation.

There has been an initial plan for the next steps. However, there were no updates yet about the plans. The local government and the tribal administration have yet to reconvene.

For the side of the elders, they wish to promote awareness about the traditional resource rights based on IPRA provisions. The local government has also eyed a water reservoir to help manage the use of water. These plans are meant to minimize the monopoly, stop the violations, and ensure sustainable relationship between the government and the tribe.

So far, the status quo is that for future users of ancestral waters of the Talaandig people, there is no problem if they shall obtain first the latter’s permission through FPIC. They shall ask the permission of the tribe in accordance with the customary laws and in concurrence with the government.

This dialogue initiative began by the tribal elders, is expected to help preserve nature’s bounty and keep the culture of the tribe alive. Hopefully, it becomes a model not only for future engagements by the Talaandigs in Lantapan but also by other tribal communities inside their ancestral domains, as covered by native title.

Hopefully, this gives light to those who took advantage of the resources inside the ancestral domain without an FPIC. May those who gathered sand and gravel from the riverbanks, among other violations, also understand. The message goes out to those who benefitted from ancestral resources but did not bother giving the tribe its rightful share through the tribal administration, a body duly recognized by law.

The Talaandig people and other cultural communities have already suffered historical injustices. The elders do not want the current injustices to continue. If it continues, the dialogue should be the reminder; that the tribe can and will impose “sala” or cultural penalties to violators.

Right now, the problem is still pending. The initiative has produced results but there are still a lot of things to be done for mutual understanding and support. As of this writing, residents of Songco and neighboring areas continue to complain that no water flows from their faucets.    

Of course, there is hope for the future. As custodians of the river, the Talaandig elders have done their role to protect the ancestral domain against forces of oppression and exploitation, people who push only their personal gains and interests.

The Talaandig youth have witnessed how the elders showed kindness to the people. There is no intent to dwell on the ills of what has happened. They gave them chance to change.

Many generations have passed yet the Talaandigs have survived and kept the culture alive. We are thankful to our ancestors who fought for their lives and passed their wisdom and beauty in this incarnation.

There is hope to shape the future by sustaining peace, harmony and balance.  

(Talaandig youth leader Aki or Nalandangan Mabantog L. Saway is an AB Sociology graduate from Xavier University. He works as an assistant of a law firm and is now a law student. Aki contributed this piece to “Community Report”, as volunteer from the Talaandig community to the Community Documentation and Reporting platform of BukidnonNews.Net. Email for comments.) 

IN PHOTO: Datu Migketay Victorino Saway (right) speaks with officials and functionaries of Brgy. Songco, Lantapan, Bukidnon during an enforcement check if the illegal tappers have disconnected their hose from the water source, as agreed during the two dialogues held to address the issue of the drying up of Alanib River and the exploration of solutions to address the problem.  FILE photo by Aki L. Saway

Datu Migketay Victorino Saway of the Talaandig Tribal Administration attends a dialogue meeting with municipal officials and other stakeholders in June 2020/ File photo by Nanao Saway

Datu Migketay Victorino Saway of the Talaandig Tribal Administration attends a dialogue meeting with municipal officials and other stakeholders in June 2020/ File photo by Nanao Saway

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