Editor’s Note: This message was delivered during the First National Conference on Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) held on 29-30 March 2012 at the UP Diliman National College of Public Administration and Governance Assembly Hall.
We are here today to give due recognition to the historic role of our indigenous peoples in protecting and preserving our environment. Yes, this conference is a tribute to our lumads whose cultural heritage and religious practices have ensured the preservation of what little is left of our environment.
This tribute is only fitting given our penchant to squander our resources in the mistaken belief that it is limitless. Our indigenous communities, on the other hand, all 144 tribes living in key biodiversity areas all over the country, continue to make sure that there will be resources for the generations to come. They are the real custodians of nature.
ICCA or Indigenous Community Conserved Areas is not really a new concept as far as the Philippines is concerned. Conservation has been the core of the traditional knowledge and world view of indigenous communities spread all over the archipelago even before there was a country named the Philippines.
And our indigenous communities have asserted this belief throughout their struggle for self-determination during the colonial period, land tenure rights during martial law, and the recognition of the ancestral domains after the passage of the IPRA law.
Recent events have placed the concept of ICCA at the core of our development agenda.
Typhoon Sendong taught us that environmental degradation destroys life and property in the path of rivers that overflow due to excessive ram, neglected watersheds, and insufficient information to local communities. Recent events also taught us that were it not for the prudent care that our IP brothers and sisters have invested in protecting the highlands of Bukidnon, the disaster caused by typhoon Sendong could have been worse.
In the days following Sendong, we sent a team of UP experts in geosciences, forensic science, medical care, and community health to assist Iligan City as it bravely faced the worst disaster in its recent past.
The UP experts concluded that the worst hit areas were located near river systems inundated by floodwaters that cascaded from denuded watersheds that allowed the accumulated waters to freely and strongly flow down to the cities. Assessments from other studies also show that those areas, which have remained under the care of the indigenous communities in Northern Mindanao, appear to have been less affected by the massive destruction.
These last remaining forests are inhabited and managed by our indigenous communities.
They are our last remaining biodiversity areas, and our last protective barrier against the massive destruction of lowland areas.
Unfortunately, this invaluable contribution has gone unnoticed. And many of the contributions of the indigenous communities to the country have been forgotten or ignored. And instead of being honored, oftentimes, they are marginalized in the distribution of basic government services, discriminated in schools, negatively portrayed in the media, and dispossessed of the very lands they have protected and developed despite the passage of the IPRA law. We must put an end to this marginalization and give them the recognition that is long overdue.
It is time to afford stronger recognition to indigenous community conserved areas as a cost effective and equitable way to protect our remaining forests, our biodiversity, and our natural resources while supporting the IPs in strengthening their bond to their culture and tradition that have kept these ICCAs in the condition that they are in today.
Embodied in this recognition is an ingrained respect for their rights, and an obligation to help them pass on the traditional knowledge and practices to the younger generations of IPs. Equally important is the responsibility of government and society to address their basic needs and lift them from poverty.
As the National University created by law to provide a unique and distinctive leadership in higher education and national development, the University of the Philippines is honored and committed to be part of this worthy effort to recognize the contributions of indigenous communities.
As a research university we commit to be part of this worthy undertaking by providing a venue where pressing issues such as biodiversity conservation, the rights of the indigenous communities, and climate change can be discussed by academics, the indigenous communities and the public, and where research and new knowledge can be produced to guide our future action.
Through our National College of Public Administration and Governance, we commit to discuss, learn and develop new governance paradigms that can be adopted in our communities, by local governments all over the country to better protect the environment, sustain our biodiversity, and translated into law to further strengthen the IPRA and develop an enabling environment to sustain the ICCAs.
And as a public university we commit to be part of this worthy undertaking by providing technical assistance and partnership with executive agencies, congress, local governments, civil society organizations and communities to help document indigenous knowledge and practices, improve capability to manage risks from natural disasters, mitigate the impact of climate change, strengthen the capacities of IP communities in documenting the richness of biodiversity in their areas, and help formulate appropriate management measures to conserve them.
We commit to this worthy undertaking through our seven constituent units and one constituent college and our fourteen campuses all over the country. I am confident that if UP can produce 36 out of our 37 national scientists; 34 out of our 57 national artists; 7 of our 15 presidents; we will be able to provide the expertise and assistance needed to support the ICCAs so that the likes of Ka Badong, Datu Ampuan, Datu Rio, Datu Vic Saway, and the multitude of IP communities in the country will be empowered to continue their work.
Let me conclude this message with a note of congratulations to the organizers and partners of this conference. I am sure that with the excellent mix of participants gathered today, we will have a productive two-day sharing and consensus building.
Like everyone else gathered here today, we will await with great interest the results of this conference, so that together we can find ways to concretize our cooperation.