Batangan System: Forest Stewardship of the Besao Kankana-ey

Kin-iway, Payeo, and Besao West, all of Besao town

Aida Cadiogan, Anne Tauli, Peter Casiben, Adela Ballang, & Modesto Gaab

BPC aims to create and develop an ecosystem of indigenous knowledge by setting up a school of living tradition linking up elders, youth, schools, local government units, and various stakeholders, whereby indigenous knowledge systems on environmental management is effectively enforced, taught and transmitted to the younger generation. This knowledge will then also be documented and produced into written and visual forms of information and education campaign materials to be widely distributed in order to raise community awareness on the need to strengthen such indigenous practices.

The Batil-ang Peypeyan Clan envisions a community united and in cooperation for the continued preservation of indigenous knowledge on environmental protection, wherein the youth is encouraged, engaged, and trained to apply the indigenous knowledge related to agriculture, pine forest management and other cultural practices as a way of life for the benefit of future generations.

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Your support to our endeavor will sustain and develop the youth through the preservation of traditional knowledge systems on environmental protection. Financial support will go towards the monitoring of the ongoing program and trainings will be conducted, including but not limited to further strengthening indigenous peoples’ solidarity through orientation, seminars, and small-scale socioeconomic programs on sustainable agriculture. Partners will help us in sharing our efforts on preserving traditional knowledge systems for environment sustainability with other municipalities and in provincial LGU activities within Mountain Province and the Cordilleras.

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Today, however, the batangan system is in decline. It could be because of the diminishing influence of elders and the erosion of Kankana-ey traditions in the younger generation. There is unauthorized cutting of trees as well as selling of Saguday di Pangapo lots, to outsiders, which should have gone only to the clans or people within the tribe.

The Municipality of Besao, Mountain Province is 7 kms. away from touristy Sagada. Here Mount Mogao rises to an elevation of 5,328 feet above sea level. The whole mountain has been planted to pine trees since the early 1900s by the Kankana-ey Igorot communities who lived around it. The area is steep and prone to landslides. But with the 99% cover of pine trees holding the soil in place, fewer such incidents have happened. Pine, however, is a highly combustible wood. Forest fires could erupt at any time, especially during the dry months. This is why, over the years, the tribe members devised a sustainable forest management system.

Three barangays of Besao have jurisdiction over Mt. Mogao, namely: Payeo, Besao West and Kin-iway. Batil-ang Peypeyan Clan represents a group of people tied by blood or marriage in these barangays. The clan, like the rest of the people in the town, acknowledge the Batangan system used to manage the pine forest of Mt. Mogao.

Under the Batangan, there are three types of ownership and management: (1) saguday di umili; (2) saguday di dap-ay; and (3) saguday di pangapo. Saguday di umili applies to the upper and topmost part of Mt. Mogao that is communally owned, managed and utilized by the three barangays. Saguday di dap-ay applies to the areas of the mountain that have been specifically planted by a dap-ay, a socio-cultural structure and institution that is composed of residents of the houses surrounding it. The structure, usually stones arranged in a circle that serve as benches, is where meetings, rituals and festivities are conducted. The elders of the community preside at such events. Today there are six dap-ays that have a saguday in Mt. Mogao, where members may gather pine wood. Saguday di Pangapo applies to the pine forest that were planted and improved on by certain families. These clans were granted ownership by virtue of previously constructing firebreaks (riprap) and ditches and planting of other crops like coffee and fruit trees in the area. The owners of the saguday may cut down and gather pine wood for their houses, while ensuring the planting of new trees and maintaining existing ones.

Caretakers of each specific saguday used to be appointed by the owners, whose tasks include weeding, maintaining firebreaks and guarding against fires and thieves. However, today, as the system has been slowly eroded from consciousness and superseded by state laws, no such caretakers remain.

Ms. Anne Tauli, one of the members of the clan and current Tuklas innovator team, reports that the older people of Besao are well aware of the Batangan System. They can cite the policies for the management and utilization of the pine forest. In the past, the council of elders of the village would meet in the dap-ay to investigate and hand down penalties for violations. Depending on the damage done to the forest (often by fires that easily spread among the highly-combustible pine), penalties range from reprimands to flogging or banishment (distyero).  The system is credited to have ensured the forest sustainability until the present.

“Today, however, the batangan system is in decline,” says Ms. Anne. She attributes it to the diminishing influence of elders and the erosion of Kankana-ey traditions in the younger generation. There is unauthorized cutting of trees as well as selling of Saguday di Pangapo lots, to outsiders, which should have gone only to the clans or people within the tribe. The BPC members worry that these will lead to depletion of the forest, leading members to pen the proposal as an innovative solution for disaster mitigation.

The barangay local government unit (BLGU), municipal officers, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have taken over the task of protecting the mountains. But they too cannot stop the violations. Clan member and Besao Municipal Planning and Development Officer, Mr. Modesto Gaab, thus proposed to the municipal government that a comprehensive program like the Batangan system must be legally mandated to sustain Mt. Mogao for future generations.

During the Tuklas project inception workshop last April 2018, Mr. Gaab shared that he had written and endorsed the Batangan system for review and inclusion in the barangay and municipal plans. In the proposal, the roles of the elders may be taken on by the BLGU and the MLGU, of course, with the living elders still as advisers. The DRRMCs of the barangay and municipality will include the system in its plans and Bantay Gubat personnel as required by the DENR will serve as the caretakers.

“An information campaign will then be done, especially among the youth, to encourage the adoption of indigenous practice (the batangan) with scientific knowledge for the sustainability of the pine forest,” concluded Mr. Gaab.

As output of the BPC team: production of the seasonal calendar of the Igorots, featuring the names of months that corresponded to their planting activities, as well as a storybook recounting the history and features of the batangan system.

One feature of the Batangan system that the team innovated on is the adoption of a School of Living Traditions (SLT). This will involve formal exchanges and informal conversations between the tribe elders and the youth to pass on and inculcate the traditional practice into the consciousness of the latter. During the SLT that the Tuklas Northern Luzon team witnessed in December 2018, Kankana-ey children and youth from the two high schools in Besao listened to the elders recounting how they, as youth, had their forest stewardship duties.

“We had heard of such a system before, but only vaguely,” said Raymond Acaes, currently studying in St. James High School. At the end of the two-day SLT, majority of the young participants expressed an appreciation of their indigenous traditions and pledged their commitment to do what they can.

PIVOTS MADE AND MOVING FORWARD

The team, composed of Ms. Anne, Mr. Gaab, and three other clan members, all live in the communities of Payeo and Kin-iway and are full-blooded Igorots. As such, they are deeply integrated into the community life and indigenous traditions. However, they also acknowledge the clash between the indigenous system and the western-influenced forest management strategies mandated by the DENR. The push for the passage of a municipal ordinance legally adopting the Batangan system has been opposed at different levels of government in the province. However, their solution could bridge that gap.

Whereas the old Batangan system only covers pine forest management, the team proposed the study for planting of indigenous tree species to serve as fireline as well as crops that may be planted alongside the pine for diversification. This pivot was suggested and adopted during the inception workshop when several community members voiced out the long-held belief that the pine tree forest depleted the water supply of Besao. Pine trees not only made the soil acidic but also need large amounts of water to grow.

“In other areas of Mountain Province,” shares Ms. Anne, “there have already been observed instances of other species growing together with the pine. Perhaps it could be done here too.”

Partnership with the MLGU at the beginning of the project was limited to the MPDO office through Mr. Gaab. There was some hesitation to partner with the local DENR office, mainly because of the perceived clash in views between mandated forest management and the indigenous one. However, upon visitation of the barangays with jurisdiction under the Batangan system, the team was inundated by requests to clarify map boundaries that set the ownership of Mt. Mogao. They can only do this with the DENR, which effectively led to better relations and communication channels with the local government.

The biggest challenges to the team came in the form of delays due to two external events. The first one presented itself in the form of heavy military presence in Besao after a clash between the state forces and the communist New Peoples’ Army in July. For nearly two months, community focus group discussions (FGDs) were halted because the army forbade meetings of groups of people. The team decided to do one-on-one interviews for the research to continue but the SLT could only be postponed.

The second major difficulty involved the participation of nearly all males of Brgy Payeo from September to December in a search, rescue and retrieval operations after a landslide buried one of its clan members under a large landslide in nearby Bontoc. The disaster was a direct result of the earth giving way because of torrential rain unleashed by typhoons Ompong and Rosita. Igorot tribes are very clannish and the proper burial of members are considered community obligation. The SLT sessions were cancelled because all able-bodied males were sent to Bontoc.

At the final review, the team revealed that while the recorded feedback from both elders and youth during the SLT was encouraging it remains to be seen whether there will be participation from the latter if and when the system will be adopted by the local government.

“We are optimistic,” concludes Ms. Anne. “Our people have a strong history of unity for love for family and nature.