Archive for January, 2010

New Year, New Hopes

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Yesterday, Ka Carling of LAKAS and PBAZ called me on the celfone: “The ceremony granting us the CADT to the 15,000 hectares will happen in the Botolan town plaza on January 14. Please come.”

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go, since I have a previous engagement. But I and the rest of ELF will be there not only in spirit, but in other ways.

It’s one thing to get the title to their ancestral domain, which significantly includes Mt. Pinatubo. It’s another thing to be ale to develop it to benefit the Aeta communities while conserving biodiversity and protecting the forests and watersheds.

ELF and PBAZ see the granting of the CADT as an opportunity, but even more, as a challenge. “Let us check if there have been previous CADT which have been conserved and developed to the benefit of the indigenous communities,” I told our staff meeting.

I teased Carling: “Unfortunately, there is greater global appreciation for the 15,000 hectares and its forests, than for the Aeta communities. But since you are the legal stewards of the area, whatever you do will be appreciated; it will also offer lessons not just for other places in the Philippines, but even for other places in the world.”

When ELF entered into a long-term partnership with PBAZ, the association of Aeta leaders who have graduated from our grassroots leadership course, we did not anticipate that they will get their CADT. But this new opportunity will need a large “community of leaders and learners” to insure not only that the area is protected but that it is developed in a way that benefits the Aeta communities while conserving biodiversity.

During the first six months of 2010, ELF and PBAZ will develop and implement a new leadership course for community-based “biodiversity conservation and sustainable development” to build the capability of the Aeta communities to protect and develop their ancestral domain.

The possibilities are exciting, but the challenges are daunting.

We have picked up a lesson from the protection and reforestation of the La Mesa Watershed. Corporate sponsors were convinced to commit 20,000 pesos per year for three years, which supported the planting of 400 trees per hectare, from the nursery to forest guards. From the Foundation for Philippine environment, we learned that 600 trees per hectare is a better number, but following the principle of “rainforestation,” only indigenous species must be used, and there should be no monoculture.

Carling thinks that instead of relying on paid forest guards, we should support households not only to gather wildlings and set up community nurseries, but also to take care of the newly planted tress for at least three years, assigning a hectare per household. The households should also be helped to practice organic agriculture in between the growing trees, so they have alternative income to cutting trees, and have added reason to visit their assigned areas regularly.

But where to get the needed cash? In one brainstorming session, we dreamt of a different “carbon trading” scheme, where individuals and communities with large footprints inside the Philippines and friends in other countries could support the cost of nurseries and reforestation, and occasionally help in the planting of trees, since there are thousands of hectares that await.

For the four barangays of Villar, Belbel, Morza, and Burgos, their dream is to re-establish small settlements in the mountains from which they were dispersed by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. These will also be the places for the main nurseries, and community facilities for the various training programs that we will be offering to lowlanders and outsiders who want to learn with the Aetas about biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Carling tells us about hot springs two kilometers from the peak of Mt. Pinatubo, where he once bathed and cured some skin disease he suffered from. “We should develop a sacred grove nearby, where we plant our indigenous trees and herbal plants,” he suggests. “Perhaps that will also be the place where we can combine our indigenous healing practices and the new healing methods that Girlie is studying.” Who knows, that may be a future healing spa.

I am reminded of a saying we had in prison which we applied to ELF: “Happy are those who dream dreams, and are willing to pay the price to make their dreams come true.”