KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 3 / July-August-September 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Palawan's Tagbanuas Assert Land and Forest Rights

Michael Umaming
Northern Dispatch 

CORON, Palawan (NORDIS) – The Tagbanuas – indigenous peoples of this island – have directed their ire against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for not stopping forest denudation in their ancestral domain.

Illegal logging activities in their 4,000 hectare forest have been going on since September last year even after the Tagbanuas were handed a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC).

Last January, the Tagbanuas and some DENR personnel caught six loggers in the act of cutting trees. They confiscated the chainsaw but let go of the loggers. The loggers’ leader, Engr. Armando Akyatan, reportedly bribed the Tagbanua Foundation of Coron (TFC) to release the confiscated logs. And true to form, the logs taken from 13 protected ipil tree species were gone.

The Tagbanuas claim that the balinsasayaw birds have disappeared because of such illegal logging activities. Tagbanuas scale the high cliffs and caverns just to harvest the nests of these birds which are later processed into bird’s nest soup. They estimate a loss of at least P50,000 every quarter.

Islands inside the CADC declaration, which only have tax declarations to show as proof of ownership, are being sold by outsiders. At Coron’s town center, a 50-ha coastal land which is currently advertised for sale is home to several Tagbanua families.

In sitio Dinuscalan in barangay Bulalacao, former Coron mayor Ricardo Lim is reportedly asking the Tagbanuas living there to leave the place before the year ends. Lim, who is utilizing the land for grazing, wants to develop Dinuscalan into a tourist resort. He also allegedly promised money to the Tagbanuas who would leave voluntary.

DENR Undersecretary for Environment and Program Development, Delfin Ganapin, said the Tagbanuas have now raised doubts on the sanctity of their rights supposedly provided for under the Community Forest Stewardship Agreement (CFSA). in July 1990, the Tagbanuas signed a CFSA with the DENR thinking their land would be protected from encroachment.

A task force was created to look into the Tagbanuas’ complaints, but according to Dave de Vera of the Philippine Association for Intercultural Development, "sila-sila rin ang miyenbro", meaning the DENR themselves composed the task force.

Last April 29, the task force summoned Rodolfo Aguilar, chair of the TFC, and asked him to retract his complaints of illegal logging.

NORDIS is a weekly packet of news, features and analysis produced by the Cordillera Resource Center, Suite 314, Laparal Building, Session Rd, Baguio City, Philippines 2600