KASAMA Vol. 20 No. 3 / July-August-September 2006 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Profile: The Cordillera Conservation Trust

JP Alipio

Poverty and human health problems are symptoms of an ailing environment. The Cordillera region is the source of life for most of the northern Luzon, it’s rivers feed the hectares of farm land that feed a majority of this nation’s population and within it’s walls of rock live communities whose culture speaks of a time long past and a proud and noble ancestry. Yet this noble heritage of the mountain region is slowly withdrawing its graces from its people and from those that benefit below these towers. The forests no longer speak and the waters slowly choked by silt and pollution and each year crystal droplets flow in ever smaller amounts starving the farms that rely on this constant supply of life from the mountains above.

No longer can the forests and rivers sustain local livelihoods and continued pollution and degradation affects the ecosystems capacity to provide clean air and water and increases community’s vulnerability to natural disasters. This degradation has also in recent years been the root source of conflicts for many villages found within the Cordillera Mountains.

The Cordillera Conservation Trust seeks to provide relevant practical and sustainable solutions to environ¬mental problems arising in the Cordillera region that seek to undermine the continued ecological services that the mountain region provides for its people. Working in partnership with the different local com¬munities we develop practical and appropriate solutions to the environmental problems now confronting the Cordillera Region.

The Cordillera Conservation Trust aims to develop alternatives to current unsustainable practices that now plague the mountain regions environment and people. By improving the natural environment and promoting sustainable utilization of the local resources we also ensure that the primary source of local capital, the environment, is kept in a form that will continuously provide its services for the local communities reducing the incidence of rural poverty, environmental conflicts, and health hazards arising from degraded environmental conditions.

We believe that we can develop solutions from local community ideas and knowledge as well as integrate our own specializations in modern sustainable development strategies to promote development in the region that is in line with its unique ecological and cultural characteristics.

The Cordillera region of the Philippines is acknowl¬edged as one of Northern Luzon’s major watersheds. The headwaters of many of Luzon’s major river systems originate in these mountains and serve as irrigation for the plains that surround the Cordillera Mountain range; Chico River, Agno River, Abra River, Siffu River, Amburayan-Naguilian-Aringgay River System, Ahin River, Abulog-Apayao River system. Taken together they have a total drainage area of 5,447,500 hectares, supplying most of the irrigation needs of Northern Luzon. These facts alone underscore the importance of the Cordillera mountain region in providing ecosystem services to a large portion of Northern Luzon.

Yet this is only a small fraction of the importance of the Cordillera Mountain Ecosystem, other factors such as biodiversity, energy production; mineral produc¬tion as well as ecological maintenance functions such as; stream flow, nutrient cycling, soil stability, habitat, are among the other factors which make this region unique.

The mountain region is also the home of a varied number of indigenous groups. People who have the pride that no lowlander has the right to claim, the pride of being free while the rest of the Philippines was under the colonial rule of the Spanish. Ibaloi, Kankanai, Kalanguya, Iwac, Ifugao, Bontoc, Kalinga, Tinguian among these groups we find the people who have kept these mountains safe for centuries, Our homes are seemingly under siege, “development” has claimed the homes of many communities. The Cordillera being home to the bounties of the earth have provided life for generations, yet today people seek to destroy that which has given us life.

This diversity of people living in this region presents a challenge to the management of the Cordillera Mountain environment and yet they also provide a resource as we are people who hold a unique knowledge of our local environments and their utilization, knowledge which is a powerful asset in creating strategies to address the continued degradation of our mountain ecosystems.