SANTA FE, Nueva Viscaya— Way back in 1970, the Philippine government, in the case of the Kalahan Forest Reserve, took a stand of love of forest more rooted in commerce rather than any romantic sentiment for trees or wildlife flora and fauna.
It then planned to convert 6,300 hectares of ancestral lands of the Ikalahan tribe folks in the forest reserve in Nueva Viscaya into a “vacation center.”
But the Ikalahan tribe folks stood their ground and said, “No way.” They went to court, filed a case to make the government “see the light of day” and recognize their ancestral land claims.
Two years after filing their case, they attained legal victory in August 24, 1972. The court ordered the government to scuttle its plans of further pushing development of a vacation center in the ancestral domain and with the same order, revoked so-called titles of lowlanders in the tribal lands.
Victory of the Ikalahans paved the way for establishment of the Kalahan Forest Reserve and issuance of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) No. 1 signed May 13, 1974 between the Ikalahan tribe and the government.
MOA No.1 legitimized prior and vested rights of the Ikalahan tribe folks over their ancestral lands, recognized their claim and it assured their not being uprooted from their ancestral lands.
It also gave them the right to exercise complete control and authority in management of the e forest reserve and its resources.
Kalahan Forest Reserve is between Santa Fe, Nueva Viscaya and San Nicholas, Pangasinan.
Fast track to December 2022. Fifty-two years later to this day, despite climate change, changing land use and land cover over time, Ikalahan tribe folks in this northern Luzon province have proven to the government that their romantic sentiment for trees, wildlife flora and fauna is an effective stewardship and key to conservation of remaining forest resource and biodiversity.
Ikalahans possess no written rules regarding use of natural resources. However, like other tribes in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), they possess indigenous environmental practices long established in their time. Prior to the signing of the MOA, these indigenous practices were carefully considered.
Ikalahans have an indigenous land management called “gen-gen,” an ancient composting technique for unfertile soil. They have an in-situ composting technique for sloping lands called “day-og,” and “balkah” for contour cropping, as observed by the Kalahan Educational Foundation.
While forest cover in the Philippines continues to decrease through time, it is a reverse in the case of the Kalahan Forest Reserve, as documented by a UP, Los Banos study.
In 2008, the Ikalahans have targeted for environmental protection and preservation agricultural lands, watersheds, orchards, public lands and diptocarp forest within their domain, while mounting a decrease in swidden (slash- and-burn) farming and increase in fallow areas and grassland/mono crop, pine forest planting.
For the Ikalahans took to heart the responsibility of protecting the Kalahan Forest Reserve and watershed.
Ikalahan tribal leaders also play a significant role in the protection of KFR. Council of elders is directly responsible for land allocation for families that may extend to 8 hectares.
UPLB researchers have found out that tribal elders and community members revolve around an indigenous teaching of “living with, and not living against the land,” that propelled KFR to withstand the travails of time.
Today, Ikalahan tribal leaders have made it a point that swidden farming at KFR is a thing of the past and Ikalahans must adopt climate change resilient farming methods, the UP researchers noted.
Issuance of MOA No. 1 served as the basis of delineation of ancestral lands and domain claims in 1993 through Administrative Order No. 2, Series of 1993, later to become the foundation of Republic Act No. 8371, better known as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) and signed into law by former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos in October 29, 1997.
Many areas in the Philippines are rich in biodiversity, one of which is the Kalahan Forest Reserve managed solely by the Ikalahans, a cultural minority group steeped into their unique ways and practice of sustainable agroforestry systems. In fact, Ikalahans are tribal folks that associate their existence with forests.
The word “Kalahan,” literally means forest and the people living or from the forest are known or called “Ikalahan.” Ikalahan simply means “people of the forest,” who have lived in the reserve for centuries.
If you take offense by being called “taong gubat,” literally to mean “human of the forest,” the Ikalahans, on the other hand, take it as a compliment and proud to be so, for they have been recognized world-wide as pioneers in community-based forest management.
One Ikalahan resident was recorded to have proudly countered, about the “taong gubat” term: “Why should I be ashamed of the forest when it is our home and it sustains us.”
Ikalahans belong to the Kalanguya tribe of Mountain Province in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Caraballo Mountain of Northern Luzon.
For years past, this tribal group from CAR has not been spared from land speculators whose purpose is to acquire ancestral domains.
Forestry experts from University of the Philippines (UP) in Los Banos, having a clue on the importance of the Kalahan Forest Reserve or KFR, dove into a study in recognition to KFR’s rich biodiversity.
Research experts Florencia B. Pulhin, Alfie M. Torres, Nelson M. Pampolina, Rodel D. Lasco and Angela Marie Alducente, were pulled from the Forestry Development Center, Department of Forest Products and Paper Science, Department of Forest Biological Sciences and Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, College of Forestry and Natural Resources, all at UP, Los Banos for the endeavor.
In the UP, Los Banos study coverage, KFR is located in Cluster 1 of Ikalahan-Kalanguya Ancestral Domain in the provinces of Nueva Viscaya and Pangasinan, covering 14,730 hectares of mountainous terrain with elevations ranging from 600-1717 meters above sea level.
UP researchers covered barangays Imugan (Nueva Viscaya), Malico (San Nicolas, Pangasinan), Sta. Rosa (Nueva Viscaya), Unib (Nueva Viscaya), and Bacneng (Nueva Viscaya) and Baracbac (Nueva Viscaya).
And the researchers came up with one conclusion: “KFR is one of the remaining intact habitats for wildlife and forest species.”
Results of their study show that KFR “has a very high biological diversity.” KFR has 111 tree species, 50 species from 29 families endemic to the Philippines.
For instance, Benguet Pine (Pinus Insulares) and brown oak (Quercus semecarpifolia Sm.) are dominant and profusely grow KFR, occupying large portions of KFR and are densely populated, said the UPLB study.
They have identified 73 tree species dominantly growing at KFR, complete with their common names and 50 endemic species, aside from vulnerable species.
In concert with the Kalahan Educational Foundation, the UPLB verified local names based on morphological and vegetative characteristics of specimens while referring also to the 1999 Revised Lexicon of Philippine Trees for verification and species identity.
Fruits of wild plants can be collected from the sanctuaries but UPLB researchers and the Kalahan Educational Foundation emphatically noted only about 15 percent can be harvested, while leaving 85 percent as food for wildlife like boars, deer, and birds.
UPLB researchers discovered that the reserve mountain contains three major types of forests which are the Benguet pine forest on the western side, diptocarp forest on the eastern portion and mossy forest in its central portion.
Within the forest reserve, the Ikalahans set aside forest sanctuaries for watershed and wildlife protection while other portions were devoted to agroforestry, agriculture and untouched grassland areas, UPLB recorded.
UPLB concluded in their study that “The presence of threatened, endangered and vulnerable species in KFR shows that the area is worthy to be protected to ensure conservation and/or enhancement of biodiversity.”
Their study, contained in the UPLB Journal of Science, was titled, “Vegetation Analysis of Sanctuary and Forest Areas of Kalahan Forest Reserve, Nueva Viscaya and Pangasinan, Philippines,” and noted further that “KFR is one of the areas in the country that is bio diverse, but is not given much attention by the government.”
It also emphasized that “it is noteworthy that KFR is managed by an indigenous community that does not have regular allotment from the government for its protection and rehabilitation activities and just relies on just occasional funds from donors.”
According to the Kalahan Educational Foundation, the Ikalahans have garnered awards from the Department of agriculture (DA) for their processing of indigenous tree fruits, a reflection of their mountaineering spirit.