Batangan: A Hidden Ticket towards a Greener Future

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The forests of the Cordillera have made the survival of the Indigenous People possible for decades. Thus, they have created unique forest management techniques that can cater the needs of the coming generations like the batangan system of the Applais of Tadian, Mountain Province. Image Source: http://www.jacobimages.com/2013/05/igorots-cordilleras

“The Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of the world are the greatest environmentalists and peacekeepers. Had we listened to our IPs, sought their examples, studied indigenous knowledge and continued their traditions while merging development, the world would have been a better place instead of one that is in constant threat because of global warming, poverty, and environmental degradation,” stressed Loren Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities, during the Dayaw Indigenous People’s Festival 2015.

The Applais for instance, an ethnic group residing in the municipality of Tadian, Mountain Province has formulated a unique forest management technique that kept their forest intact for years. This is the batangan system which is similar to the imong of Kalinga, lapat of Abra and Apayao, muyong of Ifugao, and kejowan of Benguet.  Batangan is the local term of the community for forest; however, they also adopted it to refer to their forest management system.

Batangan system was recognized by Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) as the first “Sustainable Traditional Indigenous Forest Resource Management Systems and Practices” (STIFRMSP) in the Cordillera.

According to Augusto Lagon, Regional Technical Director of DENR Forest Management Service, the effort to document the forest conservation practices of the IPs such as the batangan has been adopted in line with the agenda of the government to revive the forests of the country.

Getting to know the batangan system

Based on the joint documentation of DENR and NCIP, it was known that one type of batangan is komon or mossy forest, which is owned by the whole community. However, a lakon or pine forest is managed by a clan or family. Also, taban or the area which is immediately located above or surrounding the rice fields is privately protected by a clan who owns the farm. To add, water resources and irrigation systems are managed by a group of families while rivers and lakes are protected by the whole community.

In the batangan system, the members who “own” the forest area are obliged to perform protective management and utilization of the forest resources.

In addition, still based on the said documentation, forest destruction and violations such as forest fires, unauthorized timber harvesting, illegal clearing and occupancy can be addressed through observing the practices defined under the batangan system.

One of such practice is galatis, a free service or labor rendered by the community to kill a fire occurred in the forest.

Under the batangan, a regular foot patrolling is being conducted to prevent the occurrence of forest fires which is actively participated by family representatives. Usually, the male villagers are required to extend fire suppression activities even at night and wee hours of the morning. This practice of the Applais is called mandepdep.

Besides those, the council of elders, LGU, and villagers also conduct campaigns or counseling during community gatherings. Such reminder is to avoid burning on grasses on farm lands during summer seasons to evade the possibility of fire.

Cutting of timber for firewood purposes has also limitations since the villagers are only allowed to cut the lower portion of the tree. To add, cutting of young trees within identified areas is also strictly prohibited. Thus, harvesting of lumber in the community forest is controlled.

Furthermore, the non-community members are forbidden to harvest forest products unless permitted and with supervision of the elders and barangay officials. Further, gathering of minor forest products such as leaves, grasses, and bamboos are as well for the community members only unless there is available stock for outsiders.

Additionally, getting forest products for the purpose of commercialism is firmly not allowed since community members are generally ensured of their fair share from forest products

For water resources, it must also be used for domestic and agricultural purposes only.

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The evergreen forest of Tadian, Mountain Province is a proof on the effectiveness of batangan as a sustainable traditional indigenous forest resource management system and practice. Image Source: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/64722341

Of challenges on forest management

According to Lagon, the increasing population in Tadian and changing views of the younger generation due to fast-paced world are some factors that threaten the practice of batangan. As such, the children who are expected to carry out the practice are moving out from the community.

In a study titled, “Lakon/ Saguday: An Indigenous Forest Establishment and Management System in Western Mountain Province”, one of hindrances that weakens the lakon/ saguday system, a similar forest management to batangan is the laws on taxation.

Some of residents complain of the charges collected if they register the trees that they planted, higher real property tax for timber lands, permit required and forest charge collected. This reason made them prefer to plant agricultural crops which does not require charges.

Moreover, still centered on thestudy, the inactivity of ato/ ator/ dap-ay in the community nowadays also diminished the roles of the elders in the community affairs such as forest protection. This is seconded by the weakening cultural beliefs which seemed to be replaced by self-centeredness, cash mentality, and apathy among community members.

Nonetheless, the Applai tribe has formulated resolutions on any form of forest violation which are traditionally based.

Violators will face the village chief and the council of elders. Thus, they are in authority to impose the necessary form of fines to the violator. The fine is usually in kind such as native livestock. However, if the crime is serious or heavy, the offender will replace the damaged and worse, would be evicted from the community.

Truly, forest is our life.

The Applais, just like any other tribe in the Cordillera, treat the nature as part of their flesh that needs to be taken good care of. They have their unique problem-solving ways to address the problems that come their way. May it be the batangan, imong, lapat, muyong, or kejowan, all have the same mission: to establish, protect, and conserve the forest; to sustain the source of wood and water; and to ensure a livelier environment. Nonetheless, may you be an IP or not, we all share the same responsibility towards the protection of nature.// Sharmaine P. Chocowen

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