Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje welcomed the declaration of a 4,000-hectare area within the ancestral domain of the Menuvu tribe in the uplands of Balmar, Bukidnon as an indigenous community conserved area or ICCA.

“We are definitely happy with this move of the Menuvu tribe to declare an area within their ancestral domain as a conservation area. For the longest time, we know that our indigenous peoples are culturally and spiritually attached to their environment – the reason for which they continue to revere the mountains, the plants, the animals, even the rivers amidst them which, in the process, worked both ways for the continued protection of the environment and the preservation of the people’s customs and beliefs,” Paje explained.

On February 8, the Menuvu Association led by its head Datu Ampuan Sulda declared the area as “Idsesengilaha” following a nine-day ritual of prayers, chants and dances which climaxed on the full moon, Wednesday. “Idsesengilaha” is a native word which means “sacred place” or in the current context of environmentalism, an indigenous community conserved area or ICCA.

With the declaration, Datu Ampuan stressed that the area, which the tribe has been protecting for the longest time, is now recognized by other stakeholders as a place under strict protection, requiring anyone wishing to enter the area to get permission from the Menuvu Council of Elders. As practiced, the council calls for a ritual or ceremony to be performed prior to giving its approval. “This is part of our local governance system and it plays a crucial role in securing our rights to our land and natural resources,” Datu Ampuan said.

The newly-declared ICCA spans some 4,000 hectares within the 15,000-hectare ancestral domain of the Menuvu, one of Bukidnon’s seven ethnic tribes. It is located in the uplands of Mt. Kalatungan, the country’s 6th highest peak at 2,300 meters above sea level.

The ICCA declaration rites was witnessed by officials of the DENR led by Undersecretary Analiza Teh, representatives of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), non-government organization Philippine Association of Intercultural Development (PAFID), and Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection Nereus Acosta.

Teh commended the indigenous group for upholding its culture that put premium on conservation. She also acknowledged the indigenous rights of Menuvus to manage their resources, saying that “indigenous peoples have rights and ability to manage their environment and natural resources.”

Teh also assured the local community of DENR’s commitment to support the ICCA as a traditional conservation model that will be replicated, shared and strengthened through the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP) being implemented by the agency through the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).

For his part, UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer described the concept of ICCA as “new in the conservation realm”, but not among indigenous peoples and their ancestors who, he said, “have been practicing it for centuries, making it part of their everyday life”.

Meyer also said that the key to the success of the ICCA is hinged on three factors, namely, good partnership between the indigenous community and the local government unit, the cooperation and support of the community, and the commitment of the people working with the project.

He also expressed commitment for the UNDP to broadcast the success of the Menuvu ICCA declaration experience across the Philippines with other IP groups as “it showcases not only nature but also culture and values”.