A largely undocumented biodiversity in Pantaron Range in Davao del Norte is in danger of disappearing if the displacement of the indigenous Lumad communities, caused by the militarization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), continues.
Militarization in this context refers to military and defense-oriented activities, mostly to suppress local insurgents. Many insurgency groups in the Philippines have roots in peasant farming communities and displaced local indigenous tribes.
Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) participated in a National Solidarity Mission (NSM) where they found that the indigenous tribes still continue their decades-long active defense of their ancestral lands from militarization, all the while conserving their environment and knowledge of the land.
According to Kalikasan PNE national coordinator and NSM delegate Clemente Bautista, the intensified militarization by the AFP has caused immense displacement and rights abuses, threatening the Manobo’s way of life and the land they have fought so hard to preserve.
Pantaron Mountain Range extends across the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur, reaching about 12,600 square-kilometers and covering 12.4% of Mindanao.
One of the largest remaining forests in the Philippines is located in the Pantaron Mountain Range, covering 1.8 million hectares and supplies water to the major rivers of Mindanao, namely the Mindanao River, Pulangi River, Davao River, Tagoloan River and the major tributaries of Agusan River.
The natural forests of the region support the varying biodiversity and is among vital breeding sites of the Philippine eagle, particularly in Mount Kitanglad and Mount Apo.
“Pantaron Range is a very critical watershed and one of the few remaining primary forests in Mindanao,” said Bautista.
The Talaingod Manobos also benefit from Pantaron’s forests, which serves as their natural pharmacy where they source their traditional medicine and herbal plants.
While documentation of its natural heritage is rare, the Talaingod Manobos speak of a variety of birds present in the forest, including three kinds of hornbills, and lizards such as monitor lizards and amphibians such as forest frogs. Manobos also share that there are dwarf wild pigs, civets, monkeys and tarsiers in the area.
Risks of dislocation
The NSM confirmed the increased reports of human rights abuses that began on March 3 of this year as the AFP carried out a militarization campaign in the area as part of their Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency program. Accounts gathered in villages visited by the NSM said that the Philippine Army engaged in several human rights’ violations including looting, torture, sexual harassment, intimidation, destruction of farms and the desecration of the Manobos’ homes.
In order to avoid further encounters with the military, the Talaingod Manobos chose to collectively evacuate their homes, seeking refuge in Davao City where different organizations and individuals, including Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte supported their cause.
“In the 1990s, the Talaingod Manobos already suffered from displacement by militarization from the security forces and military backing of the logging firm Alcantara and Sons (Alsons). Today, they are still threatened by the encroaching of Alsons through their Integrated Forest Management Agreement or IFMA that covers the entire 45,000 hectares of Talaingod. A host of large-scale mining corporations also have approved applications over the range,” Bautista pointed out.
“The Talaingod Manobos under their organization Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon believe that it is these economic interests that are the real motive in the systemic displacement of their communities,” said Bautista.