23 September 2009

Palawan at the Crossroads: Development and the Environment on a Philippine Frontier (edited by James F. Eder and Janet O. Fernandez)

Palawan at the Crossroads (published in 1996 by Ateneo de Manila University Press) is divided into four parts: Introduction, The Setting, Change and the Indigenous People, and Change and the Environment. The editors, Eder and Fernandez, introduce the book, laying down the anthropocentric framework that guided the selection of the case studies from American, European, and Filipino academic specialists. The paradigm centers on the Malthusian perspective of burgeoning population and its attendant limiting effect on the carrying capacity of ecosystems. The editors hint at the increasing politicization in the last frontier: “Many of the issues that confront Palawan specialists today have significant political or emotional overtones that make it difficult for any observer to be fully ‘objective’ about Palawan.” Indeed, with the passage of the Local Government Code in 1991, the broad powers devolved to local government units have made governmental policies and actions critical factors in shaping the course of development in the province.

The reduction in forest cover from 68% of Palawan Mainland area in 1985 to less than 50% at present is an indication of the intensification in logging, mining, shifting cultivation, and land conversion. The status of Palawan as a Promise Land in the 1950s propelled the influx of migrants from different areas in the country, and this trend continues up to the present even in the face of wanton degradation of resources in critical forests and coastal zones.

Nilo S. Ocampo, a historian from the University of the Philippines, opens the second part, The Setting. His essay is a brief history of Palawan, viewing this history, in microcosm, as reflective of the history of the Philippines—from cradle of civilization to a colony under foreign rulers to a sovereign republic. The histories he raised are rich and varied: from tultul, the origin myth of the Batak, to the concept of frontier going back 50,000 years from the Pleistocene and Neolithic times to the Spanish influence in the Calamianes and Cuyo [1], to the Muslim influences of the Tausug and Jama Mapun immigrants in the south, to the cultural encounters with the indigenous peoples, to the American administration in the province, and up to the identification of “quantitative and qualitative change underneath the surface” resulting to tribal extinction.

The next two papers, by Miriam S. Chaiken and by the editors, present cases of the rootedness of migrant settlers in their new setting. The first argues for acknowledgement and buildup of natural kinship as a model for frontier settlement, debunking the studies on immigration centering on disputes—interethnic tensions, competition for scarce support and resources from management entity. The second delineates at the household level the ramifications of husband-wife relationship effecting the economic strategy choices of second-generation families. Eder and Fernandez observe that “choice of strategy is not a one-time event” but rather an evolving phenomena. They also find that parents and in-laws of couples may have powerful and positive influence in the internal workings of a Palawan household, suggesting that close family ties are an invisible thread binding families to their place in the world. Finally, the editors observe that Cuyonon cultural tradition still wield a very strong influence on the economic behavior of households.

The second half of the book is concerned with “change” in the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Palawan and in the environment. The IPs are appropriately the centerpiece of the book (the shift here narrows from anthropocentric to ethnocentric) since they are the ones directly affected by the “historic transformation of Palawan.” Going indigenous is not a trend, it is a need [2], and each of the articles gives dimension to this fundamental need. Rowe Cadeliña’s article describes food-sharing among Batak households and presents a lucid connection of the decline of inter-household food-sharing to the disappearance of the forest. The coming of tourists and the infusion of more cash are also considered as threats to the Batak worldview and traditions.

W. Thomas Conelly focuses on the strategies of resource use among the Tagbanuas. He discusses the changing socio-economic environment that has confronted this indigenous group in the twentieth century, and the impacts these changes have had on their subsistence. Forest utilization was daily affected by the arrival of lowland Christian settlers who encroached onto ancestral domains, thereby creating tensions, insecurities, and questions of identity.

A series of black-and-white photographs depicting livelihood practices of Palawan inhabitants and Palawan landscapes, faces and ceremonies, follows the first two articles on the chapter on IPs. They show Palaweños in the act of collecting honey, hunting, farming in the lowlands and uplands, and fishing.

The third article on IPs is the study of Elaine C. Brown, “Tribal Displacement, Deculturation and Impoverishment.” It describes the patterns of Pala’wan agriculture being more and more unsustainable due to similar trends described in the previous articles. Brown concludes that “Pala’wan will never be the primary beneficiaries of development introduced by non-Pala’wan.” Her recommendation is for Pala’wans to be given access to education up to the college level in order for them to develop skills (e.g., knowledge of Philippine legal system) and social relations required to defend themselves and to better pursue new economic opportunities. For indeed who else, in this competitive arena of diminishing goods, have the dedication to help them but themselves?

Lanfranco Blanchetti-Revelli completes the chapter on IPs with an exposition of the Molbog’s conception of ecology, rice and debt. The tension between Christians and Molbog shapes the latter’s increasing dependence on external resources and contingencies.

The disenfranchisement of the IPs in the four articles supports the notion that the interface between the indigenous and the contemporary can never be reconciled. Perhaps only a reversal of the two roles can bring peace to the “war on the environmental resources” [3]. That is, if the non-indigene “stoops to the level” of the indigene and acts with justice and compassion, and if the indigene is “civilized” according to non-indigene standards, to the point that he can regard his “betters” as his “peers.” When the indigenous become the contemporary, then tribal extinction will be quelled, even if extinction already means the condition of irreversible loss. And what else can be done to regain what is already lost? To retrieve a soul? To resurrect the spirit?

The final chapter outlines the agenda, government and non-government, for development that has began to emerge in the last 25 years. Ricardo M. Sandalo provides a brief disquisition on sustainable development and the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan. Sandalo was formerly the Executive Assistant for the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), and he was involved in the formulation of the SEP Law. In his regular column in a weekly newspaper, Sandalo [4] confessed that one of the many reasons why he left the PCSD Staff is that he can no longer stomach the abusive politicking of some members in the Council. He was ‘burned out.’ In the same article, he gave an unsolicited advice to the present director of PCSDS:

…for PCSD to become relevant, it has to constantly recognize the important role of the communities in the scheme of things that the Council is trying to do. These communities are what is meant by sustainable development’s “present and future generations.” The PCSD should always have time to hear what the communities have to say. Good governance means listening to the governed. A mechanism has to be devised by the PCSD to facilitate meaningful community participation in policy making. Conversely, communities should be able to articulate their sentiments.

The final article by Yasmin Arquiza traces the evolution of environmental movement in Palawan. Some groups and movements she mentions in her discussion include the PIADP, Haribon Palawan, Tubbataha Foundation, Ulugan Bay Foundation, Tanggol Kalikasan, NATRIPAL, local Jaycees chapter, Palawan Movement for Educational Advancement, Palawan Mountaineers, Timefreezers Photo Club, the musical group SINIKA, Palawan Songwriters’ Guild, Pista Y Ang Cagueban, 10-Knots Resort, PANLIPI (Legal Assistance Center for Indigenous Filipinos), Oplan Linis, Bantay Dagat, Bantay Gubat, Andres Soriano Foundation, and Crocodile Farming Institute. Some of these groups and their programs are short-lived; what was formerly loud is now silent. Others are still operating, while others change faces and are frontliners for new interests.

The book’s Appendix provides a compendium of Palawan research studies, the literature cited throughout the book, as well as a comprehensive bibliography. The bibliography is categorized into books, monographs, edited collections, theses and dissertations, articles in academic journals, selected articles in magazines and newspapers, and other media format. This list is particularly useful for students who are specializing on an aspect of the living laboratory that is Palawan. An update of this list would be a good undertaking, considering the amount of published material that might have accumulated from 1996 onwards.

Palawan at the Crossroads is a must-read primer on Palawan for anyone curious of what is happening in the last frontier, to its people and its environment. It presents a strong case for the precautionary principle and it champions the cause of the indigenous. The selection of the articles is by no means exhaustive, since Palawan is a complexity in all ecological and social levels, but it is representative of the current issues prevalent in the province. The studies in the book are good starting points for a holistic conservation/development perspective and for the development of sensitivity for the future of this ecoregion. They suggest, implicitly, that forthcoming studies need to delve deeper into the mud. It needs more than generate baseline data. The thesis should underscore strategies for coping with the stresses and fluctuations imposed by land use intensification and degradation, and it should tackle uncertainties and biases inherent in the field of politics, culture, human psychology, and economics.

The consolidation of all these academic studies should be a primary goal of the academe and research and development organizations. There should be a repository for these outputs in order to preserve the repertoire of environmental management options that can be gleaned from these scholarly papers. Unfortunately, it looks like the buck stops right after these works go to the printing presses. The findings, recommendations, and conclusions put forward by the specialists and consultants are seldom applied and considered by policy makers and planners. Consultants come and go, and Palawan remains afflicted with the “diminishing core zone syndrome.” That is to say: the tragedy of the commons is becoming more common.

The research and development agenda for Palawan must now begin its “dirty work.” And it must do so without qualms. It must start to “corrupt the minds” of the managers and administrators who have so much of the chance and the opportunity to map Palawan at the crossroads and at the destination.


[1] The recent discovery of a historical ruin—the Spanish Fort of Caseledan—amidst a hill forest in Linapacan, attests to the surprises still brought about by surfacing history. See “Lost 17th century fortress found" by Cheyenne Morrison, SEAIR Inflight, February-March 2005 issue, pp. 9-10.
[2] PCARRD. (1998). People, Earth and Culture (Readingsin Indigenous Knowledge Systems on Biodiversity Management and Utilization). Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development. Los Baños, Laguna: PCARRD-NCCA. 303p.
[3] It is very telling that the Nobel Prize for Peace is now being awarded to environmentalists, as in the case of 2004 winner Wangari Maathai—an African woman environmentalist espousing reforestation in her native land—and 2007 winners Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore.
[4] Sandalo, Riki M. “Summit: So Near, Yet So Far.” Bandillo ng Palawan, Vol.8, No. 6, February 7-13, 2005 issue.

21 September 2009

The Elements of Style (Strunk and White)


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by addings ’s.

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

3. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.

4. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.

5. Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

6. Do not break sentences in two.

7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.

9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

10. Use the proper case of pronoun.

11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.


12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.

13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.

14. Use the active voice.

15. Put statements in positive form.

16. Use definite, specific, concrete language.

17. Omit needless words.

18. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.

19. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

20. Keep related words together.

21. In summaries, keep to one tense.

22. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

III. AN APPROACH TO STYLE (With a List of Reminders)

1. Place yourself in the background.

2. Write in a way that comes naturally.

3. Work from a suitable design.

4. Write with nouns and verbs.

5. Revise and rewrite.

6. Do not overwrite.

7. Do not overstate.

8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.

9. Do not affect a breezy manner.

10. Use orthodox spelling.

11. Do not explain too much.

12. Do not construct awkward adverbs.

13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.

14. Avoid fancy words.

15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.

16. Be clear.

17. Do not inject opinion.

18. Use figures of speech sparingly.

19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.

20. Avoid foreign languages.

21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat.

07 September 2009

Perfume (Patrick Süskind)

(SPOILER ALERT) Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the man who can smell his way into the world, was born in the most auspicious of places – in a wet market among the guts and scales of fishes. From then on, his life has been determined by the persistent call of his nose and he finds himself in situations that bring him closer to his goal: the extracting and packaging of the most fragrant perfume of all.

Grenouille is like an autistic savant. He has a gift: a hypersensitive sense of smell, more powerful than Wolverine's, so much so that he can break down a perfume into its basic components, and even recreate it given all the scent-ingredients. The sniffing genius in him can identify not only the components of a smell but also the exact proportions of each component, the exact formula to a perfume. Yet like an autist, Grenouille has the problem of connecting emotionally with people. He is an introvert, emotionally detached from the world, and his singular purpose keeps him from plunging ahead in life.

In Perfume, Patrick Süskind gives us a portrait of the perfumer as an artist. He does so in the style of an inverted German fairy tale, a twisted tale of the Brothers Grimm. And as a Bildungsroman, the epiphanies arrive and they come in the form of scents, of odors, and of concentrated essences.

Grenouille’s life can be outlined by his settlement from place to place: childhood in an orphanage, early labor in a tannery, apprenticeship with the perfumer Baldini, a seven-year sojourn in the desert, a brief stint as a 'New Age' curiosity among the bourgeoisie following his 'cure' by the Marquis Taillade-Espinasse (conspicuously absent in the movie), a perfume-extraction trainee in Grasse, and a murderer of beautiful young virgins. In between these discrete acts, the author dismisses (discard) his other characters in the most cursory manner (e.g., Madame Gaillard succumbing to the fate she most dread, Baldini toppling down the abyss after securing the formulas for perfume that will secure his place as the most renowned perfumer in all of Paris).

It is as if after their encounter with Grenouille, the other characters’ lease on life has been definitively cut; they now have served the purpose of their existence in Grenouille's life. They now must cease in order to give wings to Grenouille’s dream. In this respect, the author mirrors his protagonist’s single-mindedness: everything else outside the purview of his interest is extraneous, so it must be discarded after it has been extracted or exploited. It is not enough that the old characters exit peacefully, they must be terminated.

A fairy tale tone is maintained throughout by the book’s magical prose. Perhaps no other novel has exhausted words signifying different kinds of smells, fragrances, and odors. Notwithstanding the cold violence and the madness portrayed in the novel, Grenouille’s adventures and misadventures are lightly skimmed in a magical manner.

If Grenouille's extreme nature and behavior are to be rationalized (or an equivalence to be found for the allegory), Grenouille’s acts and decisions reflect the temperaments of a struggling artist.

The perfumer’s goal is the encapsulation and preservation of virgin scent for consumption and for posterity. The achievement is not self-centered and egotistical, it is self-justified. His whole existence is geared toward the actualization and realization of his art (perfume). This, usually, is how society perceives how an artist works.

Grenouille does not consciously seek fame, though in a way he is forced to show off his abilities in order to attain his objective (e.g., recreating the scent Amor and Psyche for Baldini, one of the best parts in the book). He doesn’t want fame, he just wants to fulfill his aim.

The perfect and most fragrant of smells that Grenouille created transports its wearer to another place and time. If one of the goals of art is to transport its readers to another milieu or to transform their perception of meanings and forms, then Grenouille succeeded in becoming a master perfumer by clouding the perspectives of those who smell his scent. Süskind himself strives to develop a milieu for 18th century France and succeeded in creating a stink-rich canvas for his protagonist.

The most perfect of smells inspires lust among those who caught scent of it. This is a by-product of success. It commands cult following and promotes adherents to its cause. Every connoisseur then becomes a champion of the smell and its creator.

The perfumer-artist improvises methods where there are none previously. He is a student of experimentation. Grenouillle has to go to Grasse to capture all the available methods of extracting scents and to distill from them the ways he can bring into life his vision. Because he does not know all the methods, he continually seeks the house of the masters to learn from them. He grabs all available opportunity to improve his craft. He is after his masterpiece.

The perfumer-artist pursues his subject with care. Grenouille is a conscientious stalker. He does not just grab the object of his affection out of the blue. He allows it space before he carefully plucks its fragrance. Süskind allows us to participate in this voyeurism. The reader is in thrall to the deviant workings of the perfumer. This is akin to Gustav von Aschenbach's pursuit of his muse in Death in Venice, a pursuit that feeds and drives the destruction of the artist. Grenouille is a slightly more refined dog.

The perfumer-artist feels apart from the rest. He has the distinct quality of being separate from his subjects. In Grenouille’s case, being a man without any trace of smell is to be taken not only as an irony of his situation as a superior delineator of smell. He has to lack smell not only because he needs to be set apart from the rest of humankind.

A perfumer-artist needs time to know himself. This is usually what prods an artist to gain experiences in life and what brings him inspiration. Grenouille’s retreat in the desert took the whole of seven years in which he survived and subsisted with the natural offerings of food (locusts), rainwater, and the shelter of a cave. He led a hermit’s life, surpassing the length of time of young Jesus’ 40-day retreat in the desert. The span of the “hidden years” of a soon-to-be perfumer-artist is long but may be necessary in the development of the artist’s resolve to "take on" the world and bring it to its feet.

These factors point to the novel as a parable of the creative genius, of the dogged pursuit of the creative endeavor, and of the creative process. Every step of Grenouille's life is directed toward the building of his magnum opus. And his masterpiece? The scent of virgins. The scent of innocence. Bottled and stoppered in a flacon, ready to be sprinkled to unsuspecting consumers.

The novel's climax (the presentation of his art) and its ending (the ultimate reception of the artist) provide a measurement of the perfumer’s achievement. They show how two classes of society, in differing ways, positively accept the role of the artist.

The frenzy of the climax deals with the reception of Grenouille’s art and his elevation into a saint, an angel, a deity. In the orgy scene, Süskind pulls the rug from under the feet of his readers. It depicts the gullibility of the masses, including the aristocracy, to lap up the works of art without seeing through the artificiality of realism. The outrageousness of the scene seems like a play on the popularization of the works of art into a consumer product. The masses are not even aware that they are under the spell of a perfume. They are easily deceived by appearances; surfaces are all they perceive; the sense (of smell, not its substance) is all they crave for. They cannot distinguish art from abomination.

The ending of the novel is the height of irony. The novelist's chosen act for his perfumer’s disappearance is via cannibalism no less. The lowest of the lows of society (criminals, prostitutes, vagrants) elected to consume Grenouille, not content with idealizing him as a deity/messiah/angel like the crowd at Grasse. Grenouille has to be consumed and used in a practical manner – to satisfy hunger. What society has deprived them of – attention, food, essence, love – they get from the artist and all the art contained in him. There's no more differentiation between art and artist, the former is incorporated in the latter.

The orgy and the cannibalism hint at a commentary on the crassness of the times. And of the way certain classes of society use “art” for their own ends. The masses dance and fornicate around it, the dregs of society have to have some choice portion of it. The reader, meanwhile, detects a snapshot of stink.

(Flippers will be sniffing the pages of Perfume this month. The image above taken from portrait-artist.org)

05 September 2009

Who’s afraid of indigenous peoples?

The article by Mark Dowie, “Conservation Refugees*”, for the November/December 2005 issue of Orion magazine, is a critique of the environmental NGOs’ interventions in protected areas which lead to the displacement of indigenous peoples. In the name of environmental conservation, indigenous peoples, mostly in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia, are summarily evicted from their ancestral lands. This is to eliminate the “harsh” human impacts in the hinterlands and leave unspoiled nature, who knows best, to heal itself.

This accusation is surprising, considering the supposedly untarnished record of the conservation NGOs in fulfilling the noble mission of looking after the welfare of the environment and the people. These NGOs include Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and World Conservation Society. Indigenous leaders collectively call them big international NGOs or BINGOs.

For years, the tribal communities have been engaged in a give-and-take relationship with their environment, its rhythms and harmonies so interwoven in the fabric of their culture, in their ways of life. Their songs, dances, rituals, and customs are reflective of their close affinity with nature. The breakage from this co-existence must only have come from outside interference of their social and economic affairs. Their misfortunes (in these 'cultural hotspot' areas) began with the institutionalization of national parks.

In recounting the unlikely travails of the Batwa people of Uganda and of other tribes in many other countries, Dowie is confounded by BINGOs' conservative and puritanical brand of conservation that is removed from the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples. The implication is that conservation and its strategic manifestations (e.g., the creation of protected areas like natural parks and the imposition of restrictions inside it) has become the modern environmental contract. This contract explicitly pits indigenous peoples against their own place such that one cannot survive without eliminating the other in the picture. In so doing, the NGOs have become guilty of their very cause, conservation. But this is conservation in a convoluted sense: driving people away from their homeland and securing a place for the sake of securing it.

Indigenous peoples, in theory and in practice, belong to the marginalized sector of society. An empowered indigenous cultural community is almost a contradiction. Indigenous peoples have no clout. They do not have the benefit of formal education. They are not always able to articulate their discontents and cannot directly influence policies that regulate their ways. The burden of the indigenous people is their identity. The burden of identity is self-assertion. To assert one’s self or one’s tribe is to self-determine their sense of place. They must establish themselves in a static location and show proof of this habitation. Customs that are handed down by oral literature and never put on paper or never etched in cave walls are ephemeral. Laws such as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of the Philippines are supposed to safeguard these rights. But even this law asks for concrete proof of ownership or claim, writ on paper, marked on ground. Tribes who learned to travel guided by the blow of the wind or the chirping of birds are lost in trying to find their boundaries.

Going indigenous is not a trend, it is a need (PCARRD, 1998), and environmental managers are slowly gaining acceptance of indigenous knowledge systems as the roadmap in protected areas. It just so happens that indigenous peoples, self-proclaimed original conservationists, get in the way of the “traditionally accepted” conservation measures. They are then to be sacrificed, displaced, and relocated. All the more because they are afraid of them. But who are they? Who’s afraid of indigenous peoples?

We should also ask why they are afraid of them. They are perhaps afraid of them because their education tells them so. Their education is higher than the know-how of a lowly native. Their ways are more “civilized”, more “humane.” This is the irony of knowledge. The better one knows, the more one knows nothing at all. Environmental managers are always after the best scientific and up-to-date information, not knowing that the knowledge they are going after is maybe as old as time itself, and that science is already ritualized in chants and meditations.

We are afraid of indigenous peoples because they occupy a large tract of productive lands, dwell in high-density forests, and fish in resource-rich waters. We see them as our competitors to the bounty of the environment.

We are afraid of indigenous peoples because we think our worldviews are superior to theirs. Our enlightened philosophies of capitalism and globalization are what makes us survive in the cutthroat world of supply and demand.

In the process of attaining their noble ends, do the BINGOs become the enemies of conservation themselves? Cultural diversity is not unrelated to biodiversity. The preservation of indigenous knowledge systems may hold the key to the identification of sustainable conservation practices. NGOs have strategized conservation to the point of commodifying conservation. Strategies sell, and the response of global transboundary conservation efforts is corporatization. NGOs tend to be fund-driven, and this makes them more readily responsive to outside priorities, or to their own priorities, than to local priorities (Eder and Fernandez, 1996). The global arena of the BINGOs is expanding to the point of elevating them as the new power player, a mega-stakeholder in the business of conservation. A new strain of David-and-Goliath syndrome is in-the-make.

Not giving indigenous peoples a chance to showcase their capacities for conservation is the major blunder of the BINGOs. In negating any heritage value or any non-marketable value of the unknown indigenous knowledge, we deprive the environment of fruitful conservation strategies. Dowie puts forward resource co-management as a possible solution to this conflict. The purist conservationist will learn to “compromise” with the indigenous settlers. Although a promising venture, Dowie still cautions about the uses and abuses of such schemes. Resource management is in itself already a compromise. The demands of capitalism will still push raw materials in the forefront of agenda. Men will still look after their interests.

Given the pervading paranoia of indigenous peoples and of what they are capable of, the ecocentric model will always be put forward as the strategia exemplar. Yet given the inhumanity of displacing the “enemies of conservation,” the ecocentric model will always be questioned as a valid construct. To illustrate this dichotomy, let us have a simple thought experiment called the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, developed in the field of quantum mechanics. A cat is put in a box with a radioactive substance. A measuring device which measures the amount of emitted radioactive material is attached to the box. When the measuring device tipped its scale, we are asked the question: Is the cat dead or alive? The paradox of the answer is that we will never know for sure unless we open the box and see for ourselves. The uncertainty lies in the observer not knowing the actual condition of the cat, and the act of observing actually contributes to the final outcome of knowing. Similarly, the old conservation model demands a state where the environment is free from any human intervention, and that any occupant (indigenous people) we place in it (or already in it) will surely degrade the closed system. But we are not even sure. The truth is that the occupant will both degrade the system and not degrade the system. We will only ever know the truth or falsity of our assumption when we open the box.

The problem with the present conservation model is its inherent bias against any occupant of a protected area. The pre-existing ethnocentric model, which is challenged by the BINGOs and extractive industries, may well prove to be the key to resolving the paradox: leaving the cat be, abandon the experiment.

If it is a question of compatibility of biological diversity and of human rights, then the argument is settled. Human rights and biodiversity enhance each other. They sustain both the diversity and welfare of man and other living things. Life support systems are respected when human rights are respected.

Maybe the solution that we are all striving for is the null hypothesis. Let us try to leave the tribes in their sanctuaries. That is probably the only way that such a place will truly be called a sanctuary. Maybe that is the only viable way to protect a protected area.

“Conservation refugees” is a strong term and its usage reflects the discontents of the times. For a moment then, let us be guilty of dangerous words, characteristic vocabulary of post-9-11 era. Indigenous warfare, weapons of mass extinction, ethnic racism, eco-terrorism, ethno-terrorism. Let us focus our attention on the latter two words. Ethno-terrorism may be defined as any serious harm dealt with an indigenous person or an indigenous cultural community. Eco-terrorism, on the other hand, is any serious harm dealt with the environment, the downgrading or reversal of its ambient quality or the further debilitation of a degraded environment. Eco-terrorism is exemplified by the irresponsible extractive activities of those in power: transnational corporations, big mining who disguised themselves as small-scale operators, public officials who invested in uprooting mangroves and cultivating fishponds in their place. It can be argued that eco-terrorism is a form of ethno-terrorism. They have the same effect in the long run because the destruction of wilderness habitats destroys the lives of indigenous peoples living in them. The subtlety of ethno-terrorism is that, in the guise of environmental protection, it has become accepted. Either it can not be easily detected or it can be tolerated by those who know of it. In some cases it is upheld, in most cases it is justified.

In Palawan, traditional ancestral zones (TAZ) are recognized as one of the zones in environmentally critical areas network (ECAN), the main strategy of Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act. In tribal ancestral zones, as well as in core zones, traditional activities of indigenous peoples such as almaciga-tapping and honey-gathering are allowed. A memorandum of agreement between the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), the implementing agency of SEP, and National Council for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the implementing agency of IPRA, is being negotiated to iron out gaps between the ECAN and ancestral domain claims delineation.

Since the promulgation of IPRA, there have been success stories such as that of Tagbanwa in Coron, Palawan, who were able to obtain their certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT). The Tagbanwas are able to apply for a CADT through the lengthy process outlined in the law. Their awarded claim covers not only two islands, Coron and Delian, but a substantial portion of ancestral waters as well. Their success, however, can be mainly attributed to outside help coming from an NGO, the Philippine Association for Intercultural Development (PAFID).

The Coron CADC is a rare case. History has proven, and is still proving, that the recognition of ancestral domains in the Philippines is taboo. The root of the problem lies in the intrinsic contradiction of Philippine legal system of land ownership, a Western-based system, with the customary laws of indigenous peoples (Molintas, 2004). IPRA is admittedly one of the best things that happen to the indigenous peoples for a long time, but it is far from perfect. Undermining its provisions are several laws like the Mining Act of 1995. The 1992 National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), also a Western concept, has some provisions on the recognition of indigenous rights. Section 13 clearly states:

Ancestral lands and customary rights and interest arising shall be accorded due recognition. The DENR shall prescribe rules and regulations to govern ancestral lands within protected areas: Provided, That the DENR shall have no power to evict indigenous communities from their present occupancy nor resettle them to another area without their consent: Provided, however, That all rules and regulations, whether adversely affecting said communities or not, shall be subjected to notice and hearing to be participated in by members of concerned indigenous community.

The free and prior informed consent (FPIC) is already outlined here prior to the promulgation of IPRA in 1997. Any transaction of a project proponent with an indigenous cultural community prescribes the securing of FPIC. The negotiating table, however, has offered many variations on psychological manipulation and tactics. The battle for FPIC can be said to have produced two distinct breeds of indigenous peoples: the pan-tribal group and the quasi-indigenous group. The former refers to the group of people who have tried to adapt to outside intervention (usually the state through state-sponsored laws such as IPRA) and the whims of political will. McDermott (2000) suggests that their emergence is inevitable and it may lead positively to the consolidation of efforts of indigenous community, thereby uniting them. However, this can also be interpreted as a negative triumph, because the indigenous peoples are subsuming themselves under the jurisdiction of laws that are strange to them. The deculturation process is also inevitable when they start negotiating as political players.

The latter kind of indigenous peoples, the quasi-indigenous group, are not really a legitimate group of indigenous peoples. They may only be migrants who proffered themselves as natives of the land for any political or economic benefits they may get from meddling in the issue. Quasi-indigenous groups, in a way, also have some rights, but these are not as valid or as paramount as the rights of the true indigenous groups.

The emergence of other kinds of indigenous peoples is indicative of their evolving modern predicament. At the fundamental level, they seek more than recognition. They seek more than being given the tenurial instrument to their land and waters. They want, ultimately, to be understood. So that no entity, conservationist or extractive, will ever be afraid of them.

*The link is to an abridged version of the original article. 


Eder, J. F., and J. O. Fernandez (Eds.). 1996. Palawan at the crossroads: Development and the environment on a Philippine frontier. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 170p.

McDermott, M. H. 2000. Boundaries and pathways: Indigenous identity, ancestral domain, and forest use in Palawan, the Philippines. Ph.D. dissertation. University of California, Berkeley. 413p.

Molintas, J. M. 2004. The Philippine indigenous people's struggle for land and life: Challenging legal texts. Arizona Journal of International & Comparative Law 21: 269-306.

Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources (PCARRD). 1998. People, earth and culture (Readings in indigenous knowledge systems on biodiversity management and utilization). Los Baños, Laguna: PCARRD – NCCA. 303pp.

Republic Act No. 7586. National Integrated Protected Areas Act of 1992.