Text by Rezza Mae B. Tolinero and Mary Antoinette M. Magallanes / Photos by Anthony Jacob C. Karagdag
It takes bumpy and muddy roads, not to mention the dirt and dust embracing your face in roughly four hours of travel from Cagayan de Oro City passing through Lumbia to reach Miarayon. But these inconveniences fade the moment you witness the majestic mountain ranges wrapping Miarayon—the sound of river tickling your ear, the freezing air kissing your skin and the warm welcome of the community.
Sneak peek at the peak
“Sometimes, some of the strangers are afraid to go in this place because of the story about killings. But when they try to go in this place, they will realize that Miarayon is not a community where the killers and murderers live; but a place for everyone who are good,” testifies Christian Baya-on, a fourth year high school student of St. Therese School of Miarayon in his essay, “Miaryon Nature of Beauty.”
A far-flung area with unpleasant stories being told, Miarayon was noted to be unsafe for the people living in the lowlands. What is yet unveiled in this place is the peace engulfing the barangay, nestled between the two mountain ranges: Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Kitanglad. Of the six barangays comprising the Miarayon-Lapok-Lirongan-Tinaytayan Tribal Association (MILALITTRA), Barangay Miarayon has the largest area, with approximately 3,807 hectares and approximately 2500 households.
In Miarayon, a horse in the garden is normal, to ask for broccoli in the neighborhood is normal and to access cool and clean drinking water is normal. One should get used to seeing people in the tribe smiling at whoever they meet halfway. They even offer by-passers to share with them their tasty local coffee rich in aroma.
Miarayon has less access to technological devices. Instead of cellular phones, they have transceiver also known as walkie-talkie which the roving guards use to contact their colleagues. People do not tweet, but birds do. They do not share posts too but will gladly share vegetables instead. People from the urban area may have FarmVilles but people in Miarayon have real farms to till. Urban areas may have carousels while Miarayon has horses to take them to far places.
(RELATED READ: How Northern Mindanao values ecosystem services together)
Hike for better life
Every normal day in Miarayon is a hike; not just a hike on the mountains but a hike for knowledge, for fairness and for better life.
Undoubtedly, Miarayon is a place of bounty. Calla lilies, potatoes, cabbages, coffees, and carrots among others are what they can offer to the market. In fact, they are particular in high value crops. With these, you can insert oversimplification and conclude that they get high earnings with their products. Ideally, this is supposedly true but in reality, the middleman declares the price and the farmers have no choice but to compromise and agree with the middlemen. The lack of knowledge on business management is a major factor in this unequal flow of resources.
For instance, flower vendors in CDO Metropolitan Church sell the well-known product of Miarayon—the calla lilies—for Php10.00 a piece. However, these flowers are being sold in Miarayon for Php10.00 to Php12.00 a dozen by the locals!
“Ang middlemen de-sakyanan na, pero kami nga mga magbubukid, gabaklay lang gihapon (The middlemen have cars already while we, the farmers, still hike),” shares Datu Dungkoan “Rio” Besto, the chairman of MILALITTRA.
Datu Dungkoan admits the lack of technological advancements in their place limits the processing of their goods. He cites that if only they have the facilities to process the carrots into carrot juices then they do not have to sell the whole harvest to the middlemen from which he can envision higher earnings that they deserve.
(RELATED READ: Protecting Mt. Kalatungan from top to bottom)
Mountains couldn’t echo their needs
Mountains could echo the tribe’s voices but it would not be good enough; mountains can lead the tribe at the peak but for their rights it could never speak.
Although Datu Dungkoan opens up that it would be better if the local government and agencies could address their needs, particularly providing facilities to help them process their products. This way, they could utilize their products even more and could sell them directly to the buyers.
Aside from the need of facilities, the lack of technologies hinders the tribe from improving their economy. Datu Dungkoan thinks that providing the barangay with facilities is never enough if they do not have the knowledge of using them. Thus, the essence of learning is a priceless thing for them. Seminars and lectures for the farmers are definitely appreciated if only the mountains are never too far for other people to initiate learning efforts for the Talaandig tribe.
Education in the barangay is highly valuable. May it be for the farmers or the students, they should be aware and be more informed with what is essential for them. The barangay has several elementary schools nearby but only one high school exist, which is a private one. It is either they have to pay the tuition fees or drop their schooling at the secondary level.
As of now, computers are not even formally introduced to them. Having their place far from modern technologies, the people in Miarayon hope that they are not far from the hearts of the people who could possibly address their needs. Education offers a longer solution to existing problems in the community. Having more efficient and equipped students could offer Miarayon the much-needed lift for their tribe.
Aside from the mesmerizing sceneries and captivating culture of Miarayon, numerous environmental problems have emerged posing serious threats to the sustainability of the forests.
Over the years, forest degradation has consistently landed in the top ecological problems concerning the woodlands in Bukidnon. According to a research conducted by Balsa (Bulwag alang sa) Mindanao, only 25 percent of the forest is left in Bukidnon as the loggers have taken most of the trees in the Talakag-Bukidnon rainforest. Continuing degradation of the forest was attributed on illegal logging, illegal occupancy and land use abuses.
Despite being geographically distant from CDO, there is a special connection between Miayaron and Cagayan de Oro, which forms as a catch basin of the headwater tributaries from the highlands. Consequently, at a least expected time, Mindanao experienced the harsh backfire of Mother Nature. In December 2011, the wrath of Typhoon Sendong struck, with Cagayan de Oro suffering the most devastation.
Environmental advocates in Northern Mindanao have constantly expressed their concern in ensuring the sustainability of the environment and protecting it from further degradation. The massive disaster in the city brought about by Tropical Storm Sendong (Washi) has prompted the government and other institutions, as well as the locals to finally craft sustainable and long-term solutions to address climate risk reduction and environmental degradation, not only in the city but also from where the flood water roots.
Hence, the Payment for Ecological Services (PES) project was born.
Managed by the Xavier Science Foundation (XSF), the PES project primarily aims to rehabilitate the forests in the upland areas so as to provide continuous supply of potable water to Cagayan de Oro and ensure low flood probabilities in the locality.
It has been found out that prior to the Sendong tragedy, a heavy deluge of rain started in the mountains of Bukidnon and Lanao. Since there are few trees left in the watershed to retain the water, mud and stones came rushing down to Cagayan de Oro during downpour.
“Its [PES project] goals are to provide adequate water supply and then to control or minimize the natural disasters here in Cagayan de Oro,” explains Anne Mejares, PES technical coordinator.
The PES project encourages various stakeholders and buyers from different sectors to partake in a “paying scheme” to recuperate denuded forests of Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Kitanglad. Payments acquired in the project will be forwarded to MILALITTRA which will be used to realize their Community Development Plan (CDP).
Having locals who maintain and supervise the reforestation in the area, the project also intends to reward and provide additional income to these indigenous people communities for protecting and ensuring the sustainability of the forests.
The Talaandig tribe in Miarayon, Bukidnon is more than willing to offer their services for the benefit of the bigger community. In fact, the tribe has committed 832 hectares of their land for reforestation while another 816 hectares is allotted for agroforestry.
Aside from the partnership of the highland communities and the low-lying areas, the social marketing arm of the PES program also ensures cooperation of the people in the locality. This coming November 4-7, the social marketing team is about to launch a promotional streak dubbed as “Valuing Ecosystem Services Together (VEST)” which will endorse the project to the public and encourage stakeholders such as the corporations, cooperatives, religious groups, academic institutions and households in the city.
Even before the official launching, the project already received an overwhelming support from different organizations. Different cooperatives have pledged their financial support to this project.
However, being a stakeholder of this project is not only limited to big corporations or cooperatives nor to high-priced monetary payments. Payments are of any amount and in-kind contributions for the project can also be greatly accepted. So, if you are an average Kagay-anon or a typical student, you can also take part in this program. You can buy seedlings for reforestation or you can also encourage your barkada to do the same.
To ensure the value of the stakeholder’s contributions, a regular monitoring of the development of the project will be done. The XSF will also provide a performance report for the buyers and stakeholders.
Under the PES project, over 170 Bantay Lasang Volunteers or “forest guards” have been entrusted to protect and sustain the development of Mt. Kalatungan. As forest guards, they are rewarded with cash or with development projects in compensation of their services for the environment. However, there is more to just receiving a reward.
“Ang kinabuhi sa tribo naa sa kalasangan so katungod namo nga panalipdan kini (The life of our tribe depends on the forest so it is our responsibility to take care of it),” says Datu Rio.
More than earning an extra income for their living, the locals of Miarayon perceive the protection and maintenance of the forests as something sacred and important. For them, the forest is their source of living, their worship place, their home, their life. The forest is the home of their culture, their ancestors and the kingdom of their Supreme Being, Magbabaya.
“Nagtu-o man gud mi nga ang kalasangan diha among simbahan kay diha man mi ga perform sa among rituals (We believe that the forest is our worship area where we perform our rituals),” says Datu Rio.
“Ug wala’y lasang, wala’y tribo (And no more forest means no more tribe),” he added.
The exploitation of the two giant mountains in Bukidnon has consequently propelled a cruel backfire to the whole Cagayan community in the face of Typhoon Sendong. Valuing the environment has really become a hard-earned lesson for the Kagay-anons. Lives were lost and properties were damaged all due to the disregard and abuse of the environment.
With PES and other institutional efforts, the tougher challenge now is how YOU can help and when to start doing it.