News Commentary

A lifeline for the Dumagats

Deejae Dumlao - Philstar.com
A lifeline for the Dumagats
Early morning in Sitio San Ysiro in Antipolo, Rizal on Feb. 13, 2021.
Philstar.com/Deejae Dumlao

MANILA, Philippines — At the foot of Sierra Madre, in the remote sitio of San Ysiro in Antipolo, Rizal, lies the settlement of a Dumagat-Remontado community. 

The community remains dependent on resources provided by the surrounding land and mountains as it is with their way of life. 

Logging and other extractive practices threaten these natural resources but the community now hopes for the rehabilitation and preservation of their ancestral land.

The Dumagat-Remontados community in Barangay San Jose received their Certification of Ancestral Domain title from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in 2017. The domain includes Sitio San Ysiro, a part of the South Sierra Madre, including the forests and inland bodies of water in it.

Under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997, the government is mandated to support and uphold the rights of IP communities over their ancestral domain.

"No matter how difficult our way of life is, we would want to preserve it as it is what we are accustomed to," says Ernesto Dorroteo, chieftain of the Dumagat-Remontados in Sitio San Ysiro. "We're survivors after all." 

Dorroteo witnessed how surrounding forests were destroyed in the 1980s and 1990s and said he felt powerless to stop the illegal logging.

"I was so sad to see the illegal logging. So many big trees disappeared so quickly," says Dorroteo. "We saw the soldiers with the illegal loggers, so who could we turn to?"

Through the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a large-scale reforestation effort kicked off in San Ysiro in 2012 for the rehabilitation of the upper Marikina watershed that encompasses 26,125 hectares of land. 

However, trees planted through the five-year greening program were not taken care of, says Dorroteo. "Even when they planted and planted—they planted for nearly five years—nothing happened. After they planted, they didn't visit the seedlings to check," he says of the DENR.

In 2019, talks with Haribon Foundation began for a five-year reforestation project covering 100 hectares of the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape.

Along with non-profit organizations and volunteer groups such as the Foundation for the Philippine Environment and RAK PH mountaineers, Ernesto and the Dumagat-Remontados seek to breathe new life to to the forests around San Ysiro.

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