Elders of the Kayasan ancestral domain in Barangay Cabayugan. In the back, the karst formations of the Puerto Princesa Underground River can be seen.

Debt, including “debt of gratitude” and some small luxuries – these are among the reasons that drive some members of the indigenous peoples (IPs) community inside the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), which is a  protected area, to over-extract and deplete their supply of Almaciga resin, prompting their elders to call for a temporary stop on resin gathering.

The resin, a valuable raw material extracted from the bark of the almaciga tree, is being purchased from the gatherers by middlemen for as low as P26 per kilo, which will then be resold to manufacturers, buyers, or processors at much higher prices. It is extracted from the Almaciga tree, a species native to the Philippines, by cutting the bark and letting the sap harden into resin.

Former indigenous persons mandatory representative (IPMR) Vilma Aguilar speaking during a community meeting.

According to a recent inventory made by park rangers and the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), a total of 1,138 sacks of Almaciga resin was gathered by IPs of Sitio Kayasan in Barangay Cabayugan, an ancestral domain within the PPSRNP. The sacks are now put on hold from being sold to middlemen because the IPs did the gathering without renewed gathering permits and may face environmental violation charges for collecting beyond their quota.

A survey in the park’s grounds by the park management team also found Almaciga trees in bad shape, having been carved too many times in order to extract resin.

Because of this discovery, the elders of the Kayasan IPs wrote a letter to the PAMB requesting the temporary ban on Almaciga gathering. They stated that as part of the IP community’s commitment to protect the natural biodversity of their area, gatherers are only allowed to collect five sacks of resin every gathering season. They explained that if the resin tappings were to continue uncontrolled and unmonitored, it would be the end of their livelihood as resin gatherers.

Former Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) Vilma Aguilar explained in a community meeting held on March 31 that this is not the time to point fingers as to why so many sacks of resin were collected. However, she urged her constituents to remember why they are only allowed to collect five sacks per gatherer because of their Ancestral Domain Management Plan (ADMP).

PPSRNP park superintendent Elizabeth Maclang showing the letter written to the PAMB about the elders’ call to temporarily stop Almaciga resin gathering inside the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

“Alalahanin natin na tayo rin naman ang gumawa ng ganitong patakaran. Tayo ang nangako kaya huwag na tayong hindi sumunod. Para naman sa atin ito at sa mga anak natin. Ngayon, kung hahayaan na lang natin na ganito tayo, wala namang mga luho ang kailangan. Wala nang mga singsing, hikaw, makeup, kasi nga essentials na lang ang kailangan. Kaya bakit pa ba tayo hindi susunod,” she said in her speech.

The elders proposed that the community should focus on rattan gathering for the meantime while the Almaciga trees heal and propagate, since the gatherers still have active permits for rattan gathering.

A three-day survey led by park superintendent Beth Maclang in the ancestral lands also found almaciga trees that had too many slits and exposed barks. Maclang’s team also spotted young Almaciga trees with barks already carved and resin flowing for collection. These put the trees at risk of dying from fungal infections.

Maclang, who was also at the meeting, presented her findings as well.

Lack of laws policing middlemen

According to experts on the trade, Palawan is the largest producer of Almaciga resin in the country. Almaciga resin is also one of the largest-earning NTFPs in the country. Many indigenous groups – Batak, Tagbanua, and Palaw’an – rely on resin gathering for supplemental income. 

In the Almaciga resin trade, it is the gatherers who are highly policed because only they are given permits to collect non-timber forest products (NTFPs) within their ancestral lands. The gatherers are also all required to declare their gatherings to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  The middlemen, called “kapatas,” usually carry a document stating that the IPs have authorized them to buy their products. However, there are no existing laws that regulate how much the kapatas should pay for the gathered resin.

All members of the community, such as mothers and their children, attended the community meeting.

“Usually, mayroon lang na hawak ng mga kapatas ay community resolution o special power of attorney, at madalas sila pa ang mga lumalakad ng mga ito sa DENR para ‘di na kailangang bumaba ng bundok ang mga IP, o kaya hirap sila dahil ang iba limited ang knowledge. Pero walang regulation talaga sa kung magkano nila puwedeng bilhin ang Almaciga [resin],” said forester Kitt Cutay, who attended the meeting of the DENR Community Environment and Natural resources Office (CENRO).

Thus, some kapatas use this loophole to their advantage by paying the lowest possible buying price to the gatherers. Some even take this further by giving “advances” to the gatherers. This may be in the form of cash or in material objects such as canned food, cigarettes, or alcohol. Sometimes, it can just be “utang na loob” for providing help to IPs in dire need.

“Madalas ay nabobola sila talaga ng mga middlemen kaya nagkakaroon sila ng utang na loob. Hindi na tuloy sila nakakahanap ng mga ibang kapatas na mas maganda ang buying price. At ang mga katutubo ay unti-unti nang nagkakaroon ng mga pangangailangan katulad ng mga motor, lalo na at malayo ang kanilang mga lalakarin,” said Maclang.

There are also no laws that dictate how much a kapatas can sell their purchased resin to their “buyer,” who are usually dealing with NTFP selling or processing. Maclang also urged the gatherers to instead sell directly to these buyers.

“Ito ay para sa inyo na ang benefits at hindi na mapupunta sa iba. ‘Yong mga na-gather ninyo na 1,138 sacks, huwag na idaan sa kapatas,” she added.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.