My blog's new image header is a photo of Balbalasang which I took in 1995 as part of my documentation for my undergrad thesis on the Bodong (peace pact) as practiced by the Banao tribe, dubbed "the most peaceful tribe in Kalinga." The Banao tribal territory is home not only to the province's cleanest river, Saltan, but also to one of the country's 38 national parks, the 1,338-hectare Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP).
As more and more local and foreign tourists experience what I call the "Balbalasang Mystique," this village is gradually becoming a worthy rival of both Sagada and Banaue [see related article here] as a tourist mecca in Northern Philippines.
Personally though, my primary concern is not about Balbalasang's becoming the top tourist destination in the Cordillera. In the first place, I don't think there is a need for competition because all the tourist spots in the region have their own unique allure. What we need is to encourage sharing of best practices among various stakeholders in the care of our remaining forest reserves.
What I'm more interested in is how the Banao tribe will be able to sustain its communal strategy in balancing socio-economic development and environmental preservation. Showcasing the richness of ethnic/cultural heritage and natural resources without commodifying them is a tough call. I sometimes wonder if it is at all possible for us to promote the Balbalasang Mystique and at the same time avoid burying that mystique under a load of grave mistakes that crass commercialization engenders. But if the Sagadanians and the people of Palawan have managed to keep the beauty of their environs even in the face of ceaseless tourist influx, maybe the Ibvyanaos can do the same across the next decades.
Presently, the community-based forest and wildlife management of the BBNP has been a much-lauded effort. This is attested to by the following excerpts from two reports made in 2003 by the the DENR's research and development arm, Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB):
An inventory of the mammals of Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP) in Kalinga Province, Luzon conducted in 2000, 2001, and 2003 documented the presence of 31 species, including 12 species of bats, one insectivore, two non-native pest rodents, 12 native rodents, and four large mammals. The two species of non-native rodent pests were found only in agricultural habitats and in town. Sampling was conducted at six locations from 925 m to 2,150 m, in habitats ranging from agricultural areas, pine forest, and lower montane forest to lower mossy forest. We found that bat species richness decreased slightly with increasing elevation, but species richness of native small mammals (shrews plus rodents) increased. Ten species of non-flying mammals were recorded at 1,950 m and 2,150 m, representing the highest species richness documented at a single location in the Philippines. Many of the small mammals represented species and genera that are endemic to the Central Cordillera of Luzon. Though some remained poorly known, it is likely that all of the species in the area were represented by large and stable populations, due to the highly successful traditional forest and wildlife management practices of the local Banao community. Even large mammals such as deer and wildpigs were common due to careful local management. Future conservation efforts should reinforce this successful, traditional management.*
We provide information on the amphibians and reptiles of Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP) based on field surveys we conducted on several localities in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2003. We recorded a total of 51 species of amphibians and reptiles from the area. Baseline data on species richness, habitat and altitudinal distribution, and natural history are presented. The nerpetofauna exhibited high levels of endemicity and included at least 13 species that are potentially new to science (nine frogs of the genus Platymantis, three scincoid lizards of the genus Sphenomorphus, and one snake). We suspected that additional species await discovery after more thorough inventories have been completed especially targeting the low elevation forests of these vast mountain ranges. part from these exciting new discoveries, another significant outcome of our survey work is the rediscovery of five "lost species" from the Cordillera Central mountain range including Platymantis cornuta, Rana igorota, and Sphenomorphus luzonensis, all of which have been considered previously as either rare of in the verge of extinction. Our data suggest that these species are fairly common within the national park. We provide accounts for these species and point out possible new areas of biological studies. The high species richness and endemism of the herpetofauna of BBNP is an indication of the overall excellent condition of its forests.**
Below are some of my shots on various sceneries in the Banao area in 1995:
1st Photo: "Most Peaceful Tribe" Marker
Last Photo: Deer domesticated by former Barangay Captain Brent Banganan & family
* Lawrence R. Heaney, et al. "Preliminary Report on the Mammals of Balbalasang, Kalinga Province, Luzon." Available, http://erdb.denr.gov.ph/pub_det.php?j=4&pub=sylvatrop. Accessed, 20 Apr 2008.
** Arvin C. Diesmos, et al. "Preliminary Report on the amphibians and Reptiles of Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park, Luzon Island, Philippines." Available, http://erdb.denr.gov.ph/pub_det.php?j=4&pub=sylvatrop. Accessed, 20 Apr 2008.