Three Stories of Drought and an Analysis

Here, instead of a linear narrative, I follow the unrestrained telling of my informants, which skips back and forth in time, and blends the past and present together. These are three narratives from Mâ Ungkal, Wè Jenita, and Mâ Eko that I collected on three different occasions. Mâ Ungkal’s testimony of a childhood disaster came from an informal interview, Wè Jenita’s was an exchange over morning coffee, and Mâ Eko’s was from a free-flowing conversation over Tanduay, the local rum.

Mâ Ungkal’s Story

Mâ Ungkal was about the same age as my late grandmother. I first saw him at the but bnek (Tboli planting ritual) that I attended in March of 2015. He told us stories of how they did the ritual and the planting of upland rice in the 1960s. That day in 2015, he had a smile that was reflective and nostalgic of memories of friends and families in the long gone past. Today, we met him in his house. He was squatting on his legs while expertly twining ropes. There’s still strength in his arms, I thought. We went inside his house, and his daughter, who I guessed was in her early 40s, offered us coffee. Jenita explained to him that I wanted to interview him for my research. He looked at me inquisitively with his dim eyes, and I recalled the exact same way my own grandmother would look at me behind her cataracts. I asked if I can interview him, and explained that I first heard his stories at the but bnek ritual in 2015. Wè Jenita Eko was my translator. She translated everything I said, passing messages between me and Mâ Ungkal.

I asked him if he had any experience of severe drought when he was still young. He answered yes, and he estimated his age by pointing to a neighbor’s child. He was around 12 years old. He recalled to us a drought so severe that people died in Klubi. He described that the sun was “sut kdaw hulo” (the sun was red), and “ëmën klikam” (like the red design of the traditional bed canopy). When the rain stopped falling, he said that it only took 5 months before all the plants dried up and famine ravaged the land. The drought lasted for 10 months. They had to go to the forests to look for the biking, a kind of rootcrop that crawls on the forest floor. Mâ Ungkal explained that one must look for the roots of the crawling biking, and dig for about 5 meters from it before finally reaching the prized fleshy part of the tubers. He said that a single plant sustained them for a month. 

I was curious about his age. I tried to infer the year of this drought, so I asked if he ever encountered the Japanese when he was young. Yes, he said. He was already around 20 years old when the Japanese passed the mountains of Daguma in Lësok, a valley near Datal Sboyun. He even said that he was the one tasked by the Japanese soldiers to get them cows to eat. The soldiers only stayed for 5 days, he said, since they were on their way to the mohin bong, or sea, of Kiamba.

I told Ma Ungkal that I heard him tell the story of Sélél when we were at the but bnek ritual, l asked if he can expound on this. He explained that it is the name of a star used to determine the time of t’miba (fallow burning) and rice planting. He said that when it appears in the night sky, the fak tahu (edible frogs) would also appear, announcing t’miba. Sélél was a man, the first farmer who was knowledgeable in the arts of agriculture. Ma Ungkal said that one day, Sélél said to his people that he no longer wants to be on this tonok (earth), and wishes to ascend to longit. Before he went up to the sky, he instructed all the people in the ways of farming and told them never to worry, and to look for him in the night sky. From then, he will be the one who will tell them when to plant. He also left the people with the buli plant (lima beans), and said that when the buli starts to bear fruits, it is also the time to plant rice. He added that Sélél was fond of drinking lëwag (traditional wine made from sugar cane), since he was the man who invented it. When he ascended to heaven, he brought with him this wine. The old people say that when he throws out the last dregs of wine from his sokong (container), many people on earth would get sick.

We ended our conversation with this story of Sélél. But his daughter asked me if I could take a photo of Mâ Ungkal. She said that they don’t have a single picture of their father. I said, of course, it would be a great honor to do this. After taking pictures of Mâ Ungkal and his family, we went back to Jenita’s house in Lëmkwa. On our way to Lëmkwa, my mind was still wandering in distant lands, and in the long gone past, when men ascended to heaven with their wine cups full, and the trees have names that we must discover. (7 February 2017)

Wè Jenita’s Story

I am writing this from memory, and as often happens with memory, the borders of recollection are sometimes shrouded with the dark shadows of doubtful remembering. When this story was told by Wè Jenita, I had not the time to record the conversation and the narrated events may not follow the chronology in which they were narrated. In a sense, this is my story of her story.

I have just arrived in Klubi. I have not unpacked my bags yet, and they sit idly on the corner of the cottage where my hosts receive their guests. I was offered a cup of coffee by Jenita, freshly ground from the family’s wooden mortar. By this time, we have told so many personal and intimate stories to each other that we were no longer in a host-guest relationship. The relationship we shared was already that of a sister-brother bond. She asked to be called Jen, the honorific given to a sister or friend.

My mind was still reeling from the scenes of drought and misery that I saw going up to Klubi: the dry and parched vista from Davao to South Cotabato, hectares of farmlands made brown and idle, farmers protesting for food. I described these scenes to Jenita and later asked how the weather has been for the past months in Klubi. Wè Jen answered that it has not rained since last year, and many of the people are already afraid that if the drought continues, more will suffer.

Wè Jen then narrated how the elders came to her one day, worried that the rain had not fallen for months. They have not been able to plant rice, they told Jenita, and the corn they managed to plant have all dried up. “The radioman said that if this continues until September, we would all die.”

Wè Jen then told me that one of the elders who approached her recalled a question that I asked during a focus group discussion I conducted with them in 2013. “Do you remember that friend of yours from Ateneo? He asked us if we have ever experienced a drought here before. That night, we said that the last time it happened, it was our grandparents who experienced the long drought. But look what is happening now. Those who are school-educated must really know that things like this would come.” Jenita assured the elders that it was purely coincidental. I have to admit that this made me a little uncomfortable and even caused me to question the process I used that night when I conducted the FGD. Perhaps I asked the wrong question, consumed by an amateurish enthusiasm in the field? Perhaps my sporadic comings-and-goings in the community gave the wrong impression amongs the elders? How can I tell them that I am also uncertain of the future even with my formal education?

Wè Jen continued to talk about her conversation with the elders. One of the elders disclosed that he had already performed the melem éhék, a ritual to call the rain, where a sharpening stone or éhék is placed in the river or stream while offerings and supplications are given to the spirits and D’wata. The symbolization, according to Wè Jen, is that a sharpening stone always feels cool and becomes wet when used. The coolness and wetness of the stone symbolize rain. But the ritual, according to the elder, did not help in their predicament. The rain did not come.

The elders were worried. “This has never happened here before. The stream that runs from Datal Sboyun has dried up in many places, but flowing in others. It is a bad sign from the fu (owner) of the stream,” said one elder.

“It has only been a year after we revived the but bnek ritual, and the li-i (taboo) of the ritual is that we should continue doing it in every planting cycle. But how can we do it this year when it hasn’t rained sufficiently for our crops? Even if the upland rice does not require water irrigation, it still needs the usual morning rain coming from the mountains,” Wè Jen said. “Nice, my sister, tried to plant rice early this month. It was just in a small plot, but the seedlings just dried up. What a waste.”

My coffee has turned cold, and it was time for us to prepare lunch. “I was greeted by Klubi with this heavy news, but let us pray for the best,” I told Wè Jen, bringing the coffee mugs to the kitchen sink. “Don’t worry, we lumads are survivors,” she answered with a smile. But my heart was still heavy, and the land still parched.  (10 April 2016)

Mâ Eko’s Story

It was a cold night, fog has rolled down from the mountains, and we were huddled in the gono bong, the longhouse constructed for the women weavers in Klubi. The men were in one corner, while opposite them sat the women.

Mâ Eko spoke:

Noong araw, nagkaroon ng bagyo dito sa Klubi, walang natirang bahay. Ang mga tao noon nagbahay-bahay nalang muna sa kweba, para makaiwas sa lakas ng hangin.

Sa aming mga Tboli, ang palatandaan noon sa lakas ng hangin ay ang mga halamang-ugat, ang mga gabi, kamote at kamoteng kahoy, dahil kahit gaano kalakas ng hangin, di dapat yan natatanggal. Yung hangin noong bagyo, tinangay at dinala ang mga halamang-ugat sa Lake Seloton; Natanggal ang mga gabi. Ilang taon ito bago mag-1957. Walong araw na ganoon kalakas ang hangin.

Pagkatapos noong bagyo, walong buwan din ang tindi ng araw. Tagtuyo. Namatay ang lahat ng tanim sa loob ng walong buwan. Noong grabe ang tag-init, lahat ng mga baboy-ramo bumaba na rin sa patag, pinapatay ng mga tao para mabuhay sila at makain ang mga ito. Yung tribo, umasa sa mga baboy-ramo noong tagtuyo. Ni walang tubig, nag-iigib lamang sa Lake Siluton para makakuha ng tubig ang mga tao. Walang mga halamang-ugat, karne lang ang kinakain at wala nang iba pa. Umiiyak ang mga tao, humihingi ng tulong sa mga diwata. (29 March 2013)

(There was a time when a typhoon hit Klubi. The houses were decimated. The people lived temporarily in the caves to get away from the strong wind.

For us Tboli, one sign that the wind is indeed strong is to look at the rootcrops, the yam, the sweet potato, and the cassava. No matter how strong the winds are, these plants stay rooted. But during that typhoon, the rootcrops were even uprooted and blown away to Lake Seloton. This happened several years before 1957. The winds lasted for eight days.

After the typhoon, there was eight months of drought. All the plants died in eight months. During that drought, all the wild boars came down from the forests to the plains, and the people hunted them for food. The tribe subsisted on the wild boars. There was no water to drink here. We would go down to Lake Seloton to get water. There were no rootcrops, just the meat from the wild boars, nothing else. People were crying, pleading the spirits.)

Stories as Climate and Social Markers

Every place has a climate story to tell. A climate event like a slow-onset drought, as experienced by the Tboli in Lake Sebu from 2015 to 2016, will certainly be expressed in the narratives of the people who experienced it. The stories of Mâ Ungkal, Wè Jen, and Mâ Eko, are such personal intimations of different drought events in Klubi expressed in different modes of telling. Although these stories tell of different narrated events, each captures the richness and nuances of the experience, and accommodates the ambiguity and complexity of the teller’s situation in the multiplicity of meanings.

While quantitative models can paint the bigger picture of climate change, and provide estimates for the likely consequences of different future climatological scenarios, they are not very good at providing information about changes at the local level. In recent years, there has been an increasing realization that indigenous communities are a valuable source of this information. Most published reports on indigenous observations of climate changes have come from Arctic and coastal regions where the cooperation between scientists and indigenous peoples are strongest. However, it is not only in these regions that indigenous peoples are observing climate changes. Forest-dependent peoples and communities in forest fringes have also been feeling the impacts of climate change, as the stories of Mâ Ungkal, Wè Jen, and Mâ Eko prove.

Indigenous and other traditional peoples are only rarely considered in academic, policy, and public discourses on climate change despite the fact that they are, and continue to be, greatly impacted by impending changes. Their livelihoods depend on natural resources that are directly affected by climate change, and they often inhabit economically and politically marginal areas in diverse, but fragile ecosystems. Symptomatic of the neglect of indigenous peoples, the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report summary on climate change impacts makes only scarce mention of indigenous peoples. Only the indigenous communities of polar regions were featured in the report summary, and even then, they were depicted merely as helpless victims of changes beyond their control. Another Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the mitigation of climate change does not consider the role of indigenous peoples. This view of indigenous peoples as passive and helpless at best, or obstructionist and destructive at worst, is not new. Its roots go back to colonial periods, and reoccurs in contemporary discussion of development, conservation, indigenous rights, and indigenous knowledge. In addition, indigenous peoples interpret and react to climate change impacts in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge, as well as new technologies, to find solutions, which may help lowland and coastal communities to cope with the impending changes.

Stories about climate crises that are shared among members of the communities are revelatory narratives in the sense that these stories reveal the uncertainties, fears, and assumptions of the people telling them. These stories also reveal their vulnerability and responses to these climate crises. The stories also contain the teller’s worldview, intertextualized and interwoven with the stories that exist within the teller’s specific culture. These stories are made unique by the content, style, and structure of the telling. In my re-told stories of Mâ Ungkal, Wè Jen, and Mâ Eko, their values, beliefs and attitudes are revealed when they harken back to past droughts, consult the experience and actions of their ancestors, and share among listeners their sentiments of uncertainties, or opinions in hurdling the present crisis, as when Mâ Eko recollects a typhoon and drought that he experienced when he was a child, or when Mâ Ungkal returns to mythic time to describe the traditional methods of planting.

Values, beliefs, and attitudes are not the only things revealed in these narratives. More prominent are the observable signs of climatic changes that are described in these stories. These phenological markers can be the appearance of certain birds, the mating of certain animals, or the flowering of certain plants. With climate change, indigenous peoples observe that many of these phenological events are occurring earlier, or decoupled from the season or weather that they used to indicate. In the story, for instance, of Mâ Ungkal, the planting season starts when the buli plants begin to bear fruit. Other signs, like the appearance of frogs, the specific phase of the moon, and the position of stars in reference to the mountains, also signal the Tboli planting season. Currently, however, these markers are seldom used by the Tboli due to the markers’ incongruence to the actual, and desired season that they signal, as will be shown in the following chapter.

The drought of 2015-2016 in Southern Mindanao was brought by an intense episode of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), an irregularly periodical variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean that affects much of the tropics and subtropics, including the Philippines. In its Drought/Dry Spell Outlook for end of March 2016, 19 provinces in the Philippines experienced drought due to the ENSO, which is defined by DOST-PAGASA as 3 consecutive months of way below normal rainfall condition (> 60% reduction in average rainfall). These provinces are Palawan in Luzon, Negros Oriental and Siquijor in the Visayas, and the provinces of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi in Mindanao.

Some of the people I asked in March and April of 2016, like Jelly Escarlote and Eunice Sulan,  described the overwhelming heat as “sakit sa panit” (heat causes stinging pain to the skin) or “mamaak ang init” (the heat is biting). From the story of Wè Jenita, the collective sentiment was of anxiety, a feeling of dread from the slow yet definite onslaught of drought. There was desperation from the accounts of the elders who talked to Jenita: “the stream dried up in some places, flowing in others…” It has never happened before, at least within the lifetimes of the elders.

They were referring to a stream that has its source in the mountains of Datal Sboyun, Datal, a flatland, and Sboyun being the name of the stream that cuts across the flatland. In some tracks of the stream, water seemed to continue flowing, and is seeped back into unseen crevices in the ground before they are fed again by water underground.

To some of the elders, this has a special significance because Sboyun is considered a benevolent fu (spirit or owner) that guards the source of drinking water and irrigation for the fields near the stream. Its unusual behavior during the drought of 2015-2016, and its cultural significance to the villagers of Klubi, would have been interpreted by some as an omen of worse events in the future. At the same time, it was also a measure of the severity of the drought they were experiencing. Anthony Oliver-Smith expounded on this notion of the multiplicity of meanings people attribute to a disaster, which can “fragment into different and conflicting sets of circumstances and interpretations according to the experience and identity of those affected.”

Oliver-Smith also notes the “multidimensionality of a disaster,” which discloses in their unfolding the “linkages and interpenetrations of natural forces or agents, power structures and social arrangements, and cultural values and belief systems.” One analysis of this notion is through the failed rituals that the elders performed.

More than the collective frustration from their vulnerable position, the failed rituals may also be read as the powerlessness of these men over the situation. Communing and negotiating with the spirits to bring rain is itself power, the capacity to be able to do something (from the latin potere, to be). The hope to gain agency over their environment is directly linked in faith. Ritualized symbolic practices before, during, and after disasters are thought to be “coping mechanisms which contribute to the social capacity of a community to cope with disasters.”  Yet here in the narratives of the elders, the powerlessness in rituals was politically and socially-crippling, and those who traditionally held the power to call the rain (a trope) and to give community relief (actual) have become impotent, themselves being victims of the disaster. This tear in the social fabric introduces to us the disruptions in the traditional social structure.

With the impotence of traditional leaders, other individuals and organizations filled in the lacuna in power. In Klubi, this was taken over by the Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc. (LASIWWAI), a non-government organization headed by Wè Jenita Eko and Ms. Jelly Escarlote. During the drought brought by the 2015-2016 El Niño, LASIWWAI became the distributor of relief, in the form of credit, food, and access to government and non-government assistance. Through LASIWWAI, aid to the drought-stricken villagers was guaranteed by their organizational partners. Aid came in the form of project grants, food packs, and technical and technological assistance that included the construction of a solar drier from the Australian Embassy and a Kindergarten building from the Assisi Foundation, food packs from Century Tuna, Inc., and solar-powered lights from a Japanese donor, among others. This aid multiplied the social and political capital of LASIWWAI and the women who established and kept the organization running. In the village dynamics, LASIWWAI had become a wielder of power, with Jenita and Jelly playing central actors in a political re-structuring in Klubi. This did not happen overnight, of course. The works of the organization were already making headlong impacts in the lives of women and men in Klubi and other barangays of Lake Sebu even before the drought. Yet the onslaught of the El Niño, as a revelatory crisis, made their position in the community more eminent.

The rise of these women leaders also revealed the gender impasse in Klubi. The Tboli are considered in ethnographies as traditionally patriarchal, marked by an institutionalized male dominance over women and children in the family, and the subordination of women in society in general. Wé Jen would always insist on this injustice, saying that Tboli women do all the work in the house and in the farm. “Men only drink and chat, leaving all the work to us women,” she argued. Men do work, of course, but during my fieldwork in Klubi, especially during the planting and harvesting of upland rice, I noticed that most of the work were indeed done by the women. All phases of rice planting and harvesting, except for the actual tilling of the land, were done by women. Women, too, were often disadvantaged when men decide to divorce from an unhappy marriage. To expedite the process, they would often accuse their wives of adultery, and the burden of proving innocence lies with the woman.

But with the growing membership and influence of women’s group like the LASIWWAI, there is a new status for women as influential economic, political, and social actors. Many of the traditional gender roles and expectations have been challenged and renegotiated in Klubi. This was evident during the drought of 2016, when male elders, the traditional decision makers, came to Wè Jenita Eko and Ms. Jelly Escarlote for their support and counsel. This act of seeking counsel from the women was in itself a challenge to the dominant patriarchal values. Their new position of power and subversion of gender roles had inevitable and personal consequences to the two women.

A gender rift within the Sulan family caused a violent altercation between Jenita and a male sibling, a half-brother with her father’s second wife. Several weeks before I visited Klubi in April 2016, the male sibling, with the full knowledge of their father, attempted to badly hurt his sister. This was later explained to me by Jenita herself, when I visited her again after a month: that his brother and father were both disadvantaged by her rise to economic and social power. This caused a growing antagonism towards her. The jealousy of the brother was progressive and cumulative. Perhaps the desperation caused by the drought was the metaphoric last straw in their tense relationship. The two have since been reconciled in early 2017. The episode between the siblings are just symptoms of the gender gap and the violence it provokes. This gap, and the resistance to close it, linger among individuals who refuse to accept, negotiate, or adapt to the evolving landscape of power between the traditional and novel forms of leadership, and the ever-shifting power relations between the sexes.

The three stories I have shared also reveal the Tboli’s vulnerability to climate perturbations. Indeed past droughts caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation, especially in Mindanao, have been recorded. In the past century alone, El Niño events in the Pacific have occurred in the following years with varying degrees of intensity in the region: 1900-1906, 1911-1915, 1918-1920, 1924-1926, 1937-1942, 1957-1959, and 1964-1969. Compounded by historically oppressive State policies on land and access to natural resources,  the Tboli also face the hazards of an unfortunate geography with a history of extreme weather events. Because of its proximity to the equator, southern Mindanao is most vulnerable to El Niño when reversal wind occurs at 5 degrees north and 5 degrees south. Along with the exposure to the threats of El Niño, Mindanao is also home to the country’s poorest, where most of the inhabitants subsist on agriculture. The Manila Observatory, mapping the vulnerabilities of different areas in the Philippines to environmental disasters, has placed the province of South Cotabato in the top 10 provinces that are most at risk to El Niño-induced droughts.

Both Mâ Ungkal and Mâ Eko narrated stories of past drought events and how it claimed the lives of many kins and villagers. Mâ Ungkal described a drought so intense that the sun turned red as the klikam, the Tboli bed canopy. Mâ Eko narrated a time when the villagers had to fetch water from Lake Seloton, a lake that is several kilometers downhill from the rugged hills of Klubi. Both stories underscore the famine and the hunger, which forced the Tboli to look for atypical food in the deepest forests, and forage for wild animals also escaping the overwhelming heat. The experience must have been truly catastrophic for it to be memorialized in oral narratives. One might also infer that the past droughts must have been in the minds of the elders when they approached Wè Jenita.

Indeed, the vulnerability of people to disasters exists at the intersection of nature and culture, as Oliver-Smith expounded, The three stories show how inextricably linked disasters are with environmental hazards, social and economic structures, and cultural norms and values. A disaster event untangles these links providing an opening to study how these structures are often challenged and negotiated, or conserved and transformed. Oliver-Smith elucidated on how narratives, like the three stories presented above, are expressions on how risk and vulnerability are perceived, stating that this perception is “mediated through linguistic and cultural grids, accounting for great variability in assessments and understandings of disasters.” Studies about global warming among the Sakha in the Arctic, Leukerbad in Switzerland, and the Kgalagadi in Botswana are just some of the studies which employed the oral narrations of the peoples’ experiences and perceptions of the changing climate.

These narrated events describe the Tboli’s vulnerability to disasters and expose the multidimensional aspects of a disaster event. However, it also reveals the astonishing resilience of these people. Wè Jenita’s self-confidence in her remark, “we are survivors,” is also an admission of the hardships they had to endure and overcome. Knowledge on indigenous adaptation mechanisms, like foraging for the biking plant that provides the much needed carbohydrates in drought events, performing the melem éhék ritual to call for rain, or migrating to look for sources of water, all form the Tboli’s traditional understanding of their ecological heritage. As these knowledge are all currently transmitted through the oral tradition, addressing adaptation and resilience of the Tboli then lie on the oral and the aural which provides serious implications for their adaptive capacities to future weather perturbations.

In retelling the stories of Mâ Ungkal, Wè Jenita, and Mâ Eko, I am not only telling an individual’s experience of a drought, but also that of a people’s culture. Indeed, a story is a web of interconnected and intertextualized stories. We connect to these interconnected stories in the past in order to understand our current experiences. In an epistemological sense, the stories like the ones told by Mâ Ungkal, Wè Jenita, and Mâ Eko become the interpretive lens for new experiences in the future. The stories also become a means of constructing the world, making meaning for themselves and for other people, and creating funds of knowledge for future generations.


A Critical Perspective to National and Local Policies on Climate Change and Health Resource Access: The Case of South Cotabato


It is now an accepted fact that the aggregated impacts of human population size and economic activity on various biophysical systems of the world has drastically contributed to widespread environmental changes. The most alarming and extensive of these environmental changes is anthropogenic climate change, with the hydrological and atmospheric systems of the planet exceeding their regenerative and repair capacities. It is apparent that the rapid economic expansionism of the 20th and 21st century created an unprecedented overload of Earth’s ecological systems that scientists have now concluded that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (IPCC, Working Group II 5th Assessment Report, 2014).

One impact of climate change is on a population’s health. Higher temperatures trigger the surge of diseases such as dengue, malaria, cholera and typhoid. Changing climate also brings in new health consequences “such as heat-related mortality in Europe, changes in infectious disease vectors in some areas, and allergenic pollen in Northern Hemisphere, high and mid-latitudes” (IPCC Synthesis Report, 2007). Increasingly frequent and intense disasters displace thousands of people in many communities and increases their vulnerability to health risks in evacuation centers. This unfamiliar situation of humankind overloading Earth’s carrying capacity presents a challenge to researchers in the field of Medical Anthropology: given the plausible future scenarios of climatic changes, how can one best estimate its consequences for human health at the same time approximate the adaptive capacities of individuals and communities? How to do these with utmost consideration to the intimate interplay of human systems (political, social and cultural)?

Understanding disease risks brought by a changing environment requires studying a larger contextual framework that will include social, economic, cultural and political structures (Martens and McMichael, 2002: 27). The recognition that there are complex underlying environmental, social, cultural and political systems which, when perturbed or changed, may alter the pattern of health outcomes, has been one of the contributions of Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) in the field of Public Health Studies.  CMA also recognizes that the fundamental problem of social inequality (e.g. unequal access to health services) expounds the impact of disease risks in vulnerable communities (Baer, et al., 2003: 3).

On the other hand, the prospect that climate change and other environmental changes will affect health poses radical challenges not only to researchers but also to policymakers. Given the uncertainty of the magnitude and extent of climate change impacts, policymakers most often adjust to working with incomplete information and with making “uncertainty based” policy decisions. Often, policymakers work with a “wait-and-see attitude,” falling for the false assumption that scientists can provide final and precise truths with regard to climate change. All the while, civil society organizations and the academe have been raising the concept of Precautionary Principle in order to minimize the chance of low probability but potentially devastating outcomes (Martens and McMichael, 2002: 27).

This paper approaches the climate change and health interplay by employing the critical medical anthropology perspective in the reading of different Philippine national and local legislations on climate change. It will try to dissect these policies to answer the questions: What effect does the global capitalist system have on how these policies were written? How do these policies define and describe how health resources be allocated and accessed? A progressive contextualization will also be utillized starting with the macro-level global economic context and then working towards the micro-level  local context of South Cotabato’s policies on climate change and its impact on health resource allocation.

As an exercise in Critical Medical Anthropology, the bias is towards biomedicine as the medical health system referred to.

The Critical Theoretical Framework in Medical Anthropology

Critical theory springs from the neo-Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. It maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. Modern critical theory has been influenced by György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, as well as the second generation Frankfurt School scholars, notably Jürgen Habermas. Contemporary critical theory studies the social “base and superstructure” concept formulated by Karl Marx. The critical approach in medical anthropology uses the critical theoretical framework with focus on the political economy of health and health care. Political economy, from an anthropological perspective, includes the study of producing and exchanging goods, and the influence of government policy and capitalism on all aspects of life. When applied to studying health and health care, the political economy of health may include ways in which health services are differentially allocated based on wealth, and ways in which policy impacts health and delivery of health services. Political economy of health is a central component of critical medical anthropology, and a critical approach to medical anthropology seeks to uncover hidden causes of poor health as they relate to capitalism and neoliberal economics while examining health structures on a macro and micro level. In other words, critical theory in medical anthropology seeks to find the social origin of disease (Baer, et al., 2003: 53)

Critical medical anthropology (CMA) has been strongly shaped by the medical anthropologist Merrill Singer. Singer promotes using CMA as an approach to researching health because of its applied focus, noting that medical anthropologists must critically question how situations for their research participants can be improve (Singer, 1989). CMA is therefore a theoretical lens to inspire action and engagement in what Singer terms “system-challenging praxis”;  that is, actions undertaken in order to challenge larger structures with the goal of producing a meaningful social change. Engaging in system-challenging praxis involves “unmasking the origins of social inequity, and exposing the relationship between social inequity and living and working conditions (Singer, 1989). Work from this perspective understands societies as involving class conflict and sees the state apparatus and medical-health systems as mediating this conflict in favour of the ruling class in capitalist societies. The historical developments and political -economic conditions are viewed as primary, with value orientations and beliefs flowing from these fundamental conditions (Singer, 1989).

CMA is a critique and answer to the prior theoretical framework of interpretive medical anthropology where there there is an “obfuscation of restricted microlevel focus” (Singer, 1989). In Interpretive Medical Anthropology where there is focus on “the ritual and symbolic realm in culture, [while] the political and economic issues which affect the health and health behavior of populations [are] not widely considered.” CMA critiques the interpretive framework as reducing medical anthropology to an examination of the cultural determinants of illness, curing, and resistance to biomedicine with little consideration of “the importance of the social formations in which ‘cultural factors’ occur”. CMA further critiques the prior theoretical frameworks as giving no attention to institutional actors with major parts in the health field internationally, such as manufacturers of medical commodities, government health and development agencies, international lending institutions, professional medical associations, and private health foundations (Singer, 1989).

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is also an important figure in critical medical anthropology, arguing that “CMA combines the intersections of personal, social, and political bodies” (Singer, 1989). Scheper-Hughes notes the shortcomings in the work of some social anthropologists and argues that social anthropology fails to explore the meaning of the body beyond a symbol upon which social meaning is inscribed. Similarly, Scheper-Hughes claims that some theorists ignore individual perspectives about illness, highlighting Michel Foucault’s work on biopower –  the inseparability of the body from the will of the political apparatus (the State). Scheper-Hughes argues that Foucault describes the body in a way that is “devoid of subjectivity,” or lacking in a description that encompasses individual perspectives (Singer, 1989). CMA, however, fills the voids left by earlier social anthropologists and cultural theorists by understanding that the body is the “terrain where social truths are forged and social contradictions played out, as well as the locus of personal resistance, activity, and struggle”. In other words, CMA understands that the body and the patient are impacted by larger, unseen social forces but that individuals also have a stake in their bodies, and are not simply agents to these larger social forces. Critical medical anthropology therefore “blends an understanding of how structural forces are acted upon the body with an acknowledgement of individual agency” (Singer, 1989).

Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) takes a very different approach to looking at questions regarding health. CMA believes that there exists a hegemonic relationship (as per Gramsci’s use where a dominant practice results in a predictable and controllable social consciousness) between the ideology of the health care system and that of the dominant ideological and social patterns. More simply put, a political economy approach. CMA views disease as a social as well as a biological construct (Baer et. al., 1997:35-36). Critical Medical Anthropologists examines issues such as who have the power over certain social institutions, how and in what form is this power delegated, and how this power is expressed (Baer et. al. 1997:33-35). In effect, Critical Medical Anthropologists try to deconstruct the medical science and expose the fact that all science is influenced by cultural and historical conditions, much like the social constructionist approach.

Merrill Singer also delineated some of the concerns within CMA: Examination of the social origins of disease and ill health in light of the world economic system; Analysis of health policy, health resource allocation and the role of the State in Third World Nations; Re-thinking of the contemporary understanding of medical pluralism; Development of a critique of biomedical ideology, practice, and structure; Attending to the role of struggle in health and health care; Re-examination of the microlevel of the individual, including illness behavior and illness experience within the context of macro level structures, processes and relations; and Investigation of health and health programs in socialist-oriented countries (Singer, 1989).

A Brief Survey of National and Local Policies on Climate Change

This section outlines the historical development of Philippine policies on climate change culled from the study conducted by the Tebtebba Foundation (Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010: 224-225).  This brief survey aims to describe the significant milestones of the Philippine government in responding to climate change through various participations in global agreements and conventions and by pushing for local policies and programs.

Inter-agency Committee on Climate Change (1991)

This committee was created to coordinate various climate change related activities, propose climate change policies and prepare the Philippine positions to the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other issues relative to climate change.

Signing of the UNFCCC (1992)

The signing of the Republic of the Philippines to the UNFCCC committed the country to the UNFCCC provisions on non-Annex 1 (developing countries) parties. This led to a Greenhouse Gases inventory in 1994 that became the basis of the country’s initial national communication on Climate Change to the UNFCCC in 1999.

Clean Air Act (1999)

This Act outlines the government’s measures to reduce air pollution and incorporate environmental protection into its development plans. This led the government to partner with different organizations such as Partnerships for Clean Air and Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities Center to do information and education campaign and workshops on air quality management and sustainable transport.

Signing of the Kyoto Protocol (2003)

This Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These amount to an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over the 5-year period between 2008-2012. This led to the setting up of a Designated National Authority for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). As of 2005, waste management projects, renewable energy and afforestation and reforestation were on the CDM pipeline for the Philippines.

Biofuels Act (2006)

This Act seeks to reduce dependence on imported fuels with due regard to the protection of public health, the environment, and natural ecosystems consistent with the country’s sustainable growth that would expand opportunities for livelihood by mandating the use of biofuels. This led to oil companies submitting themselves to the mandatory use of biofuels in the Philippines.

Renewable Energy Act (2008)

This Act seeks to promote the development of renewable energy resources and its commercialization. It aims to achieve this by providing incentives to institutions that invest in the sector. A National Renewable Energy Board has been created to accelerate the setting up of mechanisms and incentives critical to the implementation of the law.

Climate Change Act (2009)

This Act created a Climate Change Commission that would formulate and implement plans for the country to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters and it also aims to attract foreign financing for adaptation and risk reduction projects.

Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (2010)

This law mandated a nationwide disaster-risk reduction and management policy that goes down to the barangay level. The law also created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMC), an agency tasked with crafting and implementing disaster-risk reduction policies.These policies are implemented by local disaster-risk reduction and management councils with the NDRMC coordinating relief, recovery, and reconstruction operations.

People’s Survival Fund (Republic Act no. 10174 of 2012)

A People’s Survival Fund was legislated to be used in support of adaptation activities of local governments and communities such as: adaptation activities in the areas of water resources management, land management, agriculture and fisheries, health, infrastructure development, natural ecosystems; improvement of the monitoring of vector-borne diseased triggered  by climate change, and in this context improving disease control and prevention; forecasting and early warning systems; supporting institutional development for local governments, in partnership with local communities and civil society groups for preventive measures, planning, preparedness and management of impacts relating to climate change, including contingency planning, in particular, for droughts and floods in areas prone to extreme climate events.

The various Philippine policies and programs responding to climate change have been heralded by different environmentalists and civil society organizations as serious efforts towards a clean and green environment, and mitigation of climate change impacts. The Renewable Energy Law, for example, has caused quite a stir among environmental activists. Even Greenpeace has praised the government for its passage (Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010: 232). Yet despite the passage of these laws, critics argue that they do nor really acknowledge the main roots of the crisis which is unsustainable and destructive global economy and production. The Philippine government has also yet to call for deep and drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from developed counties and impose greater tariffs or stricter requirements, including only clean or climate proof foreign business investment in the country.

Another noteworthy apprehension in these laws is the lack of an explicit health-related provision on funding health resources that would address the perceived rise in climate change- related diseases. Although the RA 10174 provided for “improvement of the monitoring of vector-borne diseased triggered  by climate change, and in this context improving disease control and prevention [italics provided],” it is noticeable that it only deals with monitoring of diseases and precludes any actions to the improvement of access. 

Major National Legislations  on Access to Health Resource

Mandatory Universal Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act (2008)

With regard to access to health resources, a law was also signed in 2008 to provide cheaper but quality medicines to Filipinos. Sen. Loren Legarda, senate committee chair on climate change, describes the health-climate connection in a privilege speech:

“In 1998, when the Philippines experienced the El Niño phenomenon, almost 40,000 dengue cases, 1,200 cholera cases and nearly 1,000 typhoid fever cases, were recoded nationwide. These sicknesses make our population more vulnerable, especially those who cannot afford health care, much less health insurance. We must strengthen our people’s health to make them resilient against diseases that the change in climate may bring. It is for this reason that I advocate the passage of the Mandatory Universal Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act, as well as a bill providing for the nutrition workers in every barangay.

These laws shall ensure that proper healthcare and accessible, cheaper and quality medicines and knowledgable nutrition workers will on hand to help our citizens, especially the poor, avoid diseases heightened by warmer temperatures. (Sen. Loren Legarda, “State of the Climate,” Privilege Speech given on August 10, 2010.)”

The law was signed in 2008 and it amended Republic Act No. 6675 or the Generics Act of 1988, Republic Act No. 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code, and Republic Act No. 5921 or the Pharmacy Law. The law allows the parallel importation of patented medicines from other countries where they are more affordable. It also bars the grant of new patents based only on newly-discovered uses of an ingredient of an existing drug. Generics firms will be allowed to test, produce, and register their versions of patented drugs. The law also empowered the President to “impose price ceilings on various drugs upon the recommendation of the Health Secretary” of the Department of Health (DOH). Drug outlets will be required to carry a variety of medicine brands, which include those sourced through parallel importation – giving consumers more choices. The Law also creates a congressional oversight committee, such as the Quality Affordable Medicines Oversight Committee, to monitor the implementation of the “Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act.”

National Health Insurance Act of 2013 (RA 7875 as amended by RA 9241 and 10606)

The National Health Insurance Program (NHIP) created under Republic Act 7875 implemented by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC or Philhealth) is the mandatory social health insurance program in the country. The purpose is for every Filipino to have social health insurance coverage and access to quality health care facilities.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) formalized their partnership to provide and secure health care for the poor as they signed a Joint Order on November 6, 2012. The Joint Order will benefit more than five million poor household-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to uplift their quality of life by not only providing financial assistance but also by extending the needed health care benefits should sicknesses come up among beneficiary families. Entitlements also apply to primary care benefits such as consultations, regular blood pressure monitoring, and promotive health education on breastfeeding and counselling on lifestyle modification and smoking cessation. Medicines for diseases like asthma and acute gastroenteritis with no or mild dehydration, upper respiratory tract infection/pneumonia and urinary tract infection are also provided for by accredited healthcare providers.

In South Cotabato, for instance, around 11,000 poor families have been enrolled by the provincial government under the sponsored health insurance program of Philhealth. Under the program, the province allocated P 1,800 each for the premium contribution of the enrolled indigent families. Philhealth has also implemented the expanded health insurance coverage scheme for their members in South Cotabato (, 12 March 2014).

South Cotabato’s Environment Code (Provincial Ordinance no. 4 s. 2010)

The Environment Code of South Cotabato mandates a local network that will promote and sustain relevant, efficient strategies and modern technologies for the protection of the environment and natural resources, as well as ensure ecologically sound and sustainable development in the province. It also establishes policies and mechanisms for the protection, preservation and management of the province’s natural resources, as well as ensuring the strict enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, policies and issuances. It provides provisions for the management and protection of forests and watershed systems in the jurisdiction of South Cotabato; management of air quality, water quality and noise pollution; and provides a framework and management plan for local climate change action. While the most popular provision in South Cotabato’s Environment Code is the ban on open-pit mining in the province, it actually covers an extensive repertoire of environmental conservation and protection which considers principles of “intergenerational responsibility,”  “carrying capacity of an ecosystem,” “precautionary principle,” and “conservation ethic” among others.

What then are the drivers for these national and local legislations? How does the development of national and local laws connect with the patterns of global discussions on climate change? And how does the global economy affect the creation of such laws? To answer such questions, we go back to the general presupposition of Critical Medical Anthropology, that “there exists a hegemonic relationship between the ideology of the health care system and that of the dominant ideological and social patterns” (Baer et. al., 1997:35-36).

Economizing Climate, Impacting Public Health

Capitalism’s inherent tendency to expand serves to escalate commodity production, which necessitates the burning of fossil fuels to power the machinery of production. As this process unfolded historically, it served to disturbed the natural carbon sinks and generate an accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, resulted to drastic changes in the Earth’s climates which, in turn, forecasted impacts on health. The connection between capitalism, climate change and health has been observed by the IPCC in its 2007 report stating that “until mid century climate change will act mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist.”

In the Philippines, capitalism with a strong neoliberal attitude first came in “the form of the structural adjustment program imposed by the World Bank in the early 1980’s, in the latter’s effort to strengthen the economy’s capacity to service its massive external debt” (Bello, 2009). Walden Bello in a paper presented to the National Conference of the Philippine Sociological Society said that the neoliberal perspective triumphed by default in the early 1980s due to the ascendancy of several high-powered activist intellectuals and technocrats close to the Aquino administration who had been greatly influenced by the Reagan and Thatcher free-market experiments in the United States and Britain. These included economist Bernie Villegas and Cory Aquino’s secretary of finance Jesus Estanislao. Bello also cited the emergent neoliberalism of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, which had drafted the extremely influential anti-Marcos White Paper on the Philippine economy in 1985. This rise of neoliberalism in the country was also complemented by four developments internationally: the collapse of centralized socialism in Eastern Europe, which seemed to deliver the coup d’grace to the socialist alternative; the crisis of the Swedish social democratic model; the seeming success of the Reagan and Thatcher Revolutions in revitalizing the American and British economies; and the rise of the East Asian newly industrializing countries. All four had an impact on the thinking of the middle class and the elites, which are, incidentally, called the “chattering classes” because of their central discursive role in legitimizing social and political perspectives. (Bello, 2009)

This neoliberal capitalist ideology is reflected in the National Economic Development Authority’s Development Plan for 2011-2016, with its seeming addiction to expansionism and growth: “ investment must continually rise for the economy to grow and absorb labor into productive jobs. Being a bet on the future, investment requires a stable and predictable market environment. Macroeconomic stability, supported by sound monetary and fiscal policy, a strong financial system, and healthy external sector, is thus essential to maintaining positive consumer and business expectations about the future” (NEDA,  2014: 6). With this growth fixation on the economy, it is no wonder that policies on climate change fail to “acknowledge the main roots of the crisis which is unsustainable and destructive global economy and production” (Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010: 232). The Philippine government’s disregard for deep and drastic cuts of greenhouse gas emissions from developed counties and calls for the imposition of greater tariffs or stricter requirements, including only clean or climate proof foreign business investment in the country, is palpable with the seduction of foreign investors to put up more coal-fired power plants and mining ventures in the country.

The global economy is also under this same neoliberal capitalist ideology especially with the growing globalization of the world economy and increased integration of regional economies such as the Association of Southeast and East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Integration which will be on full blast in 2015 especially with its free trade regime that aims to lower tariffs and minimize government intervention in trade.

This is dramatically confounding because while there were several summits (UN Climate Change Conference, yearly since 1995) on the climate change and how best to address the crisis, the paramount economic ideology of neoliberalism and free trade, is a disconnect to these summits’ general call to decarbonize the economy. Growth, as perpetuated by neoliberalism, means vastly more energy (Pielke, 2010: 62), which would exacerbate climate (and correlatively – health) insecurities.

This economy-environment tradeoff is reflected in the degree of bias against adaptation rather than on mitigation, in most of the Philippine policies on climate change. The Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act and Climate Change Act “has no legally binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions and it has no targets on renewables” (Smith, 2012). For decades, the options available to deal with climate change have been clear: we can act to mitigate the future impacts of climate change by addressing the factors that cause changes in climate; and we can adapt to changes in climate by addressing the factors that influence societal and environmental vulnerabilities to the effects of the climate. Mitigation policies focus on either controlling the emissions of greenhouse gases or capturing and sequestering those emissions. Adaptation policies focus on taking steps to make social or environmental systems more resilient to the effect of climate. Effective climate policy will necessarily require a combination of mitigation and adaptation policies. However, climate policy such as the Climate Change Act of 2009 reflects this bias against adaptation. The People’s Survival Fund also ensures adaptation by focusing on funding mechanisms yet “fails to integrate adaptation with mitigation strategies, such as transitioning to renewable energy systems” (, 5 April 2014).

Although the health impacts of climate change have been seen as a “foreseeable future,” there is some disagreement about the magnitude of those effects, when they will occur and what the right course of action is.  Decisions and policies on public health has to work on a level of uncertainty in terms of what the main threats to health are, in the short, medium and long term.

Underpinning those disagreements in health effects is the acceptance of the fundamental structure of capitalism, with the differences being around whether climate change requires more immediate public policy and health professional intervention or whether capitalism will address the health issues though economic development. The debates run on whether more progress on economic growth and development will answer the health threats. The IPCC itself in its report also states that “rapid economic development will reduce health impacts on the poorest and least healthy groups, with further falls in mortality rates.”  Alongside poverty alleviation and disaster preparedness, the most effective adaptation measures are:   “basic public health measures such as the provision of clean water, sanitation and essential healthcare.” This has clear emphasis on economic development and poverty alleviation which accepts the basic tenets of growth capitalism and stressing the neoliberal attitude of the market able to fix social woes.  The position taken by some conservatives is that humanity needs more capitalist economic and technological development even if that results in a warmer world.  Some points out that we are living longer and healthier lives than ever before thanks to economic development and growth. Therefore, inductively, we need more growth, and that humanity should strive to achieve more in terms of economic development.

Hans Baer, on the other hand, stresses that indeed, the root cause of the climate crisis is capitalism, a global economic system that “systematically exploits human beings and the natural environment”. He concludes that we need “a vision of an alternative world system, one based on two cardinal principles – namely social equity and justice and environmental sustainability.” He adds that environmental destruction is inherent to capitalism because it thrives only on “profit-making” and “continued economic expansion”. Unable to jump off its “treadmill of production and consumption”, the system must continue to generate ever higher levels of waste and consumption, even though this threatens life on the planet in the long run. (Baer, 2012)

South Cotabato’s Environment Code, while it actively promotes for environmental protection and conservation, is still a product of this overarching neoliberal hegemony – which sees the environment as a resource, that is, for eventual exploitation. Provisions such “Forest Resource Management Framework,” “Resource Profiling,” “Genetic Resource Base,” and “Ecological Tourism” among others, suggest a framework that accommodates the overall “development” plan of the government which is inherently defined by a neoliberal ideology. South Cotabato is of course part of NEDA’s Development Framework for Mindanao 2010-2020, which banners the objective of “harnessing the full potential of Mindanao’s rich resources” (p 8). South Cotabato’s Agro-Industrial Zone, with its DOLE centerpiece in Tupi, is an intense drive towards resource-based industrialization which can only be characterized as neoliberal in practice and principle. Addressing the impacts of heavy industrialization and influx of foreign corporations in South Cotabato, the Environment Code sets up mechanisms for monitoring, cooperation between agencies, and penal provisions for violation of the code. Yet, the problem exists when in the same code, utilization and exploitation are coupled with protection and conservation. This may be because of the same schizophrenia which affects the very department that exploits and then protects the environment, that is, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which by its very name regards the environment as a resource. The website of the Provincial Government of South Cotabato itself, in its “General Information” button has a “Mineral Resources” item, enticing prospectors: “South Cotabato is rich in mineral resources especially in the mountainous areas of the municipality of Tampakan where Gold and Copper deposits are found. The municipality of T’boli is also a source of gold particularly in Brgy. Kematu” (, October 30, 2014). The Code’s claim to environmental protection and conservation is placed under doubt.

Climate Change action in South Cotabato’s Environment Code is partnered with Disaster Risk Reduction with no explicit provision connecting health and climate. While it indeed adopts explicit measures with regard to protection and management of natural resources, its public health access provision is limited to that of sanitation, specifying that the “Provincial Government shall adopt appropriate measures to assist city/municipal governments improve environmental sanitation by expanding the use of sanitary toilets for waste disposal. Such assistance shall include direct investments in public health education and strict enforcement of the Building and Sanitation Code” (Article III, Section 36). This may be because of the single-subject rule in law which stipulates that legislation may deal with only one main issue, yet the emerging concern for the interplay between health and environmental changes must not be downplayed. As it turns out, local ordinances on health resource access are mere implementations of national policies (i.e. Mandatory Universal Accessible, Cheaper, and Quality Medicines Act), without the necessary connections to the drastic surges in diseases caused by anthropogenic environmental changes which could have been accommodated in the provincial code.

South Cotabato’s health profile is characterized by acute respiratory infections leading the cause of morbidity for all ages in the province. It reaches a total of 490 cases while cancer in all forms remain second, with a total of 314 cases. Other diseases, such as diarrhea, influenza, acute bronchitis and broncholitis, hypertensive and glomerular & renal diseases were also included in the top ten leading causes of morbidity. Lifeystyle related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer in all forms and diabetes remain as the leading cause of death. Dengue and malaria cases likewise drastically increased. (Provincial Investment Plan for Health, 2010: 14)

In answer to the health needs of South Cotabato, the Provincial Investment Plan for Health (2010) of South Cotabato includes upgrading of facilities, improvement of primary health care service network, expansion of the drug revolving fund, and inclusion of user fees for health services in the local tax revenue code, among others. Implementation of the Plan costs about P 324 million over the five years. More than half was spent for service delivery, while more than 20 percent of the financing component was comprised of Philhealth premium contributions. More than 70 percent are for maintenance and operating expenses. The province was also a recipient of a grant from the European Commission for implementation of the plan.

Although South Cotabato’s Health Plan is being strengthened to provide basic health service, how much of these local health policies are integrated with the climate change framework? How adequate are these measures in addressing the foreseen effects of climate change to health? For instance, it’s been forecasted that climate change will enhance the spread of some diseases. These disease-causing agents or pathogens, can be transmitted through food, water, and animals such as bats, birds, mice, and insects. Climate change could affect all of these transmitters. Aside from the more known impacts of heat waves, extreme weather events, and reduced air quality, some climate change-related diseases are as follows (US Environmental Protection Agency,

Food-borne Diseases

  • Higher air temperatures can increase cases of salmonella and other bacteria-related food poisoning because bacteria grow more rapidly in warm environments. These diseases can cause gastrointestinal distress and, in severe cases, death.
  • Flooding and heavy rainfall can cause overflows from sewage treatment plants into fresh water sources. Overflows could contaminate certain food crops with pathogen-containing feces.

Water-borne Diseases

  • Heavy rainfall or flooding can increase water-borne parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia that are sometimes found in drinking water. These parasites can cause gastrointestinal distress and in severe cases, death.
  • Heavy rainfall events cause stormwater runoff that may contaminate water bodies used for recreation (such as lakes and beaches) with other bacteria. The most common illness contracted from contamination at beaches is gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and the intestines that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, headaches, and fever. Other minor illnesses include ear, eye, nose, and throat infections.

Animal-borne Diseases

  • Mosquitoes favor warm, wet climates and can spread diseases such as West Nile virus, Dengue and Malaria.
  • The geographic range of ticks that carry Lyme disease is limited by temperature. As air temperatures rise, the range of these ticks is likely to continue to expand northward. Typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash.

Few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on health even though the effects are serious and widespread. Disease, injury and death can result from climate-induced natural disasters, heat-related illness, pest- and waterborne diseases, air and water pollution and damage to crops and drinking water sources. Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable to climate change-related diseases. Public policy in the national and local levels have a spiralling impact on an individual’s and community’s health as structural (in this case, State) forces are acted upon the body.

As Critical Medical Anthropology asserts, the body is impacted by larger, unseen social forces. In this case, the neoliberal regime in the global economy impacts decision making in the national level, as in the bias towards adaptation rather than mitigation, then spiralling down to local decision making, as in South Cotabato’s resource framing of its Environment Code. This snowball effect has tremendous impact on the individual who might already be feeling the brunt of climate change-induced diseases.

This exercise in Critical Medical Anthropology proves that national policymakers exert powerful forces that influence how local or regional policies are also crafted, as well as greater global forces that exert their force on these national policymakers. The individual, right in the center of these powerful forces, becomes the locus of discourse, activity, and struggle.

Yet individuals have a stake in their own bodies, and are not simply agents to these larger social forces. Active participation in government processes may be one way of asserting agency in an unjust system, but a serious level of behavioral change is also sought in adjusting to today’s world where the neoliberal attitude of acquisition is pervasive but resources are limited, and where resource exploitation can lead to further human exploitation, affecting not only the current generation but also future generations.

References: 12 March 2014. “11000 poor families in South Cotabato enrolled with Philhealth in 2013.” Accessed in, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

Baer, Hans A., Merrill Singer, and Ida Susser. 2003. “Theoretical Perspectives in Medical Anthropology”. In Medical Anthropology & the World System, 31-54. Wesport Connecticut, and London: Praeger.

Baer, Hans A. 2012. “Global Capitalism and Climate Change: the Need for an Alternative World System.” California: Altamira Press

Bello, Walden. 2009. “Neoliberalism as hegemonic ideology in the Philippines: rise, apogee, and crisis.” Paper delivered at the plenary session of the 2009 National Conference of the Philippine Sociological Society held at the PSSC Building, October 16, 2009. Accessed in, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2014. “Summary for policymakers.” In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

_____. 2007b. “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report.” Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R.K and Reisinger, A. (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 104 pp.

GMA Network. 5 April 2014. “Groups call on government to implement People’s Survival Fund.” Accessed in, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

Legard, Loren. 2010. “The State of the Climate,” In Climate Change Message of our Times: Excerpts from Senator Loren Legarda’s Speeches, 55-61, A Joint Project of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, Senate Committee on Cultural Committees and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (2011). Malabon City, Philippines: Libro ni Loren Foundation, Inc.

Magata, Helen, et. al. 2010. “The Possibility of REDD+ in the Philippines: What does this mean to Indigenous Peoples?” In Indigenous Peoples, Forests & REDD Plus: State of Forests, Policy Environment & Ways Forward, 192-263, Tebtebba Foundation. Baguio City, Philippines: Valley Printing Specialist.

Martens, Pim and Anthony J. McMichael. 2002. “Global environmental changes: anticipating and assessing risks to health.” In Environmental Change, Climate and Health: Issues and research methods, 1-17, Martens, Pim and Anthony J. McMichael (eds). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Merrill Singer. 1989. “The Coming of Age of Critical Medical Anthropology.” In Soc. Sci. Med. Volume 28, No. 11, pp. 1193-1203.

National Economic Development Authority. 2010. “Mindanao Strategic Development Framework 2010-2020.” Pasig City: Regional Development Office of NEDA.

National Economic Development Authority. 2014. “Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 Midterm Update.” Pasig City: Regional Development Office of NEDA.

Pielke, Roger Jr. 2010. “The Climate Fix: What scientists and politicians won’t tell you about global warming.” New York: Basic Books.

Province of South Cotabato. 2010. “Provincial Investment Plan for Health.”

Smith, Tierney. 4 May 2012. “Is the Philippines’ climate law the best in the world?” Accessed in, retrieved on October 29, 2014.

Exploring “Experience and Expressions” in Climate Change Anthropology

Lake Sebu at dusk


The truth is, I have never heard of Wilhelm Dilthey until I’ve read “The Anthropology of Experience” edited by Victor Turner and Edward Bruner – and I am a Philosophy major. In his introduction to the book, Bruner presented him as a German thinker when Kantianism was the trend in Philosophy.  This is palpable in the way he critiqued the philosophy of a priori principles, meaning-complexes and absolute value norms, in his theory that assumes that all thought processes arise out of experience (erlebnis – what has been “lived through”) and derive their meaning from their relation into experience, and therefore critiquing the Kantian a priori.  For Dilthey, “reality only exists for us in the facts of consciousness given by inner experience” (as cited in Bruner, 1986: 4).

Dilthey asserted that experience is the ”foundation of the whole edifice of knowledge” going on further to say that it is “only by reference to experience that we can define what we mean by saying that anything ‘exists’” (Hodges, 1952). Bruner worked on Dilthey’s notion of experience to expound on an “Anthropology of Experience” where lived experience, “as thought and desire, as word and image, is the primary reality” (Bruner, 1986: 5).  As lived and embodied, experience becomes a critical focus of anthropology because it is a causal point for personal and community action which directly affects persons, outcomes and therefore cultures.

Reading Bruner talk about Dilthey’s notion of experience brings me back to my proposed study of climate change in the T’boli community of Klubi; a study on “experience and expressions of climate change”. Climate change, as a reality in the sense of something actually existing outside of the knowing self and in opposition to a notional idea, demands that social scientists turn their focus on how it is experienced and expressed especially in indigenous communities who are considered most vulnerable to climate perturbations. How is it represented in the language of our research partners? How is it told? What are the emerging expressions of this global phenomenon in the local communities that are the traditional partners of anthropologists? Are expressions related to climate perturbations becoming part of the dominant narratives? And as the peoples’ “articulations, formulations, and representations of their own experience” (1986: 9) how is climate change adaptation or response appropriated in those articulations?

Bruner expanded the concept of experience by including “feelings and expectations” (4), “images and impressions”, (5) as sources of experience. It comes to us not just verbally but also from the richer sphere of images and feelings, which goes beyond languages. We may say that given the ‘reality’ of climate change – of existing perturbations in the weather and unreliable traditional agricultural calendars as in the case of the T’boli – feelings, expectations, thoughts, images and impressions are also actively imprinted in the mind, which in turn are expressed, articulated in different modes.

Bruner accepted the idea that experience is “self-referential” – reality is experienced only by the person and that we can never completely know the experiences of another. Basically a study of the other, this then became the problematic in the anthropological study of experience. How can the anthropologist study another’s experience? He states:

 How, then, do we overcome the limitations of individual experience? Dilthey’s (1976: 230) answer was that we “transcend the narrow sphere of experience by interpreting expressions.” By “interpreting” Dilthey meant understanding, interpretation, and the methodology of hermeneutics; by “expressions” he meant representations, performances, objectifications, or texts. (1986: 5)

In my study of climate change experience and expressions among the T’boli S’bu, I start with the different experiences, but these can only be culled out from their own articulations of the changing weather patterns, inconsistencies with the agricultural calendar, their ‘feelings’ in the changing temperature, and the images that comes to mind given these perturbations. These expressions that include Bruner’s “representations, performances, objectifications or texts” encapsulate the experiences of the T’boli S’bu.

Questions on expressions and articulations of climate change may be asked: How are their mythologies appropriated in these perceived weather patterns? What rituals are employed to ‘fix’ these inconsistencies in the agricultural calendar vis-à-vis the weather? What are their impressions and desires in the midst of these uncertainties? What structures and episodes in their narratives of folk heroes and heroines help them in decisions related to agriculture and weather perturbations?

Bruner further clarified the relationship between experience and expressions:

 The relationship is clearly dialogic and dialectical, for experience structures expressions, in that we understand other people and their expressions on the basis of our own experience and understanding. But expressions also structure experience, in that dominant narratives of a historical era, important rituals and festivals, and classic works of art define and illuminate inner experience. (1986: 6)

One example, to further understand this experience-expressions relationship, is the k’mohung and seselong connection. K’mohung is the T’boli term for the “fish kills” that regularly happen in Lake Sebu. Several perspectives on the k’mohung are evidenced in the narratives related to it.

One narrative suggests that it is a curse. In this story, a T’boli cursed the Ilonggo fishermen, saying that the T’boli are the guardians of the Lake and that their fishes will die, unless they give the fish to the T’boli. Indeed, according to an informant, whenever there is a fish kill, the fish pen owners will give the dead fish to the T’boli or sell them at a much lower price.

Another perspective views it as a gift from Fu S’bu, owner/spirit of the lake. My informant described a time before the Ilonggo settlers put up their fish pens and when the lake was still covered by water lilies and lotus plants. She shared that whenever there is a k’mohung , people would see fish and shrimps floating in the surface, but not quite dead, “as if they were dizzy”. They can easily “pick these fish and shrimps with their bare hands,” she said. Indeed, outside Western, Modern Science, one will view this as a gift from the lake, almost congruent to the biblical “manna from heaven”. This idea of a gift clearly opposes that notion of a “disaster” and in fact, it only became widely-known as a “disaster” when the Ilonggos came and put up their fishery industry in the lake. The disaster-gift dichotomy clearly delineates not only economic valuations of the lake, but also belief or supernatural categorizations of the natural world.

Here, the experience of the k’mohung is expressed in different narratives that show polar notions between the curse-gift discourse based on different circumstances and point of views – differing but still constituting peoples’ articulations, formulations and representations of the experience. On one hand the experience is akin to sacredness, as a gift from the spirits, while the other as curse to their livelihood. Expressions are indeed “rooted in a social situation with real persons in a particular culture in a given historical era” (1986: 7).  Bruner manifested this rich array of expressions, saying “every telling is an arbitrary imposition of meaning on the flow of memory, in that we highlight some causes and discount other; that is, every telling is interpretive.” (7)

These narrative expressions of a singular ‘reality’ but of plural experiences, continue on to shape a particular cultural action – that of the seselong.

The Focus Group Discussion I conducted in Brgy. Klubi on March 30, 2013 described the k’mohung and seselong in this way: after a leme-et, a type of weather defined by occasional strong rains and wind coming from the north, and then suddenly clearing (my informant likened the leme-et to an impending typhoon), T’boli in the uplands would then gather their rootcrops and other produce from their gardens to prepare for a seselong, a system of barter trading between the upland-living T’boli and the lake-side dwelling T’boli. During the leme-et, people surrounding the lake would also prepare for the seselong by observing the lake for the telltale signs of the k’mohung. My informants shared that there are no celebrations or rituals conducted during the seselong, something that I didn’t foresee especially in the case of an event that may be deemed supernatural or an event that gathers people from the upland and lakeside. The seselong becomes an opportunity for the lakeside dwellers to trade their gathered fish in exchange for the rootcrops of the upland T’boli.

This pattern in the activities and interaction of the upland and lakeside T’boli, provided by the seselong, may be viewed as a distribution of resources and exchanges of protein and carbohydrates-rich food between the two groups of T’boli. This intertwining of the natural world and the cultural aspect of the T’boli seselong may be viewed as one of the solutions to what I assume is an imbalance in the protein and carbohydrate diet of the two groups. In the old days when the T’boli were still exclusively hunters and gatherers, this system of exchange provides an easy source of protein for the upland T’boli whose main protein source are the animals that they hunt in the forest, in exchange for their carbohydrates-rich rootcrops. In turn, the lakeside T’boli whose diet consists mainly of protein from the fish caught in the lake, exchange their fish for the upland T’boli’s rootcrops.

The T’boli’s experience of the  k’mohung also turns our attention to indigenous meaning-generation. By studying the different expressions of narratives and the system of seselong that springs from the experience, I can engage with Bruner’s method of starting with expressions to understand the experience because the “basic units of analysis are established by the people we study rather by the anthropologist as alien observer” (9). Anthropological understanding of climate change adaptations and responses of the T’boli S’bu may also use this approach.

Bruner’s interpretive approach of the experience-expression relations operates on two levels:

 The people we study interpret their own experiences in expressive forms, and we, in turn, through our fieldwork, interpret these expressions for a home audience of other anthropologists. Our anthropological productions are our stories about their stories; we are interpreting the people as they are interpreting themselves. (10)

Although I disagree with Bruner when he says that anthropological studies are intended for a “home audience of other anthropologists”, believing that the ultimate audience of the anthropologist are his/her community partners, I still agree in this bi-level operation of cognition where people interpret their own experience while the anthropologist interprets those expressions to gain access to the original experience. In once instance, for example, I was invited to attend a tutul (chants) performance of several master-chanters of Klubi, Lamdalag and Lamcade. Several times, community members listening to the stories would cut the singing and comment on the story’s episodes relating them to contemporary issues, such as mining in T’boli municipality or treasure hunting in Lake Holon, yet the story itself (of the hero Tudbulul) is of mythological time, a story outside time, indeed serving as “meaning-generating devices which frame the present within a hypothetical past and an anticipated future” (1986: 18). Their own interpretations of the age-old stories, relating them to contemporary problems and issues give me adequate hope that among those stories and tutul performances, I may perhaps glean the hows, and whys of the T’boli S’bu mind in the ‘reality’ of climate change and from these expressions – of performed texts and dormant meanings in folk narratives – I may catch, even for a brief moment, a T’boli S’bu ‘experience’ of climate change.




Hodges, H. A. The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. Routledge & Kegan Paul (1952).

Bruner, Edward and Turner, Victor eds. The Anthropology of Experience. Chicago: University of Illinois Press (1986).

Blotik Éhék (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and Climate Change: When Traditional Knowledge Becomes Unreliable


 Several studies conducted by anthropologists have already substantially concluded the effects of existing, anthropogenic climate change and how it compounds indigenous peoples’ vulnerabilities adding to “existing challenges, including political and economic marginalization, land and resource encroachments, human rights violations and discrimination” (Crate 2009). These studies underline the importance of using ecological and landscape approaches to climate studies, strongly relying on the emic point of view or the local people’s knowledge of their environment, geography and ecology.

Susan Crate used this approach successfully in her study[1] on the effects of climate change to the sub-Arctic Viliu Sakha communities in northeastern Siberia, Russia and noted the transformations of “both symbolic cultures and subsistence cultures […] reframe the implications of unprecented global climate change (Crate 2009).” Sarah Strauss[2], working with the community of Leukerbad in Switzerland, described and shared Leukerbadners’ stories of retreating glaciers in the Alps and warned anthropologists and scientists that “we are all feeling the effects, both long term and short term, of a changing climate, but the solutions that will be applicable to the global problem cannot be cast from a single mold.” Indeed, as landscapes, geography and cultures diversely vary on our planet, the challenge is to also diversify solutions to climate change to consider each local community’s socioeconomic and cultural capacities, resilience and vulnerability. This challenge falls particularly to anthropologists who “seek to understand and translate, helping make the experiences of one place/time/people intelligible to those who inhabit different lifeworlds (Strauss 2009)”.

In this study, focus is given to the T’boli people whose traditional domains include the highland lake complex of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, the Daguma mountain range, Allah River, the crater lake of Holon in Mt. Melibengoy and the coastal communities of Kiamba and Maasim in Sarangani, Southern Philippines.  Particularly, the setting is in Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu municipality, South Cotabato with a total land area of 509 hectares, the only barangay in Lake Sebu considered “100% tribal area” [3]. Klubi is 4. 59% of the total land area of the Municipality of Lake Sebu. Particular interest was given to the area for its mountainous “hilly to steep hilly”  (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010) topography and to contribute a mountainous, tropical and agricultural setting to climate studies whose noticeable main body of concern are the Arctic, coastal and glacial regions.

The T’boli are listed in ethnographies (cf Cultural Center of the Philippines Enyclopedia of Philippine Art 1994) as “a people in the mature hunting-gathering stage with horticulturalists”. While this maybe true when the ethnographic research was conducted, contemporary T’bolis have already cultivated vast hectares of agricultural land devoted to rice and corn. As a matter of fact, from the 89,138 hectares total land area of Lake Sebu, 24,404 hectares is appropriated as agricultural (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010). Many of the T’bolis still use traditional methods of planting corn and upland rice, relying mostly on astronomical bodies (sun, moon and stars, specially the blotik éhék) and geographic markers (mountains) to tell the season for planting and harvesting. But with the changes in climate and weather patterns, they are also increasingly experiencing difficulties in following any agricultural calendar. Field interviews with farmers describe March and April as the traditional months for planting, when there is no rain that may otherwise bring the farmers’ woes of forager and cutter insects and also the burrowing worms which eat the newly planted stalks. Some of the farmers, experiencing these difficulties, turn to non-traditional ways of planting like the use of fertilizers and planting hybrid rice and corn, just to secure their harvest and feed their families.

This study aims to describe their present-day agricultural practices, most specifically in the planting of corn and rice, and also to describe the climate-related challenges experienced by the T’boli farmers.

For this objective, this paper uses ethnoecology for its conceptual framework. Ethnoecology, generally speaking, is the study of what local people know about their environment, how they classify that information, and how they use it – an attempt toward the understanding of local understanding about a realm of experience.

In this paper, we try to describe and understand the T’boli’s natural resource management in agriculture and how local knowledge of the terrain, weather, climate and astronomical bodies inform their agricultural practices. The interactions of traditional agricultural knowledge with the effects of climate change will be analyzed to understand how changes in the natural system will revise (or has already revised) current practices in T’boli agriculture. Methods used in this study include individual interviews, archival research and participant observation.

This paper adds to the growing number of studies on climate and indigenous peoples and seeks to understand how indigenous peoples in mountainous habitats with an agricultural-based economy, are experiencing climate perturbations and how they are responding to the risks brought by climate change. By investigating their agricultural practices, the inconsistencies of traditional knowledge with their landscape and weather, and their perception on climate change, policymakers, advocates and planners may better understand how to inform, update and apprise the T’boli S’bu on the realities of climate change.

Ethnoecology as Situated Knowledge

The seminal work which introduced ethnoscience/ethnoecology to the humanities and social sciences is Harold Conklin’s The Relation of the Hanunuo Culture to the Plant World (1954) which was to “dismantle the dominant view on shifting cultivating as a haphazard, destructive, and primitive way of making a living” (Nazarea 2006). If Clifford Geertz underlined anthropology’s work of “understanding others’ understanding”, ethnoecology rests on the imperative that anthropological inquiry must increasingly seek to understand local understanding (the so-called native point of view) about a realm of experience. This includes systematically documenting and analysing folk classification and paradigms pertaining to plants, animals, color,weather, soils, water, illness and the human body until “only the most incorrigible remain unimpressed by the logic, complexity and sophistication of local knowledge” (Nazarea 2006).

Ethnoecology springs from the cognitive approach of studying peoples’ conception of events and objects, asserting that “culture is composed of logical rules that are based on ideas that can be accessed in the mind.”[4] This focus on the interaction between the society/culture and the mind seeks to understand and explain essential components of human social behavior.  The concept of a “Native Science” is also related to the understanding of the role of the environment intertwined with the meaning/s humans place upon their lives.

Linguistics, or the study of language, is integral to ethnoecology. Understanding the language and the native people’s linguistic system is one method to understand a native people’s system of knowledge of organization. Not only is there categorization for things pertaining to nature and culture thought language, but more importantly and complex is the relationship between environment and culture. Ethnoecology looks at the intricacies of the connection between culture and its surrounding environment.

This system of understanding local people’s understanding takes into account the social and cultural embeddedness of knowledge, technologies and practices inherent to natural resource management and “recognizes the plurality of forms of knowledge, world views and the ethical values connected to them within different social and cultural groups”. We take for example the T’boli’s complex system of classifying rice according to their color, size and shape of the kernels. Halay is the generic term for unhusked rice but more specific upland varieties abound in their language: éfél (small white kernels inside a mottled black and yellow husk resembling the color of the éfél ‘bumblebee’), kedegsan (medium-sized white kernels inside a yellowish-colored husk), alì (long, medium sized white kernels inside a dark red husk) or the sendangan (large, stubby kernels inside a yellowish-colored husk covered with tiny thistles).[5]

This unique (particular to a given group) system of classifying their material and social universe in turn, according to ethnoecology, becomes a means of gaining insight not only into the nature of man but also into the nature of culture.

Traditional Domain of the T’boli S’bu

The T’boli, also known as Tboli, Tiboli and Tagabili, are indigenous peoples of Mindanao concentrated in South Cotabato where the southwest coast range and the Cotabato mountains merge to form the Tiruray highlands, in an area circumscribed by the towns of Surallah, Polomolok Maitum and Kiamba. As settlers from other Philippine islands arrived, the T’boli gradually withdrew to the mountain slopes and lived in scattered villages. Their cultural heartland lies in the highland lake complex of Sebu, Seloton, and Lahit. Lake Holon in Mt. Melibengoy (formerly Lake Maughan of Mt. Parker) in T’boli municipality, South Cotabato is also an important body of water in the T’boli traditional territory.

The T’boli are usually divided into the coastal-dwelling peoples, the T’boli Mohin of Maitum, Kiamba and Maasim, and the mountain-dwelling T’boli S’bu of the municipalities of T’boli and Lake Sebu, all in South Cotabato, Philippines.

The T’boli S’bu are mostly located in the municipality of Lake Sebu in the Province of South Cotabato. It is approximately 40 kilometers away from Koronadal, the provincial capital of South Cotabato. Lake Sebu is approximately 6 hours away from Cotabato City, the Regional center of Region XII. It is bounded on the North by the Municipality of Surallah; on the Southwest by the Municipality of Kiamba and Maitum; in the East by the Municipality of T’boli and in the West by Palimbang of the Province of Sultan Kudarat. It is located at 6”10” N Latitude and 124”44”E Longitude.

The Total area of Lake Sebu is 89,138 hectares or approximately 11.59% of the total land of South Cotabato. Its biggest barangay is Ned with 41,247 hectares or 46.3 % of the Municipality. The smallest barangay is Lahit with only 528 hectares or 0.6% of the municipality’s land area. (Socioeconomic Profile of Lake Sebu 2010)

The T’boli and Ubo Ancestral domain cover a total area of 39,852 hectares or 44.70% of Lake Sebu, including 18 barangay out of 19 Barangays, namely: Hanoon, Lower Maculan, Upper Maculan, Halilan, Denlag, Lamcade, Klubi, Lamdalag, Lamlahak, T’konel, Seloton, Poblacion, Lahit, Talisay, Bacdulong, Lamfugon, Tasiman and Luhib. The only barangay outside the domain is baranggay Ned. The largest portion of the domain, which is 20%, is within Barangay Lamfugon, Barangay Lamlahak and Tasiman equally covering 12% each, T’konel, Lamdalag and Klubi, 10% each. Upper Maculan 4%, Lower Maculaan, Hanoon and Lamcade 3% each, Luhib, Halilan and Poblacion 2% each. The barangays with the smallest land area are Seloton, Lahit, Bacdulong 1% each.

The climate of Lake Sebu belongs to the Fourth type where rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year. Its temperature is relatively cool like that of Baguio City. The dry season usually falls during the month of March to April. Significantly, however, showers usually occur during the afternoons between the month of February and May.

Lake Sebu has a rugged terrain. It is surrounded by mountain ranges, including Daguma and Talihik along its eastern portion, Mt. Busa in the south-eastern portion with an elevation of 2,064 meters; Pitot Kalabao Peak along the central portion with an elevation of 1,6000 meters and Mt. Talili in the eastern portion with an elevation of 1,410 meters. Barangay Poblacion of Lake Sebu itself is estimated to be 700 meters above sea level.

The Lake Sebu Watershed Forest Reserve is a protected landscape under Proclamation no. 65 signed on August 4 1966, covering a total of 9,900 hectares. Lake Sebu (S’bu is the T’boli word for lake) is a natural lake in the municipality of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato and within the Allah Valley Watershed Landscape region. The lake itself and the rivers that drain from it is part of the Allah Valley Watershed which covers South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The Allah Valley Watershed is the southernmost tributary of the Pulangi River that drains in Illana Bay in Cotabato City. (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance 2007)

The total delineated area of the Allah Valley Watershed is 252,034 has. that extends to the Province of Maguindanao. Surface waters that are drained along the Allah and Banga rivers subsequently find their way into the Liguasan marsh, the second largest in the country. The Allah Valley Watershed is a major sub-watershed unit of the Cotabato-Agusan river basin in Mindanao. It covers the jurisdictions of the Province of South Cotabato (Municipalities of Lake Sebu, T’boli, Surallah, and Sto. Nino, Banga, Norala) and the Province of Sultan Kudarat (City of Tacurong and Municipalities of Isulan, Esperanza, Lambayong and Bagumbayan). (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance 2007)

The 3 lakes of Sebu, Seloton and Lahit (all part of the Allah Valley Watershed) are fed by underground springs in the mountain ranges of Daguma and surrounding mountains that made up mostly of porous sedimentary rocks that store and catch rainwater. Water from the lakes then cascades down the 7 waterfalls namely: Hikong Alu (passage), Hikong Bente (immeasurable), Hikong B’lebel (zigzag), Hikong Lowig (booth), Hikong Kefo-i (wild flower), Hikong Ukok (short), and Hikong Tonok (soil). The water then travels down the Allah River that combines with the Banga River finally joining the bigger Pulangi River and Liguasan Marsh to drain in Illana Bay.

Agricultural Practices of the T’boli in Klubi: Blotik Éhék (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and the Fu (Spirit Owners)

The study is set in Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu. The topography of Brgy. Klubi is hilly to steep to very steep (30% – up slope range). One would easily notice that there is considerable forest loss due to conversion of forest land to agricultural purposes. Going up from Korononadal City, capital of South Cotabato, to Lake Sebu, it is plain to see that many areas have been converted to rice and corn farms. Surallah, an important trading center between Lake Sebu and Koronadal, is considered a rice granary because of its wide valleys planted with rice, corn and other products. Surallah is predominantly inhabited by settlers from the Visayan islands, mostly Ilonggo, and as a matter of fact, the T’boli of Lake Sebu have to learn the Ilonggo language for them to be able to communicate with the settlers (most of them merchants) and for them to study in schools (most teachers are Ilonggo-speaking).

Going up Barangay Klubi from the Poblacion of Lake Sebu, commuters will have to hire a habal-habal motorcycle for P50 and go up a steep dirt road. This makes it also hard for the farmers who have to transport their produce from their farms up and down the mountains and explains why they opt to plant corn and rice instead of vegetables, as vegetables will not be able to stay fresh in this arduous trek down the mountain-farms.

Houses in Klubi are set in a compound of 1 family, usually numbering more than 5 houses but not exceeding 10 in a compound. The Sulan Family’s compound (research partner) has 7 houses not including their grinding center, the LASIWWAI office and the gono bong (long house), currently used as a Designers’ House for the women weavers.

The following are the neighbors in the Sulan Compound:

  1. Sitio Malun
  2. Sharon Gumatao
  3. Rio Sulan
  4. Rey Sulan
  5. Jenita Eko
  6. Eko Sulan
  7. Stephen Bihan
  8. Semlon Landayong
  9. Rodrigo Lamdayong
  10. Waning Lugong
  11. Ugon Nalon
  12. Dima Abid
  13. Lendi Tinggal

All of the neighboring families are involved in farming, directly planting and harvesting or helping in the marketing of produce.

Another noticeable feature of Klubi is the abundant water flowing in creeks and springs. A few meters of digging a hole would already tap in the aquifer as in the case of the planned septic tank for the Day Care center that they had to abandon due to the restrictions of the elders. Some families’ compound has a fishpond fed by this underground aquifer or a spring. At this point, it is worthwhile to note how the T’bolis of Klubi believe in the fun (owner or spirit). Several fu are said to reside and own certain natural resources like water (‘el), abaca (kdungon), rice (halay), forests (dlag koyu), wild animals (Taha Kilang – or in some chants , Tud Bulul and Taha Kilang are the same), Lake Sebu (S’bu), mountains (bulul) and others. My host family’s fishpond is believed to be inhabited by one of these spirits. The patriarch Eko Sulan used to give offerings near the fishpond to appease this spirit due to the belief that it claims human victims, in some accident or another.

The farm of the Sulan family was divided equally (even among women) among the sisters and brothers. This farm is located in Sitio Datal Sbuyon, Barangay Klubi mostly hilly to steep. Datal Sbuyon is a 45-minute hike from Sitio Lamkua, Barangay Klubi. Facing south of the farm is the mountain of Te Tofuk, and facing east is Meli Botu. They get water for their farms from the spring Sboyun, named after the spirit/owner (fu) of the water that comes from the aquifers of Te Tofuk. It is believed, by the people interviewed, that this fu is fickle and is regularly appeased with demsu or offering. ‘Fickle’ because there are times when the springs become dry and the farmers have to look for another source of water, and also because of the belief that disrespecting fu sboyun will also cause illness to the farmers.

The soil within the forest areas is classified as undifferentiated mountain soil, which has no agricultural importance at present. Along the flat lands, the soil classification belongs to silty loam and sandy, which range from very good land to moderately good land for cultivation.[6]  Soil in the rice and corn farm is dry while the abaca farms are moist, dark humus shaded by tall trees. The T’boli also believe that the soil is owned by fu tonok (lit. owner of the earth). This general belief in the fu may point to the local people’s cognition that resources are not theirs to exploit but as something borrowed from the ‘owners’ hence the rituals of asking for permission to use those resources.

Land ownership is considered communal. The watershed, forests, river systems, farm and pasture lands are considered communal properties and therefore their use and conservation are the responsibility of the whole community. Lake Sebu is an ancestral domain with a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claims (CADC) Nos. 003 and 004 facilitated through the Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Claim Association (LASADCA). The 2 CADCS (CADC 003 for the Ubo tribes and CADC 004 for the T’boli tribes) have a total land area of 19,377 and 20,475 hectares respectively (Logong 2000). In the case of the Sulan family, their farms are in the ancestral domain claim and no title from the government has been issued to them. According to an interview, the farm lands were acquired through the uncle of the patriarch Eko Sulan. His own father was a hunter and had no hand for farming. It was Eko Sulan who first cultivated the land and then passed it on to his daughters and sons. Jelly Escarlote, a farmer who manages a farm in Datal Sboyun and Lamkadi talked about land ownership in an interview:

Yung sa amin, sa tatay ko mismo tapos namana niya na rin sa lolo namin… Ang pag-aari ng lupa ay depende sa sipag mo. Kung gaano ang sipag niya, yun na rin ang lupa na mapa-sakanya. At sa ngayon, dahil hindi pa ito napatituluhan, kasi ancestral domain, mabagal siguro ang pag-ano ng NCIP.  Kahit yung assessment nila, parang on the table pa lang. (6 May 2013, 2:33pm)

T’meba or slash-and-burn is done to clear forests in preparation for planting. This is usually done during the beginning of March. Before, they used to clear small patches of forests to plant rootcrops and transfer to other locations for the next planting cycle, but in contemporary time, they no longer practice this due mainly to decreasing availability of land and increasing number of families who owns land. Land ownership is through clearing and planting. If a person clears a forest and plants it, then that land would be his or hers. During the time of Eko Sulan’s father, they would move on to another land after harvesting and let the soil rest. T’meba is done in another area where they would plant again. But this time, they are using the same plot of land and never let it rest for the entire year. Eko Sulan said that because of this they have lesser and lesser harvest each year.

Farmers are both men and women, and starting from a very young age, children are exposed to the farm life. Traditionally, farming is the exclusive domain of the men, but in contemporary time, women are now helping and even owning their farms as in the case of Jelly Escarlote and Jenita Eko. In the case of Jenita Eko, she is the 2nd child from the 1st wife of Eko Sulan. According to her, because of her father’s frustrations of not having a son, she was brought up like one by her father and so was exposed to hunting, farming and other men’s activities, most interesting is her involvement in conflict mediation. Her father and is one of the mediators in the tribe or tau mugut kokum.  Bo-i Diwa (a celebrated tau mugut kokum) is the aunt of her mother.

Jelly Escarlote is a farmer and member of Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc. (LASIWWAI). She is also a pastor of the Alliance Church in Klubi. In an interview, she was introduced to farming through her father who would bring her to their farm in Lamkadi and taught her through hands-on experience.

Bata pa ako, sumama na ako sa papa ko lalo na sa pagtatanim ng palay. Mga ano siguro ako, Grade 4, nagoobserve na ako kung paano magtanim ng palay at paano rin magtrabaho sa palayan. (6 May 2013)

The T’boli S’bu were described in ethnographies as hunting-gathering societies, with swidden farms, and not until recently did they plant rice, corn and other agricultural products. Several interviews suggest that the great grandfathers of the current generation (i.e. Jenita Eko and Eunice Sulan’s) are still exclusively planting rootcrops and hunting for their food. The generation of Eko Sulan may be the first farmers of rice and corn in the area.

Planting may be considered organic, although there are already instances when they have to use insecticides. Jelly reasoned that when adjacent farms use insecticides, pests would transfer to their own farm giving them no choice but to also use insecticides. As much as possible, Jelly shared, they never use synthetic insecticides. Traditional organic means of killing insects include placing fak binuten (frog with warts, i.e. Hawaiian frog) in the farms to eat the insects, and wong (spiders) are also left to make their webs in the farm to eat insects.

Another method is to create boundaries of bamboo forests in between corn/rice and the abaca farms. The bamboos serve as natural screens for flying insects that might bring diseases from the corn to the abaca or vice versa. Madre de cacao (Gliricidia sepium) bark is also used as insecticide by soaking it for 3 days then mixing with chili pepper (capsicum frutescens) and detergent powder. This is then sprayed to the corns to kill the worms that eat the corn stalks. In an interview with Eko Sulan, he said that there were no rat infestations before because they used to eat the field mice by setting different traps in the farm. He shared that when migrants increasingly brought in their different varieties of corn and rice, the diseases and pests have also increased

Melem éhék is a ritual done to call for rain. A sharpening stone is placed in the river and is said to call for rain within a few days. The symbolization, according to Jelly Escarlote, is that a sharpening stone always feels cool and it becomes wet when being used. The coolness and the wetness symbolize rain. The person making this ritual must bathe several times every day until the rain comes. Jelly shared that when she went to a place in CARAGA, Mindanao, there was also a similar ritual done by the family who housed them. A sharpening stone was placed in the river and then placed at the edge of the roof.

Several plants are planted in the gardens of the Sulan compound. This include: taro, garlic, malabar spinach (alugbati, Basella alba), Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa), cabbage (Brassica oleracea), cassava, eggplant, okra and sweet potato. While crops planted in the Datal Sboyun farm are: corn (sweet corn variety, Zea mays), upland rice (different varieties) and abaca.

The following are varieties of upland rice cultivated by the T’boli (Awed, et al 2004):

halay – unhusked rice, generic

halay awot – (a Visayan variety) short, round, white kernels, matures early

halay blabud – brown, semi-round, large kernels

halay blibóy – white, elongated kernels

halay blinow – smallest, white kernels

halay blogo – large kernels, nice for making puffed rice

halay fut – striped skinned, white kernels and heavy

halay hegna/hlóng – a variety of very fast growth

halay hulô gunù – red skinned, white kernels

halay kambing – brown skinned, whiskered, white kernels

halay kbahù – red skinned, small, white kernels

halay kmagi – red skinned, elongated, white kernels

halay kmamang – white skin and kernels, heads are scattered instead of in clusters

halay nadal – yellow skinned, white kernels

halay nongul – any kind of rice that is not glutinous

halay óngô – very small, white kernels

halay sendangan – large, yellow skinned with fuzz, brown kernels, very good for soup

halay sgandal – striped skinned, long, white kernels

halay swani – yellow, small, elongated skinned, white kernels

halay teng – large, elongated, black skinned, white kernels

halay tugom – very small, short, brown skinned, white kernels

hulut asam – black and white striped skin, red kernels, very small, glutinous

hulut balut – striped skinned, red kernels, glutinous kernels

hulut dlong – brown, large variety, red, glutinous

hulut koti – dark skinned, black, glutinous kernels

hulut wak – glutinous, dark purple skin and kernels

Animals domesticated by the T’boli in Klubi: dogs, cats, carabaos, cows, chickens, horses, ducks, goats and turkeys.

The following are the harvesting and planting implements of the T’boli in Klubi:

Alab/galab ­– sickle

Asay – hatchet

Badung – bolo with a curved, wide blade

Bakbak – hammer

Bangkung – work bolo

Beyung – long-handled axe

Blis – sharpened piece of bamboo used for harvesting corn

Dadu – plow

Dulis – scraper or knife used to scrape the burned hair off a pig or deer hide

Dwél – prybar

Egel – sharpened stick used for making holes in the ground when planting corn

Ehek – dibble stick, a pointed stick used to dig holes for planting rice

Ehek tefak – dibble-stick with a noise maker on the top so that it makes a clapping sound as the holes are made

Éhék –  sharpening stone

Fala – shovel

Fat dangaw – four-handspan long bolo used in bartering at weddings.

Fiku – pickaxe

Gbut – long work bolo, but accidentally broken off, with about one-fourth left at the base

Get – handsaw

Hokol – short wide-bladed bolo

Hotuk – hatchet or axe of the T’boli before World War II

Kadas – harrow used in field work

Kbahù – small all-purpose knife used by men

Kdang – type of work bolo

Kleng huhed – fancy knife (bolo/kris)

Klo – weeding tool

Klut – saw-toothed piece of rounded metal used for scraping and grating coconut out of the shell

Kongò – large bolo having a curved end

Lebaha – razor blade

Legadaw – sickle

Legadì – file

Lendasan – anvil

Lenggaman – rice harvesting knife

Limbas – iron file used to sharpen metal

Lumak – scabbard

Okol – digging stick

Sanggut – hoe with a pointed blade

Sokul – hoe

Sudeng – kris, a dagger with a serpentine blade used for trading between chiefs and worn by the bridegroom at weddings

Suk – bolo, generic

Tabas – bolo with a long curved blade

Tahù – blade of an abaca stripper

Tefek – largest work bolo

Teksì – tool (knife) used to strip abaca from the plant

Tiba – bolo used for cutting tall grass

Tók – bolo with a long blade

Tumba – large, thin, wide sharp bolo

The T’boli in Klubi uses the the phases of the moon, positions of stars and directions of sunrise, sunset, mooonrise and moonset to guide them in planting and harvesting.

Awed, et al described the phases of the moon in relation to rice planting:

This is specifically for the months of March sélél  and April, tdanan hotuk, the months for rice planting.

nengel ohu – it’s in the ground, can’t be seen. New Moon.

uluk lanab – it appears just above the ocean as large as a wild pig’s tusk. New Moon.

sebwól tikung – it is one handspanc above the ocean, red in appearance.

lulón klembew – it appears over the tops of the mountains.

nù lem léhéken – it appears halfways between earth and sky. Crescent. (Poor harvest if planted at this phase.)

slafin – it appears at the highest point of the sky. First Quarter. (Excellent harvest if planted at this phase, when the moon and blotik ehek ‘star for planting’ are in direct line, one above the other).

deng semfóyón – it has just passed the sky’s highest point.

stileng – it is halfway down the sky (by daylight reckoning), beginning to be large. Gibbous. (Poor harvest if planted at this phase, because the moon and the blotik ehek have passed each other).

mangu ­– becoming larger. (Not good to plant at this phase).

saif – Usually the best time for planting. Last Quarter.

tngel – Full moon.

kbit – still very large.

sotu knifuhen – ‘first night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up.

lewu knifuhen – ‘second night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up.

tlu knifuhen – ‘third night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up.

limu knifuhen – ‘fifth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as kifu lóbô ‘night of the wild things’ as animals, snakes. (Good harvest only if the owners themselves do the planting).

nem knifuhen – ‘sixth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as kifu likò ‘night of being afraid’ (because the darkness is so intense). [According to Jenita Eko, it is the ‘night of being afraid’ because the T’boli believe that many bad things happen during this night, most especially ‘robbery resulting to homicide’ committed by the Ubo tribe.

hitu knifuhen – ‘seventh night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as tanay ketfesen or tfes udì. (Good harvest if planted at this phase).

wolu knifuhen – ‘eight night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as tfes sumy or tfes bong. (Good harvest is planted at this phase).

syóm knifuhen – ‘ninth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as yewen bong; half of the moon is seen. Third/Last Quarter.

sfolò knifuhen tenth night with a (time of) darkness’ before moon comes up, known as yewen udì; only a small part of moon is seen. Crescent.

sudù kdaw – Moon is no longer seen it sets the same time the sun comes up. New Moon.

limu butengen mbut bulón glimun ­ – ‘five nights until the fifth month starts (i.e. May 1, the last chance to plant rice).

sélél – month of March

stileng – month of July

tdanan hotuk bulón – the dry season, usually from the last week of February through March, after the field has been cleared while waiting for it to be dry enough to be burned (lit. time of resting).

In an interview with Eko Sulan, he shared that they should only plant banana when it’s a full moon and when the moon rises from the east. Rice and corn are planted during the full moons of March and April. Eko Sulan explained that when the moon rises from the ‘sea’ (this was explained as a metaphor for sea of mountains surrounding Klubi) or geographic west, accompanied by the star blotik éhék while it rises, is the proper time to plant rice and corn because the earth will be dry (hence no worms) and maya birds will not eat the corn and rice.

The star blotik éhék literally means the ‘star of the sharpening stone’. It is a celestial marker for T’boli agriculture not unlike the star Sirius in ancient Egyptian agriculture that marks the annual flooding of the Nile River. Éhék is the stone used to sharpen knives, tok or sudeng and other implements. Whetstones or water stones are hard rocks, and according to Eko Sulan, are also very hard to find. This star’s name, marking the agricultural planting season, may also be interpreted as preparing the farming tools for the coming planting season. When this star rises together with the moon, as if riding on the moon’s back, then that month is the lunar month for March-April.

Lake Sebu Municipality is a Type IV climate according to the standards and categories of the the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) which is characterized by “a more or less evenly distributed rainfall througout the year.” Climate data for a representative city, General Santos City[7], show that the lowest recorded precipitation in a year is during the months of March and April, 1.6 and 1.9 inches respectively. Annual average precipitation is 42.2 inches, with June having the highest average precipitation at 4.8 inches. This scientific data validates the practice of planting during the dry season to avert pests that multiply during the rainy season.

Another detail here: Eko Sulan added that the blotik éhék must not be flickering so much because this will also mean a bad harvest. Stellar scintillation is caused by “small-scale fluctuations in air density related to temperature gradients”[8]. This marker shared by Eko Sulan is part of the compendium of traditional knowledge on agriculture that, seen through the lenses of western, modern science, considers atmospheric conditions that are essential to a good harvest.

One of the striking observations during the interviews and fieldwork in Klubi was the increasing unreliability of these astronomical markers in the agricultural practices of the T’boli. Jelly Escarlote put it succinctly:

Noon, sinasabi nila, oh buwan ng Marso, buwan ng Abril, kahit hindi mo tingnan ang araw, kahit hindi mo tingnan kung saan siya magsikat o ano, basta yan na buwan, mabilang ng mga matatanda, yan ang buwan na maganda ang harvest, maganda ang lahat ng mga produkto, pero sa ngayon dahil sa pagbabago ng panahon, mahirapan na kami. Kasi hindi mo na ma-ano, hindi mo na mabibilang sa kalendaryo na ito pagmag-tanim ako ngayon, bilangin ko lang hanggang, isa, dalawa hanggang pitong araw, hindi pa yan tutubo ang mga damo, pero sa ngayon kahit ilang araw lang maya-maya uulan nanaman. So malaking epekto, nahihirapan kaming mag-timing sa pagtatanim ngayon. Kung minsan, ano na lang, sinusunod pa rin namin ang mga buwan na sinasabi ng mga matatanda na ganito, maganda ang pagtanim, pero ang problema, may deperensya talaga sa produkto tapos, sa tayo ng mga halaman. Kagaya nito (points to the corn field),  ito sinunod namin ang buwan ng pagtatanim ng mais dito, pero tingnan mo, kinain ng mga uod. Kaya kita mo doon sa baba, hindi nalinisan ng mabuti, kasi kung maulan doon lalabas yung uuod. Ulan tapos mainit nanaman, biglang uulan, biglang iinit. Yun lalabas yung mga uod. (6 May 2013, 2:33pm)

Erratic weather systems have been blamed by the informants for the confusions in the planting calendar. Although the stars, moon, sun and mountains are still there to tell them when to plant, the weather tells a different story. When the elders tell them that it is the right time to plant, as it is the dry season, it suddenly rains and brings with it pests that eats the newly planted corn stalks. In a Focus Group Discussion conducted on 30 March 2013 in Klubi, several of the elders answered that they will not change their planting calendar believing that the seasons will go back to normal. They shared the story of the long drought experience by the generation of Eko Sulan’s grandfather when there was no rain for months and all their crops failed. They said that eventually the rains came and the seasons ‘normalized’. This attitude may not be shared by all the farmers in Klubi, many of whom are no longer following the traditional methods of planting, but the elders are still thinking along these lines of ‘it will get better soon’.

One sees in these events the dilemma of following the old, static cultural system (illustrated here as the traditional knowledge in agriculture) in the face of a very dynamic natural system, but certainly any researcher must take into consideration the capabilities of a society to adapt and undertake “actions necessary to maintain the capacity to deal with future change or perturbations to a social-ecological system without undergoing significant changes in function, structural identity, or feedbacks of that system while maintaining the option to develop” (Nelson, Adger, and Brown 2007). Indeed, ethnographies of many different indigenous groups reveal their resilience in the face of adversities, human or environmental. But here, one is reminded of the synergy of a resilient ecosystem reinforcing the resilience of the social system (and vice versa). Indigenous place-based resilience requires understanding the traditions and sustained relationships with the land. Relationships are embedded in the land. This becomes tied to the personal identity, spiritual development of people, and their overall relationships with others. Can maintenance of community relationships be part of indigenous resilience? How can this be realized when place-based traditions are already being compromised by climatic perturbations? How can this relationship to the land be guaranteed when most are already leaving the mountains for the cities? Can the T’boli of Klubi be resilient to anthropogenic climate change, compounded by other “existing challenges, including political and economic marginalization, land and resource encroachments, human rights violations and discrimination?

The now unreliable blotik éhék may have a stark future as just another star against the millions twinkling in the night sky of the month of sélél. No one knows for sure, if the blotik riding the moon of a cloudless night, will still call the T’boli to prepare the okol, fiku or the tok, the sharpening stone eager in a dark corner.


Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance. Watershed Resources Management in the Allah Valley Landscape. Koronadal City, Issue Poster no. 2 series of 2007.

Awed S., Underwood L., and Van Wynen V. 2004. T’boli-English Dictionary. Manila: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Crate, S. Gone the Bull of Winter? Contemplating Climate Change’s Cultural Implications in Northeastern Siberia, Russia, In Anthropology and Climate Change, eds. Crate, S., and Nuttal, M. California: Left Coast Press.  2009.

Logong D. L. 2000. Experiences and Challenges of the Indigenour People in Co-managing Forest Resources: The Lake Sebu Ancestral Domain Community Association, In Decentralization and Devolution of Forest Management in Asia and the Pacific, eds. Enters, T., Durst, P. B., and M. Victor. RECOFTC Report N. 18 and RAP Publication 2000/1. Bangkok, Thailand.

Nazarea, V. The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture and Sustainable Living, eds. Haenn, N. and Wilk, R. New York: New York University Press. 2005.

Nelson, D. R., W. N. Adger, and K. Brown. 2007. Adaptation to environmental change: Contributions of a resilience framework. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 32 (11): 113.

Office of the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Lake Sebu Socioeconomic Profile 2010.

Simova, B., Robertson, T., and Beasley, D. 2012. Cognitive Anthropology,, retrieved August 30, 2012.

Strauss, S. Global Models, Local Risks: Responding to Climate Change in the Swiss Alps, In Anthropology and Climate Change, eds. Crate, S., and Nuttal, M. California: Left Coast Press.  2009.

Weatherbase. General Santos, Philippines., retrieved on 27 May 2013.

Wikipedia. Lake Sebu., retrieved August 24, 2012.

Wikipedia. Scintillation., retrieved on 27 May 2013.

[1] See Gone the Bull of Winter? Contemplating Climate Change’s Cultural Implications in Northeastern Siberia, Russia.

[2] See Global Models, Local Risks: Responding to Climate Change in the Swiss Alps.

[3] Interview with Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator dated May 2, 2013.

[4] Bobby Simova, Tara Robertson and Duke Beasley, Cognitive Anthropology,, retrieved August 30, 2012.

[5] Silin Awed et. al, “T’boli-English Dictionary” as validated by Jelly Escarlote in an interview dated May 5, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] -Santos-Philippines, retrieved on 27 May 2013.

[8] Scintillation., retrieved on 27 May 2013.