June 23, 2024

Tradition and Innovation: Aborlan CBFM fosters a sustainable path forward with ASSERT-CBFM

SAGPANGAN, Aborlan, Palawan, Philippines – The Tagbanwa people, believed to be one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Philippines, have thrived for generations in harmony with their natural environment. With a deeply rooted connection to the lands and territory, they have relied on it for sustenance, shelter, and livelihoods.

Despite facing challenges such as encroaching industries, illegal activities, and external pressures, Tagbanwa communities remain steadfast and innovative in their efforts to protect their ancestral lands. An indication of enduring commitment to preserving their cultural heritage and environmental stewardship.


Nestled in the verdant landscapes of Southern Palawan, in the municipality of Aborlan, lies the Tagbanwa community of Sagpangan. Here, the Sagpangan Tribal Multi-Purpose Cooperative (STMPC), a community-based organization founded and operated solely by Indigenous Tagbanwa peoples, oversees the management of 4,462 hectares of predominantly forested land at the foothills of the biologically significant region of Victoria-Anepahan Mountain Range (VAMR).

This Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) area hosts a diverse range of wildlife, including commercially valuable non-timber forest products like rattan, almaciga, and honey. This CBFM area is especially vital for the municipality of Aborlan, as it directly supports the Iraan River Watershed, one of the most important river basins in the province and the main sources of water for agriculture activities and domestic use in Aborlan.

The Sagpangan Tribal Multi-Purpose Cooperative leads the way in implementing sustainable practices to maintain the delicate balance between human needs and environmental protection. This commitment to environmental sustainability is demonstrated through various community-led reforestation and biodiversity conservation programs initiated by the organization.

In this process, the STMPC highlighted that they prioritize the propagation and cultivation of native flora, harnessing the inherent adaptability and resilience of species like Narra, Ipil, and various indigenous fruit trees, particularly in restoring degraded landscapes on local watersheds. Through collaborative partnerships with external stakeholders, like the DENR and local companies, STMPC members leverage their traditional ecological knowledge to get contracts to implement various Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects, extending their forest restoration activities outside their CBFM and generating additional income streams for the community.


The ASSERT-CBFM project, facilitated by NTFP-EP Asia, aims to strengthen the capacity of local communities to manage forest resources sustainably while improving their socio-economic well-being. Through a participatory approach, the project fosters collaboration between indigenous peoples, local governments, and non-governmental organizations to promote community-based forest management initiatives.

For the Sagpangan Tribal MPC, participation in the ASSERT-CBFM project has been a catalyst for positive change. By integrating traditional practices with modern conservation techniques, the cooperative has successfully revitalized forest ecosystems while generating income opportunities for its members.

Nicolas Tañada, Chairman of the STMPC, highlighted that central to the success of their partnership with the ASSERT-CBFM project has been the empowerment of cooperative members through capacity-building and training programs. He underscored how NTFP-EP Asia has provided technical assistance and expertise, equipping the Sagpangan Tribal MPC with the necessary skills in project planning, financial management, and value chain development. These capacity-building initiatives have empowered cooperative members to actively participate in decision-making processes and take ownership of their collective future. Tañada emphasized that efforts to facilitate project proposal writing and other administrative tasks are ongoing but require further support.

Before, we didn’t know how to make a project proposal. But because NTFP-EP challenged us, we were able to do it. Until now, it’s like we can’t forget it. It is just a matter of strategy, how can we make a living, that’s what it is for us now. So because of the first project proposal that we did with NTFP-EP, we have managed to do project proposals now

Tañada also mentioned the small warehouse facility they have managed to build in partnership with NTFP-EP to store rattanwares and other NTFPs. Nowadays, the warehouse also temporarily houses fertilizers and farming equipment, which the cooperative plans to disburse to its members once the effects of El Niño dampen.

This is my first time making a project proposal, and it’s also our first time collaborating on a project with NTFP-EP, one of the results of that was the warehouse. There were also trainings provided by NTFP-EP, which were really beneficial. At present, we are really striving to elevate the cooperative” said Tañada while further recalling the cooperative’s experience with the ASSERT-CBFM project.

Tañada also highlighted the diligent monitoring and regular communications with NTFP-EP, which, for him, are essential components of the project’s success, fostering a culture of accountability among the members of the cooperative and allowing timely identification of challenges and the implementation of necessary adjustments.

They always follow-up, what happens with the projects, what are the updates, that’s good project management, because they did not just abandon us or revisit us, that’s one good aspect of NTFP-EP, they did not just leave us behind to tend to ourselves.”


For an organization like the STMPC, hurdling complex challenges is not new. Tañada shared that one of the leading concerns for the organization is managing the resources within their CBFM sustainably since they needed to meet the demands not just of their community but also of those outside Sagpangan, particularly in matters surrounding water demand.

He shared that the cooperative members are now venturing into providing limited information and education campaigns to their fellow Tagbanwa to curtail potentially destructive activities that may induce damage to the local ecosystem, adding that non-government organizations and the local government agencies were also generous enough to the organization, teaching them basic environmental monitoring and management tools.

“For us, especially among my colleagues, preserving the watershed is paramount. Our members have learned to emphasize the importance of the watershed to their peers. The seminar conducted by USAID SafeWater was instrumental because the issue of water scarcity affects the entire Aborlan. If we lose access to water, it poses a significant challenge for communities like ours, given the current scarcity of water in our area,” said Tañada.

The organization, therefore, and the community, in extension, strives to balance the extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and utilization of land for swidden farming with reforestation efforts in order to ensure the conservation of critical resources like water. He added that in the middle of all these, the need to renew permits for the operations and navigate bureaucratic permitting processes creates another layer of complexity to resource management.

In the implementation of their plans with the ASSERT-CBFM project, Tañada mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected project operations, causing disruptions in coordination, training activities, and daily operations. Tañada mentioned how they needed to adapt due to pandemic-related restrictions, including learning how to use remote communications, which added an extra layer of challenge. However, he admitted there were challenges in adapting to these new technologies and processes. 


In our community, we will really prioritize continuing the project, the cooperative, the CBFM, because here we see a good path, there is hope to uplift, first the community, and also the members,” said Tañada when asked about their future plans for the cooperative.

Looking ahead, the Sagpangan Tribal MPC remains committed to the principles of sustainable development and community resilience. Building upon the foundation laid by the ASSERT-CBFM project, the cooperative envisions a future where indigenous rights are respected, their CBFM is nourished and protected, and their livelihoods secured.

The CBFM is good concept, we need to preserve it, because that’s where the wealth of our members lies, the livelihoods of our members are in the mountains, that’s what we want to continue” Tañada added.

The cooperative also intends to diversify its economic opportunities by promoting sustainable livelihood practices such as agroforestry and value-added processing of forest products. The cooperative also plans to enhance its engagement with relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, and other cooperatives, to leverage resources and expertise for the benefit of its members, forging partnerships and alliances aimed to amplify their impact and create lasting positive change in their community and beyond.