A Philippine tribe is fighting to protect their land. The ripples could affect us all

Riding in a motorcycle sidecar with a mere wooden plank for a seat, I held on for dear life with one hand while the other captured the tumultuous 90-minute journey on camera.

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This was my grand introduction to the sleepy coastal village of Dibut, north of Metro Manila.

Although balancing on the kolong kolong was a workout for me, the passage through the villagers’ ancestral forest is a vast improvement on the past, when they had to traverse mountainous paths or seas that were stormy for half the year.

Almost too vast, some in the community might say.

Over 900 residents live here. Most of them are the first settlers of the land, known as the Dumagat. In 2015, they requested the reconstruction of a logging road from the 1970s so that they could transport goods easily by kolong kolong for sale in neighbouring towns.

It brought progress to the village but also a dilemma.

“On the positive side, people can travel conveniently. But on the negative side, this road is accessible to anyone,” said Marilyn F Dela Torre, 33, one of the tribe’s emerging leaders. “(The community) is influenced by the outside thinking, outside lifestyle … to gain profit immediately.”

The days of the Dumagat taking only what they need from the forest and the sea and sharing everything they have with their neighbours — a cornerstone of their culture — are slipping away, said chieftain Cipriano F Dela Torre, 58, who is Marilyn’s uncle.

Then as if the change was not enough, tractors reappeared in 2021 on untouched ancestral land, heralding a 65-kilometre national road that will connect three towns and go through Dibut.

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