I spent most of the day at a “trial” over someone accused of cutting down trees to make lumber for sale. This is a big no-no among the Ikalahan who base their identity on forest care (their name literally translates as “from the broadleaf forest”).
In their fashion, the matter would be decided by the community in. Tongtongan. Many elders were present, including many from nearby communities. Also present were representatives from the municipality, the local office of department of environment and natural resources (DENR), foresters from the Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF,who directly manage the forest) as well as a wider public of interest (neighbors) interested in keeping the forest safe. Also present was an officer from the local office of the National Commission on Indigenous People who acted as recorder of the meeting. And, of course the accused, a local peasant farmer from the community.
While he guilt was never in question – he freely admitted to his wrongful action – most of the morning’s (10am to 12pm) discussion was listening to various perspectives on how authority over the case should proceed. The municipality was happy enough to let the community decide. But the real problem involved three other groups who felt they should be involved in making a decision. The foresters from the DENR have rules thry need to enforce. The foresters from the KEF have their own set of rules and penalties. And the elders themselves had various opinions.
The morning proceedings broke for lunch. In true Cordillera peoples’ fashion, a pig was slaughtered and roasted. Besides pork, included in the meal was roasted liver and blood sausage from the same pig (and heaps of rice). As I was earing with some of the locals, they asked me if we had similar food in Colorado. I could tell they were fishing for a good story about gross food so I treated them to the idea of Rocky Mountain Oysters. Puzzled by the word “oyster” I explained this in Tagalog as bayag ng baka (bull’s balls). My companionslaughed at. After explaining how steers are produced, they agreed thst this is a good practice. They eat as much of a pig as possible after all.
After lunch, the elders deliberated publicly. This observation is an important cultural note, although the elders have authority, their power is in plain sight. People can see and hear their conversation even as they sit quietly. This feature is important as seeing how the elders function is important training for future elders and hands down the democratic tradition to the next generation.
Among the elders, the discussion boiled down on whether or not to devolve the decision down to a policy, or to make a decision at this moment. They found existing rules to be insufficient for the case and proposed to the accused that he pay a fine and plant new seedlings to replace the trees he cut down. The accused eventually agreed to this, which then ended the meeting as it was obvious that everone felt good at the resolution.
I don’t know if the term restorative justice is known among them, but the Ikalahan certainly practice it. And everone gets to eat in the process.