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Historical Background of Apayao Province

In 1906, Spanish missionaries first stepped in Apayao where they established their foothold at
the present day municipality of Pudtol and found Mandayas later known as Isnegs already in
their organized communities. Father Geronimo Molina started his missionary work in the
province and later in 18th century, the Spaniards could only claim to have conquered the lower
part of Apayao where they established their politico-militar commandancias. Evidence of this is
the ruins of the Spanish churches at barangays Mataguisi and Emilia.

On June 18, 1966, Republic Act No. 4695 was enacted creating four separate independent
provinces namely: Benguet, Ifugao, Mt. Province and Kalinga-Apayao from the original
Mountain Province. President Corazon C. Aquino on July 15, 1987 signed and issued Executive
Order No. 220, creating the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the provinces of Ifugao
and Kalinga-Apayao of Region 2 and Abra of Region 1 were included in the territorial coverage
of the CAR.

However, on February 14, 1995, Republic Act No.7878 was signed into law which provides for
the conversion of the province of Kalinga-Apayao into regular province to be known as the
provinces of Apayao and province of Kalinga, amending Republic Act No. 4695.

Apayao as a new province converted some private house to be their governmental offices. These
offices are temporarily owned houses in the poblacion of Kabugao, the capital town of Apayao.

Apayao is located deep in the Cordillera mountains of Northern Luzon range from a natural
boundary between the Ilocos Region in the west and the Cagayan Valley in the east. The Apayao
River rises from its extensive watershed along its western slope and peaks. The river courses
along the heartlands of the province, meanders beside the town of Kabugao following a
northward route towards the Pacific Ocean through the coastal town of Abulug, Apayao.

The province is classified into upper and lower:

1. Upper Apayao with 3 municipalities occupies 67.2% of the total land area and has
mountainous topography classified by towering peaks, plateaus and intermittent patches
of valleys.
2. Lower Apayao on the other hand with 4 municipalities is 32.8% of the total land area is
generally flat with rolling mountains and plateaus.

The Apayaos are a river people. Their tribe’s name was derived from the warm waters of the
Apayao River and considered as the most light-hearted among the indigenous tribes in the

The Apayaos are kind, hospitable and generous. They are highly aesthetic in temperament, self-
reliant, and honest. If by some ill fate you drop something, even money, a member of the tribe
will return it to you. They believe that if a man steals, his wife will leave him; or, if they acquire
money unfairly and buy rice with it, the rice will not give them strength.

The Common Law enjoins that man must not steal, tell false stories about others, court the wife
of others, nor make trouble at a feast. It further enjoins that man must respect the rights of
individuals, give food to visitors, and parents shall teach the children the old legends and
customs, as well as correct them that they could grow up properly. The Apayaos have a very
complete system of social etiquette.

The Apayaos depend a lot on the rivers and streams, even if they live on sides of a mountain for
safety. Many of their communities are named after the names of the streams nearest to them. The
rivers are their source of food and water to drink.
Background of Lapat System

The Father of Apayao, Elias K. Bulut Sr., took over as mayor in 2011 and instituted a local
protected area ordinance designating areas under lapat as "Indigenous Protected Areas." The law
was enacted shortly after President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 23, which bans cutting of
timber in natural forests.The Apayao provincial board incorporated the lapat system in the
province’s environment code in 2013.

“LAPAT”, as defined in the Provincial Ordinance No. 1, series of 2013 which imposes
institutionalizing the LAPAT system in the environmental conservation management plan of the
Province of Apayao, means restricted area, wherein entry and any activity whatsoever is strictly
prohibited. It is a method, of environmental conservation whereby restrictions on entries,
harvesting, hunting, desecration, and extraction of any Natural Resources found within the
declared area as a LAPAT is strictly enforced. All barangays have declared their identified
communal lapat in various areas, creeks, and forest which are now the breeding areas of different
species of fish and wild animals.

The Lapat declarant prohibits anyone, even himself to enter, touch, catch or gather any product
from the declared area until such time that the declarant opens or lifts (waswas/mangukas) the
ban. At present, it is now one of the distinct and traditional ways of environmental preservation
in the locality. Some advantages are the prohibition of outside incursion, extraction of products,
wildlife, aquamarine products and preserved habitation for a certain period of time.
Some lapat areas are registered with the barangay and the municipal government for record
purposes and taxation. The municipality since 1971 has included in its Tax Code the regulation
of the practice with the registration of all lapat declarations in the locality with a corresponding
fee recognizing the valuable contribution of lapat to the environmental programs of the
government, particularly on the conservation and preservation of the depleting natural resources
of the land and water. Its watershed provides for the domestic and agriculture needs in the
municipality. Large areas are potential areas for plantation development which can contribute to
the livelihood of the people in Calanasan in the near future.

Definition of Lapat/Senned

The system of prohibiting the use of natural resources as part of a practice of respecting a
deceased family member is called lapat among the Inabuangan (those from the Isneg cultural
communities of Nabuangan)and Senned among the Ibaren (those from the Isneg cultural
communities of Baren), but the latter focuses more on bodies of water. Other prohibitions on the
occasion of death are also called lapat. The lapat is decided on by the elders and executed by the
bereaved family as respect for a deceased family member. It consequently preserves and
conserves the biodiversity of the environment to sustain life and culture.

According to Deguiom, also the ap-apu’ or chieftain of the Isneg, the lapat/senned is an
old tradition of the Nabuangan and Baren regions since time immemorial and followed to this
day in which a bereaved family prohibits/restricts the taking of anything from a certain area
within one year or more depending on their wish or decision.
Lapat is primarily a religious practice, not a conservation method.

A parcel of forest land is declared lapat after its Isnag owner dies, turning it into an off-limits
area out of respect for the spirit of the owner who is thought to be wandering in his lapat.

On its Origin

The Isnegs of Conner have a rich cultural heritage that distinguishes them from other indigenous
groups in the country. A notable belief that shaped their traditional customs and practices is the
belief in anitos (gods).They believe that anitos dwell in forests, rivers and other places.
Preservation and giving respect to these places is a way of pleasing the anitos. Declaring an area
as lapat due to the death of a family member is a show of grief, respect and honor. In doing so, it
makes a connection to the spirit world. According to Bonifacio Littawa, the person who declares
the lapat invokes the anitos to guard the area and chants a prayer with two hands

As the respondents collectively affirmed, the reasons for the proclamation of a lapat due to the
death of a member of the community include:

 Respect/honor/love for the dead

 Traditional practice of their ancestors
 Grief of the bereaved family and the community
 Sympathy of the people for bereaved family
 The resources (fish) from the lapat area will be used for death anniversaries

The lapat however is evolving. While as a tradition, it is declared due to the death of a member
of a family or a prominent member of the community, it is also becoming a practice to proclaim
it for other reasons such as a fiesta or special occasions. On the death of a great man, the late
Vice Governor Paul Delwasen who died on February 27, 2015, the three barangays of
Katablangan, Manag and Talifugo set 18 kilometers of the Baren River as lapat that was lifted on
his death anniversary.

Further the lapat is being institutionalized formally by the local government. Barangays
Nabuangan and Baren have adopted the lapat as a barangay ordinance, and on the municipal
level the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) Artemio Gonayon filed a similar
ordinancethat underwent a public hearing on April 10, 2015. The evolution of the lapat from a
traditional practice of giving respect to a family member who passed away into a barangay
ordinance is an initiative of the community as they recognize its positive effect in preserving the
forests, rivers and other natural resources.

Areas covered

Rivers, plantations and parts of the forest are usually the areas that are declared as lapat.
However others may impose on themselves degrees of prohibition that are also considered lapat
(personal lapat). An example of this is not opening a window or door for a period of time or not
cutting the hair or fingernails throughout the duration of the lapat.

Some of the common areas covered by lapat are:

 River - the nearest and deepest part along the house of the one who died (battung),
someone died in the area, or fishing area of the one who died
 House/window/room or dwelling place of the dead person
 Plantation, coconut, gawad and other fruit bearing trees owned by the one who died
 Bamboo grove - where the person who died had been gathering bamboo
 Forest - hunting ground of the one who died

In cases where several persons who make use of the same resource area die shortly one
after the other, Pastor Aoen and Lammawen Daggay of Bubog said: “Awan kam napadpadasan
nga nangkiyan ngam nu awaddan man, dependedan pela mangkiya desisyon daya naulila nga
pamilya. Ngam awad mamba pelamang sakupan ya lapat aggina nga annung da la nga silpuwan
tu nagpandaan na basta madi da ihnu kitu nonna nga nelapat.”

(We’ve never experienced that but if it will ever happen, it will depend upon the decision of the
bereaved family. Only a certain part of an area is covered by lapat. They can declare another
portion in the upper or lower part of the earlier proclaimed lapat area but should never overlap
Who declares Lapat

Among the Inabuangan,lapat is usually declared by an elder of the community. On

special occasionsthe barangay captain or any political leader may proclaim it, but in most cases
barangay officials will ask the elders to do it.

According to Deguiom, the original custom of the Isneg is for a member of the bereaved
family to declare lapat after burial and to designate a small area to be covered by it. Now as
adopted through an ordinance by the barangay government, the scope has widened.

Among the Ibahan (Baren) the elders ask the bereaved family if they want to shepherd a
Sannad or lapat that will be done by the community. If they wish, they will choose the area to be
declared which the community will honor. (Agliwan 2015) The ceremony for proclaiming the
lapat entails placing a sign or symbol to mark the designated area accompanied by a simple
statement such as “Iddi nga lugar eh nelapat, madi tada guyguywanngin!” (This area is under
Lapat, let no one touch it!)

Duration of the Lapat

The duration of the lapat, according to the key informants, is one year for death of a
community member or a special occasion. A period of one year is usually declared,since a
consideration is the first year death anniversary or the foundation day (fiesta) of the barangays.
Benny Lugayan of Katablangan noted, “There are two types of lapat in the Baren Region. The
long term is usually declared in forest watershed and sanctuary while the short term is usually a
year for death and special occasions.” The sanctuary as they also call it in Nabuangan region is a
protected forest area of the community where hunting is regulated. They only hunt when there is
a pangeli, a visitor they have to welcome.

Traditionally, the lifting of a lapat is done during the death anniversary of the deceased family
member (minatay) whom the lapat is offered.The declarant sets the day and informs his
neighbors in the community that he’s going to lift (mangukas) the lapat for them to participate
and partake of its harvest. The family prepares all the necessary things for the feast (say-am)
especially the foods and drinks followed by some rituals including butchering of animals
depending on the capacity of the declarant.The ‘Lapat’ which means “prohibited” or “off-limits”
is a customary belief of the Isnegs where they set aside a specific area as sacred. This public
declaration usually happens after the death of its owner or occupant, making the area off-limits to
the public, including immediate family members who will declare the area as ‘Lapat’. Once
declared as ‘Lapat’, nobody can enter the designated area or property—be it a portion of a house,
a river, a mountain or a forest where the deceased frequently stay when he/she was still alive.Of
the seven towns in Apayao, Pudtol, Calanasan and Kabugao are mostly inhabited by Isnegs.
Most of the upland villages here practice the Lapat system which reinforces the government’s
environment protection and management program. For the Isnegs, it is their way of mourning
and honoring the spirit of the dead.

Signs and Symbols used in marking Lapat Areas

The values and attitudes of people who come and go in the Ancestral Domain of the
Isnegs of Conner have changed with the times. Where before the original settlers and migrants
were obedient and abided by the law, giving much respect to the words of the elders even though
unwritten, today the people tend to believe more in what they actually see. This is evident in the
signboards and writings on stones used today to mark a lapat area, replacing the symbols of old
like the sahag or sophit.
For some, the declaration of lapat and putting signage marked with “Lapat” in every corner of a
fenced property or a public domain has sown fear among outsiders, due to the belief that spirits
guard the area and the fear that desecrating it would invite curse or penalty.

Changing Symbols and Signs to mark Lapat Area

Before Now
Sahag, a sign of prohibition to Signboard
prevent gathering of fruits of coconut
trees and other plants
Sahpit (Nabuangan)/Sohpit (Barren), Cross sign that is placedon a tree
bamboo staff in the form of a cross and means the area is prohibited
Announcement of elders Words on stones near the river

The members of the community and even visitors will not miss the area under lapat
because of the different signs and symbols. The area is usually fenced, planted with placards or
signboards. For plants a sahag is placed as a sign of prohibition. A red cloth may also be used to
symbolize an area is on lapat. The community believes in the old tenet “Ignorance of the law
excuses no one.”

Lifting of the Lapat

The community elders or the barangay officials lead the ceremony in lifting the lapat. A
dog or a pig is butchered in the common belief of padara (shedding the dog’s blood), signaling
the end of the prohibition. A patung or festivity of thanksgiving usually follows. The
Ibuwangceremony opens the lapat while the Walin ceremony means the end of the prohibition.
The patung or say-am is an activity of merriment where the salip is danced, chanters and
chanteuses perform the dewas and uggayam. “The say-am may last for days depending on the
economic stature of the family,”said Artemio Gonayon.

During the say-am, everybody is invited to share in the meal and participate in the
different activities. It is also on these occasions that the younger generation come to understand,
appreciate and learn the ways of life of their community. Transmission of culture is a latent
function of these community gatherings.

In Nabuangan, the lifting of the lapat on the Bubog river becomes a destination of
visitors, tourists and hikers because it coincides with the patronal fiesta on August 16, a tradition
that started in 2008. A say-am is then celebrated on the eve of the barangay fiesta where
everybody is invited for the festivity of thanksgiving.
With the end of the lapat, the river is opened to fishing. An abundance of catch is
expected from which the community members and visitors are given a share. Usually caught are
a variety of native fish that are prepared and shared communally.

Sanctions on Violations of the Lapat

The elders and the barangay officials impose the sanctions on iolations of the lapat.
Sanctions and fines are usually stipulated in the barangay ordinance or decided on by the elders
citing previous actions done in the past.

Violators usually pay a fine and/or prepare a meal for the community (dalay). On rivers,
in accordance with the local ordinances, the equipment used is commonly confiscated, and the
operator and owner required to do public service.
Benefits from Declaration of Lapat

The respondents acknowledged that the lapat is for the best interest of the people in the
community as well as for the protection of the environment and nature. Nabuangan Indigenous
Peoples Organization (NIPO) President Fernando Seoad (2015) observed, “At least you have
shown love and respect for your dead relatives, you have shown your veneration and you have
something to use during his/her death anniversary.”

The lapat also ensures the abundance and sustainability of their natural resrouces,
especially food, which they share with visitors to their community. Rosita Agnas of Cupis noted
that many people always come to their fiesta because of the abundant fish harvested from the
river for the communal feast. In the same vein Antonio Deguiom described visitors’ appreciation
for the hospitality of Nabuangan, citing how community members purposely went to hunt for
them in their sanctuary and returned within hours with a freshly caught wild pig.

Lapat as sustainable forest management system

Also a major factor in enhancing the forest cover is theindigenous way of the Inabuangan
and Ibaren in preserving their natural resources called the lapat system, as it is widely practiced
by the indigenous cultural communities in the province.Several studies have documentedthis
forest managementpractice, elucidating how it functions and has protected and conserved forest
biodiversity. Inher study, Sadao (2013) noted that the death of a loved one is the primary reason
to declare a particular area as lapat. The lapat is a means of expressing one’s deep sorrow and a
gesture of giving honor and respect to the dead especially if the person is a very prominent figure
in the community like war heroes ormengal or a leader or an apuwan. Only a few claim lapat
merely as a tradition and a symbol without the accompaniment of human grief.

A forest or plantation and rivers are usually declared under lapat, which restricts entry
and use of the resources therein. The person authorized to declare it is the leader or oldest in the
family or an elder in the community.For the Isnag, the lapat area is considered a sacred place
guarded by the anitos and the spirits of all their beloved dead. Everybody must observe with full
obedience and respect the rules of the lapat because in doing so, they strongly believe that the
spirit of the dead will continue to guard and to protect the family and their properties, to help
them in times of crises, to guide and bless them with success in all their endeavors.

In Conner and the other Apayao municipalities of Kabugao and Pudtol, residential lots
can be declared as lapat but this is not observed in Calanasan. An interview revealed that a
particular portion of the house can also be placed under lapat if it had a significant and
sentimental bearing to the dead like his bedroom or any favorite part of the house where he spent
most of his leisure time or used to stay while doing any productive activity.

Other forms of lapat are personalized. Maglu or abstaining from eating the favorite food
of a beloved dead is a form of lapat among the Isnags of Kabugao. However, this is not a
communal practice, but rather more of a private and voluntary way of expressing one’s deep
sorrow particularly by a mother or a father. Other types oflapat are not cutting one’s hair for a
period of one year, magpangisit or not wearing colored clothes and abstaining from doing the
things a beloved dead used and loved to do like hunting, fishing, playing basketball, strumming
the guitar, singing or dancing, using perfumes and jewelries, and going to parties.
Dubbed as “ Cordillera’s Last Frontier of Natures’ Richness”, the province of Apayao the
youngest of the Cordillera provinces continually preserved its luscious forest by maintaining a
forest cover to almost 70% of its total land area, the biggest in the Cordillera region and one of
the biggest in the entire country.

The said forest cover is found in Calanasan, the largest of the municipalities of the
province in terms of forest cover (97.95 % of its land area) that is envisioned as a progressive
and Biodiversity-Center municipality.It is the ancestral domain of the Isnags and Aggays who
live harmoniously with nature and who culturally conserved and nurtured up to this time their
freshly clean rivers, green vales, hills and mountains. Like other provinces in the Cordillera,
Apayao is richly blessed with biodiversity.

Apayao province, the biggest of the 6 provinces of the Cordillera Administrative Region
in terms of land area and forest cover is located on the northernmost tip of Luzon. It has a total
land area of 392,790 hectares, which is 21% of the total land area of CAR.

Apayao was recently cited by the DENR for its forest conservation method called the
"Lapat" system, an indigenous practice of prohibiting the entry and use of any resources in either
dipterocarp or pine forest, a span of river, or a certain block of land. Apayao remains as the
province with the largest forested areas in the region. DENR-CAR Regional Director Paquito
Moreno cited Apayao for being the first province to formulate the Forest Land Use Plan.

The ordinance simply adopted the traditional practice as a conservation method. The
traditional nature of lapat is key to its success in protecting Apayao forests and the biodiversity
gems tucked within it.Because it is by nature traditional and very deeply rooted in the culture,
everyone understands it, everyone subscribes to its policies and are basically well informed of
the penalties if one breaks the code. Culturally, the people basically monitor themselves. The
punishment for disobeying the lapat rules is no laughing matter. Anyone caught hunting, fishing
or gathering wildlife is fined between P10,000 to P50,000 ($221-1,100) and will have to provide
free labor for 3 months.The ordinance is backed up by enforcement.The effectivity of these local
efforts are best proven by the state of wildlife in the forests.Apayao is a sanctuary for 139 bird
species, 61 of which are endemic and 4 threatened.
By this Lapat system, certain part of a body of water or parcel of land becomes an
untouched sanctuary which will be a breeding area for different aquatic species or any animals
and forest plants. This program has increased the availability of fishes and other aquatic
resources, thus contributing to the livelihood of the people as they could sell their yield to the


The Isneg communities of Conner recognize the lapat as an effective way of protecting
their land and water resources. As validated by the community, the lapat (Nabuangan)/senned
(Barren) is an indigenous system of prohibiting the use of natural resources as part of a custom
of respecting a deceased family member. It consequently preserves and conserves the
biodiversity of the environment to sustain life and culture. It is decided by the elders and
executed by the bereaved family.

The Isneg continue to practice the lapat to this day. But it has evolved from the traditional
practice of declaring it due to a death in the family to its institutionalization through barangay
ordinance. The elders in the community and the barangay officials are authorized to declare a
lapat which has a duration of a year or two. Any member of the family may also proclaim it on
family orchards or dwellings.

The awareness of the areas under lapat is done through community announcements,
putting of signs and signboards in conspicuous places such as trees or rocks. The lapat provides
for penalties for any violation.

Lifting of the lapat is celebrated through a patung or say-am or any other similar festive
activities as a sign of thanksgiving.
The lapat/senned system is an indigenous knowledge of the Isneg communities in Conner
primarily as a sign of grief but it also helps in the conservation of forests and other natural

The traditional lapat is declared on the death of a member of a family but the modern
lapat includes other reasons such as preservation of the natural resources and special occasions.
It also has an economic feature in that the resources obtained from the lapat areas will be used
for commemorating a death anniversary or celebrating a fiesta.


The Way to Environmental Sustainability and Development : The Lapat/Senned of the Isnegs of

Conner, Apayao By the Isneg Indigenous Cultural Communities of Conner and Apayao IFMSP Provincial
Research Team