Philippines: Open Letter On NCIP And The Indigenous Peoples’ Month In Baguio

March Fianza, 2010


The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) pegs at 350 million the number if indigenous people and more than 5,000 cultural and linguistic groups on this lonely planet while the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and several surveys say that there are around 100 tribal groups with 12 million members in the country.


The festivities in the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Month in October is supposed to bring to light the very important role that tribal communities play in the development of LGUs and the nation as a whole.


But how often do we see government officials celebrating just for the sake of complying with Presidential Proclamation 1906 declaring October as indigenous peoples’ month?


The NCIP and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts look sorry because after the merry-making, their partner LGUs and agencies that are supposed to continue uplifting the conditions of tribal constituents go back to their old self.


For some LGU officials, they even have the nerve to stamp on the rights of host tribes in a community that welcomed them with open arms. Since they started residing in these upland communities and became public officials, they started lording it over other government offices like it is still Martial Law – dictating on line agencies and nailing down those opposed to their whims and caprices.


Apart from the presence of indigenous communities that show the richness of Philippine culture, IPs have been there all along for many centuries in the country’s struggle for independence.


The continuing preservation of cherished customs, traditions, teachings and beliefs by our tribal communities expose genuine pictures of their ways of life before colonization period.


The NCIP, NCCA and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 are part of the preservation process. The agency and the law it is mandated to implement are essential elements that help protect a tribal community’s identity and ancestral domain. Instead of curtailing its powers, all the more that it should be given more strength.


I chose to look beyond this month’s celebration thinking about where the indigenous Ibaloi tribe in Baguio is. Inlako sameten ti opisyales da isuda?


When the Americans came, they issued policies that worked in their favor. The Ibalois who were naturally peaceful were uprooted from the centers and had to move to the peripheries to give way to the “development” that was to come.


If Baguio was never chartered into a city, I am quite sure this natural upland resort could have developed – slowly, but the way its indigenous people wanted development to be. Maybe Mayor Domogan, Congressman Vergara, Mayor Peter Rey Bautista, councilors Peter Fianza, Poppo Cosalan and Nick Aliping would not be here as officials but as private individuals.


And maybe no vote-hungry politician created new barangays out of squatters’ areas.


MaybeForbes Park parcels I, II and III; South Drive and Gibraltar would be as thickly forested; and Camp Allen, Quirino Hill, QM, City Camp, Holy Ghost, Bonifacio toad and Aurora Hill thinly populated.


“Our land, our life” is this month’s IP celebrations theme, although similarly, this has been the consistent message that IPs all over want to convey. That is supported by studies and research works, the latest of which is that one written by an American researcher who said: “Ancestral Ibalois who were forced away from their lands in the city are very resentful of lowlanders and mountain tribes who are now occupying the very lands they were forced to abandon…”


The spirit behind the passage of RA 8371 called the IPRA is to give justice to indigenous peoples whose lands were grabbed, illegally and legally, for private and public use; preserve and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions.


Under its general provisions, the IPRA said: “The State shall guarantee that IPs shall enjoy the full measure of human rights and freedoms without distinctions or discriminations.”


But look, even the lawmakers who were congressmen during its passage have consciously forgotten all about IPRA’s provisions. In fact the committee on cultural communities chaired by Ifugao Congressman Teddy Baguilat Jr. is being asked to “limit the powers of NCIP, particularly in the issuance of ancestral land titles in Baguio.”


The IPRA also has a special provision under Section 78. I wonder how “special” it is but according to friends in Congress, it was not deliberated on the floor. So obviously this section became “very special” because it was a “pahabol” insertion.


The special provision states: “The City of Baguio shall remain to be governed by its Charter and all lands proclaimed as part of its townsite reservation shall remain as such until otherwise reclassified by appropriate legislation: Provided, that prior land rights and titles recognized and/or required through any judicial, administrative or other processes before the effectivity of this Act shall remain valid: Provided, further, that this provision shall not apply to any territory which becomes part of the City of Baguio after the effectivity of this Act.”


This is not being followed. Apparently, someone wants to make a “special insertion to his special insertion,” of course, for the benefit of voters who were promised that their pending Townsite Sale Applications be issued on public lands which were originally privately-owned by Ibaloi families.


Speaking before delegates to the United Nations Asia Pacific Regional Center Regional Initiative on IP Rights and Development in Thailand last month, congressman Baguilat said “IPs in the Philippines are torn between conflicting laws concerning protection of ancestral domains.


In the case of Baguio, the original IPs here are not only caught between conflicting laws – they are torn between conflicting provisions of a single law. They are allowed to file claims over their lands but many elected and appointed officials who have the proverbial “axe to grind” against IPRA and the NCIP will say“ay haan nga mabalin dita nga lugar ta para golf course ken SM dyta…”


“Haan met nga mabalin ti ancestral land ijay ta TSA nga lugar dita…” short of saying that:“para dagijay iskwater nga botantes ko dita.”


These are glaring examples of the lack of recognition of IP rights that lead to deprivation of territory, vanishing of cultures, and possibly, the disappearance of indigenous races. Baguilat said this leads to IPs’ single greatest challenge today – “maintain their existence even while various interests encroach upon their ancestral domains.”


In Baguio, Ibalois are practically seen as “squatters” in their own lands, because certain laws in addition to the missing City Charter have marked these lands for TSA distribution or for government use.


Now, beyond celebrating October as the IP month everytime it comes around, I will always be reminded of the missing Baguio IPs and where they are located today.


It reminds descendants of every original Baguio IP and present day officials that there will be no peace, but there are solutions to the problem if attitude towards the IPRA and its implementing agency is changed. Also accept the truth that there are ancestral lands in Baguio and that government has only to work around the givens, avoiding shortcuts in the process.

Tags: Philippines  NCIP  IPRA  Baguio  human rights  

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