Restoring Dignity and Sovereignty: A Structural Analysis of the Indigenous People’s Situation

A paper presented by Mindanao Peoples' Peace Movement's Chairperson and Director of the Institute for Peace and Development Studies of the Southern Christian College, Mr. Rodelio N. Ambangan to the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) conference on November 7-9, 2011 at BPER, SCC, Midsayap, Cotabato. Introduction Mepiya ne keepunan keytew langun! (We ask our great ancestral spirits and the unseen beings who are here today to bring our message to the Master of Life and Creator of all. We turn our thoughts to the Creator, the Great Good Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for the gift of Creation; for everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth.) It is an honour to be invited by people whom I admire and look up to, the President Emeritus of Southern Christian College, Dr. Erlinda N. Senturias and the former Chairman of the Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement (MPPM) and Consultant of the Institute for Peace and Development of Studies (IPDS), Mr. Alvaro Senturias. They are the official representatives of the Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement (MPPM) to the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP). It is a relief for me to share some of my feelings and insights on the real and factual situation of the indigenous peoples as well as some background in the Philippine context. For convenience, let me inform you that my sharing is premised on the assumption of most indigenous peoples that the realization of the right to self determination will contribute to the realization of a durable and sustainable peace. I was fortunate to participate in the celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 8-9, 2011 where more than a hundred of indigenous peoples gathered and hosted by Hon. Congressman Theodoro Brawner Baguilat, Chairperson on the Committee on National Cultural Communities in Batasang Pambansa, Quezon City. The gathering paved way for a dynamic interaction between indigenous peoples and the representative of the CPP-NPA-NDF, MILF and GPh who shared on the status of the peace negotiation and its outcomes and trajectories. During the event, I remembered the story shared to me by Datu Al Saliling, an Erumanen ne Menuvu tribal leader who happened to be a member of the

Technical Working Group of the Government of the Philippines sometime during Arroyo’s regime and he said: “Consider that all of us are passengers of a bus, the Indigenous people, the Government of the Philippines, CPP-NPA-NDF and MILF. The bus will go to Davao City from Midsayap. Most of the passengers will go to Davao city while the indigenous people will drop by at Kidapawan. In this case, should the indigenous peoples need to go to Davao City in order to reach their destination?” Which is more important to us, to reach home safe and meet our loved ones or go together in a journey while feeling uncomfortable about our families and unclear about our destination? This story has a semblance with the collective and continuing appeal of the indigenous people for the long-dreamt Right to Self Determination with specific emphasis on three major concerns: (1) Sovereignty (total access and control) over their ancestral land and resources; (2) Restoration of territorial self-governance; and, (3) Assertion of self-determined development. Why IPs are seriously raising these concerns? There are three main reasons in my list? 1. Number one- The indigenous peoples has suffered so much from the COLONIZATION and the massive appetite of the Spanish colonizers for political grandeur and accumulation of wealth. The Regalian Doctrine was unilaterally imposed declaring the entire Philippines as owned by the King of Spain espousing the encomienda system. The encomienda system facilitates the ejection of the indigenous peoples from their ancestral land and disconnecting further their spiritual link to their ancestral land. To stay in the encomienda is a hell, they were required to pay tribute (tax) and required to render forced labor (polo y servicios) in building majestic convents and churches, shipyards. Of course, there were accounts of Indigenous Peoples rebellion but most often they went to the forests and mountains to evade from the villain. Mountain is called Iliyan or a natural defense. There was an account of an indigenous person, who ran for his life in Cordillera Mountains for he could not withstand the cruelty of the Spanish conquistadores. One night, he went back to the lowland in Tarlac where the contingent of the Spaniard was present. He travelled day and night just to shout at the Spaniard under the cover of darkness – “What did our ancestors owe yours, why did you come to plunder us!”. Then he quickly ran back to the mountain afraid that he will be caught. The Spaniard employed the “divide and rule tactic” to effectively conquer the natives. We have inherited this strategy from the conquistadores. At present, it is imbedded in the system of big mining companies that are aggressively entering and exploiting the mineral resources within the ancestral land. Let me cite an example based on the situation of the indigenous peoples’ against the Toronto Ventures Incorporated in Canatuan in Siocon, Zamboanga. In order to facilitate the entrance of the TVI, they have organized 2

a group of tribal leaders… “habang si Datu Boy Anoy lider ng mga Subanon sa komunidad magiting na kumkampanya laban sa TVI. Dumating ang issue sa United Nation sa tulong na rin ng maraming NGOs. Habang abala si Datu Boy Anoy sa kanyang pangangampanya laban sa minahan sa loob ng mahabang panahon, ay nagkasakit ang kanyang asawa at ang nagdala at nagbayad ng gastusin sa hospital ay ang TVI. Hindi nagtagal , nakumbinsi na rin si Datu Boy Anoy na pumayag na sa pagmina at kasama na rin siya hanggang ngayon”. Ito ay batay sa kwento ni Timuay Nanding Buday, isang Leader ng Subanon. Ano ang gusto nating ipalabas dito. Ang gusto nating ipalabas ay kailangan ang tulong na sustainabli sa pamilya at komunidad maliban sa rally, petition o complaint dahil sila ang expose sa mga ganitong dilikadong sitwasyon. 2. Second reason-The Regalian Doctrine was essentially upheld and promoted during the American period. There were laws introduced which undermine the concept of communal ownership of the indigenous people. They have crafted the Philippine Commission Act No. 178 of 1903 “requiring all land to be registered, and all unregistered lands became part of public domain. It was a disaster on the part of the Natives because first, most of them were living in the mountainous place where they hardly had access to information. Secondly, most of them did not know how to read and write; and, most importantly, they do not believe in paper to legitimize their ownership of the land. Only those who have knowledge of the law and access to information from the government were fortunate. Through these, the dichotomy of majorityminority emerged, the mainstream and the margin. Pag- ikaw ay nasa margin ikaw ay minority at hindi naririnig ang boses mo. Malayo ka sa serbisyo ng gobyerno. Pag ikaw naman ay napabilang sa majority o mainstream malapit ka sa servisyo ng gobyerno. The logic in this is very simple, “Pag malayo ka, hindi ka naririnig. Pag ikaw ay malapit, ikaw ay naririnig”. The discriminatory laws aggravated the painful situation where the Public Land Acts of 1913, 1919, and 1936 declare that Mindanao and all other fertile lands the State considered unoccupied, unreserved or otherwise unappropriated public lands became available to homesteaders and corporations. For example, the PLA of 1903, provided a provision for the homesteaders the right to own 16 hectares and corporation is 1,024 hectares while the wild tribes (natives) and the Moro has none. In the PLA of 1936, the settlers were given the rights to own 16 hectares and the corporation to own 1,024 hectares while the wild tribe to only have 4 hectares. These laws paved the coming of the settlers from Luzon and Visayas which further pushed away the Katawhang Lumad and the Moro to the mountains and hills. You can imagine that by just over two years, since the creation of NARRA resettled 20,000 families and reached a total of 30,686 by January 1963. Again, the logic here is very simple – and it is one of the law of physics. Ang isang lugar na may nakatira at pag nadatnan ng galing sa labas, sila ay madisturbo at ma-displace! 3. Lastly, the IPRA is a bankrupt platform -The 1987 Constitution bears high hopes because of its pertinent provision which says, “The state shall recognize and promote the rights of the indigenous cultural communities/indigenous 3

peoples within the framework of the national unity and development”. This was the basis of the enabling law which is popularly called IPRA or Republic Act 8371. It is a landmark legislation that recognizes, respect, and promotes the rights of indigenous peoples. However, the discriminatory concepts of the Regalian Doctrine that pre-dates both IPRA and the 1987 Constitution continue to influence the decision of the Supreme Court. For example, in 1998, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by those supportive of the mining sector to declare IPRA as unconstitutional on the premise that it violates the Regalian Doctrine. The 1987 Constitution says, “ All lands of Public Domain, waters, minerals, coals, petroleum and other minerals oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forest or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna and other natural resources is owned by the state. However, in its ruling in December 2000, the SC upheld the constitutionality of IPRA by concluding that: Examining IPRA, there is nothing in the law that grants to the indigenous peoples over natural resources within their ancestral domain…the IPRA does not therefore violates the Regalian Doctrine on the ownership, management and utilization of natural resources, as declared in the section 2, article XII of the 1987 constitution. The fatal provision of IPRA is the section 56 on the Existing Property Rights Regime which states, “property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and or vested upon effectivity of this Act shall be respected and recognized”. It promotes the mining and logging permit/concessions granted prior to the IPRA. Present Situation Today after 11 years from the creation of the IPRA, based on the research of the College of Arts and Sciences-UP Baguio, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), a government agency mandated to oversee programs for the indigenous peoples, has given more than three hundred certificate of precondition allowing mining companies and other agribusiness plantation to exploit the ancestral domain. While there are only more than 100 Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) awarded to indigenous communities. Now, in this statistics alone, you can judge the priority of the government. At present, the Public-Private Partnership scheme of the present administration, I am sure that it is another episode of making the indigenous peoples a sacrificial lamb offered to “development”. While we are having this sharing here, there is an impending construction of the Pulangi Mega Dam5 Hydro Electric which is being sponsored by the First Bukidnon Electric Cooperative (FIBECO) in Sitio Mikasili, Tangkulan, Damulog Bukidnon. It is foreseen to submerge thousands of hectares covering 23 barangays of two provinces, Cotabato and Bukidnon which will damage the life of the future generation. Concluding Remarks


There is no easy recipe to build a community of JustPeace (peace based on justice). We need to unite because it is where our collective power and strength lies. Let us keep the promise and live on what our ancestors were telling to us – restore our sovereignty to restore our dignity!