Image by Ronald de Jong

Expectations are high among tribal communities in Northern Mindanao applying for a certificate of ancestral domain title, a government-issued instrument that assures security among indigenous peoples living on the country’s uplands.

This was arrived at after a partnership was formed between the peace and order council of Misamis Oriental and the Building Bridges for Peace (BBP) project of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC), a civil society initiative that seeks to resolve social issues including agrarian reform and indigenous peoples’ rights.

The BPP project currently covers two cases, one in Misamis Oriental on indigenous peoples’ rights and the other in the Bondoc Peninsula in the province of Quezon on agrarian reform.

“Originally, the military was a big component of the provincial peace and order council,” said Loretta Ann P. Rosales, Akbayan party-list leader and co-chair of the PCICC.

One of the BPP’s aims is to incorporate the peace agenda in the council’s primary objectives by rooting out key social problems.

“Poverty, poor governance, political inequities, social injustice, marginalization and exploitation of the indigenous peoples were already identified as the causes before,” Ms. Rosales said. “We added environmental issues and the respect and appreciation for cultures.”

Among the tribal rights’ issues here are those of the Higaonon tribe of Mt. Balatukan, which filed a claim for certificate of ancestral domain title in 1993.

“It was only now, with the project’s intervention, that funds were allotted by the National Council on Indigenous Peoples for the processing of the title,” said Teodoro A. Sabuga-a, Jr., executive director of the peace and order council of Misamis Oriental.

“We saw that 80% of those who are still in the mountains waging armed rebellion are from lumad (tribal) communities,” he said. “Apparently, the lumads have a lot of unresolved social issues.”

Among the significant gains of the project cited by the provincial government of Misamis Oriental was the formulation of an agreement that harmonizes the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and the National Integrated Protected Areas (NIPAS) Act as in the case of the Mt. Balatukan claim.

It is one of the few cases in the country where the provincial government actively participated and aided an indigenous community in securing the title for their lands.

In previous cases, lumads have questioned the imposition of a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) in their domains that often overlap with areas covered by NIPAS.

“The NIPAS could definitely limit our movements and our self-governance,” said Dante L. Sinhayan, a Higaonon from Malaybalay, Bukidnon. “Why should PAMB govern our lands when our communities are very capable of environmental protection? I am not saying that our protective rules are the best but our motivation for protection is for our future generation,” he said.

Mr. Sabuga-a, however, noted that in general, the intention of the PAMB rules is in preserving the environmental integrity of areas.

“The PAMB forbids mining and logging,” he said. “So when you say you are against the PAMB, are you for mining and logging? The intention is the same and all stakeholders respect the other. More importantly, primary consideration should be given to those residing in the area — the indigenous cultural communities.”

After seeing progress in their two pilot efforts, BBP is including other parts of Misamis Oriental as well as other Higaonon communities in the neighboring provinces of Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur.

For this, a two-day consultation attended by 40 Higaonon leaders was held last week.

“We saw the need for a synthesized view of the situation,” said Mr. Sabuga-a. “The problem experienced by the Higaonons of Balatukan could be the same for the rest of the Higaonons of Misamis Oriental and those of nearby provinces.” —

by Louise G. Dumas of BusinessWorld

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