October is the Indigenous Peoples’ month

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By Joel B. Belinan

“The reason was that those lots covered by the CALTs in question do not qualify under the provisions of the IPRA, particularly its special provision on Baguio City.“

Today is the 2nd day of October. Time flies indeed. My hair has almost completely turned white although hair color is not an accurate measuring rod on one’s age. Our first born Mikhail (17) had long been towering over me while the younger one, Jared (13), is now almost as tall as I am. In a matter of time, we will be in 2023, and thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, almost three years of my life have passed, insignificantly.
My subject, however, is not how time went too fast but rather the importance of October to the Indigenous Peoples of this country. October is called Indigenous Peoples’ month. It was the month when both houses of Congress passed the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), a landmark legislation, and was signed into law by then Pres. Fidel V. Ramos on Oct. 27, 1997. Much credit must be given to the late Senator Juan Flavier who was instrumental in the passage of IPRA not only in the senate but also in acting as the big brother for the IPs that resulted in the enactment of that law. IPRA is not a perfect law but is a phenomenal piece of legislation in a country that is insensitive to the plight of its Indigenous Peoples/Indigenous Cultural Communities (IPs/ICCs).
To date many non-IPs, or even some IPs especially those whose vested interests are at stake look at the IPRA with disdain or contempt. There are many reasons for this. A lot of them can be traced to the bungling by the government or the powers-that-be. For example, when President Estrada took over as President in 1998, he immediately put the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) which was originally with the Office of the President, under the Dept. of Agrarian Reform, at the same time freezing its operational budget. Such transferring of NCIP which the law created to lead in the implementation of the IPRA, downgraded the commissions’ status which in effect was a show of the continuing discrimination against the IPs.
That attitude by then Pres. Erap towards NCIP and the IPRA was continued when Pres. GMA came to power and was also followed during the time of Pres. Pinoy and even during Pres. Duterte’s time. I cannot even remember how many National Line Agency NCIP had been put under since then. The last thing I remember was NCIP was under the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Although I am not blaming only the national government as there have been many fiascos committed by the IPs themselves relative to the implementation of the IPRA.
In my observation, the most consistent branch of government in its support of the IPRA is the Judiciary. It should be noted that when the IPRA was passed, immediately it was questioned in the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court. Thank god it passed the scrutiny of the Court although just by an inch. Remember its per curiam decision which it voted 7-7, or a tie for the constitutionality of IPRA. By that vote, per jurisprudence, IPRA passed. Recently the SC again arrived at a decision that hopefully will guide the government in its future actions, particularly in the issuance of ancestral land titles as provided in the IPRA. The SC voided the Certificates of Ancestral Land Title (CALTs) issued over certain lots in the city initiated as early as 2009 by then-Congressman Mauricio G. Domogan, who requested the Office of the Solicitor General to file a case with the SC.
The reason was that those lots covered by the CALTs in question do not qualify under the provisions of the IPRA, particularly its special provision on Baguio City. Furthermore, those CALTs seemed to have been issued in a sneaky manner by the commission as they did not pass through the agreed process by the NCIP Regional, IP elders, and the City Government of Baguio. Can you imagine if the SC did not void those CALTs covering the Forbes forest Park along South Drive, the Wright Park area and the Hill Station or the so-called Casa Vallejo area?
Forbes Park is one of the very few remaining forests of the city, Wright Park is the location of several government structures not to mention it’s being a park and the Hill station area which housed the DENR’s NAMRIA office. As sure as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the afternoon, those lots would have become additional congested communities like most of our barangays. Look at the area along Marcos Highway which is a part of the old Dairy Farm Reservation. This is not to mention other areas even those outside of Baguio City, where every land possible especially those under the government can be claimed and applied for ancestral land titles regardless of the process. But then again this is the Philippines.**


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