The IP month, Autonomy, and the elections

By Joel B. Belinan

“ The remaining question is whether the next president will hear our sentiments as Cordillerans?“

On October 27, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA-RA 8371) will mark the 24rth year since its passage into law, and hence it was set as the IPRA Day. It is also for this reason that October is being observed as the Indigenous Peoples Month to emphasize the issues and problems that continue to besiege the IPs and their respective Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCS).
The recent development in the legal front is the Supreme Court had ruled with finality the nullification of the Certificates of Ancestral Land Title (CALTs) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) over three relatively wide parcels of land in the city, particularly the Wright Park area, the Forbes Park Reservation and the Casa Vallejo premises or the Baguio Hill Station.
These three were issued CALTs by the commission during the time of Commissioner Insigne as chairman or between 2007 to 2010 despite the city government’s opposition. Then Congressman Mauricio G. Domogan requested the Office of the Solicitor General to file a petition to nullify the title before the Supreme Court. In their ruling granting the petition to nullify the CALTs, the Supreme Court agreed that IPRA’s application in Baguio City is limited. The high court cited IPRA’s “SECTION 78. Special Provision. — 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 acquired 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”.
But what happened? Why were the CALTs issued by NCIP? Being one of the local media practitioners that had been staring at this since 1997, what happened was another case of the Central Office approving first even before the local office doing the groundwork completed it. And the reason is, as alleged by a local lawyer who knows some of the ancestral land claims processes, some land claimants sought the support of moneyed vested interest groups or individuals to finance their claims processing in exchange for some portions of the subject lots once the CALTs were approved. And the financiers may have used money to shortcut the processes for how could have the commissioners agreed to approve such claims even if they were very well aware of the provision of the law? Now the impact is that the credibility of titles issued by the NCIP not only in Baguio but in the entire country have, and will, continue to suffer.
This brings us to the issue of the importance of autonomy for us in the Cordillera. In an autonomous set-up, issuance by central offices of government agencies like the NCIP will be done at the regional level under the supervision of the Regional Autonomous Governor. The wisdom is, we in the Cordillera know the issues and problems in the region and hence should be in the best position to address the same. For example, why should the DENR central office decide on the mining applications located in the region, in the same manner that why is a little known government office called the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) with its offices located at the National Capital Region deciding on the propriety of water rights permits on rivers and creeks in the hinterlands of the Cordillera? Such that we often hear of certain hydro-power companies suddenly appearing in far-flung barangays brandishing water right permits issued by that NWRB. There are several similar cases that may be remedied and solved in the region by our people. What is happening, however, are problems keep on coming caused by decision-makers in central officers who are so detached from the actual situations on the ground.
This brings us further to the issue of how these coming elections would impact the above issues. Election after election, we always hope that the new rulers in Malacanang would push for the passage of another organic act that hopefully will finally establish the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera. Remember when the current president just assumed office in 2016? A lot of statements and assurances uttered by some people close to him gave the Regional Development Council and our political officials the belief that finally the 3rd organic act will be passed. But what happened? Not even the President’s Certification was issued on the urgency, thus a priority, of the autonomy bill filed by the Cordillera congressmen.
Now we are really in desperate need of allies in both houses of Congress to hasten the passage of the 3rd organic act that has been filed several times and always being ignored. The good thing is that the exponent of Cordillera Autonomy, former Congressman and Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan will stage a comeback. With him, in position, we will have a passionate and respected leader who could rally us Cordillerans for this cause.
Furthermore, being involved in a national movement for a progressive and neo-humanist society in our country, we will be fielding a senatorial bet who if elected will surely take the cudgel for us in the Senate. We are hoping that our seven congressmen from the Cordillera will continue on their autonomy commitment and an ally in the senate will assure us a chance for the passage of that law.
The remaining question is whether the next president will hear our sentiments as Cordillerans?**

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