(Last in a series)
On April 19, Partido presidential candidate Lakas ng Masa Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman accompanied members of the indigenous Manobo-Pulangiyon tribe to occupy their ancestral domain in Quezon, Bukidnon, as part of his campaign outing in Mindanao .
Unexpectedly, he found himself embroiled in a conflict that pitted the tribe against a powerful agribusiness for the past five years, and put his life in danger when gunfire met them in the brushy field not away from a vast pineapple plantation.
Captured on video and broadcast live on social media, the incident shed light on the plight of the Manobo tribe whose members were driven from their land by gunmen in 2017.
By appearing in the incident, Ka Leody was able to lend his stature as a presidential candidate to highlight the seemingly forgotten issues of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao and the rest of the country.
Land dispossession is at the forefront of these problems, as shown by the case of the Manobo in Bukidnon who had an ancestral domain claim certificate covering over 1,000 hectares of land, much of which was leased by the government for the cattle grazing, although in later periods until today it has been used to grow pineapples for export.
The lease expired in 2018 and has not been renewed, making the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) the sole authority to cede the estate to the tribe under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act 1997 (Ipra ). But until today, the tribe could not see any sense in their ownership of the land because they could not own it even though there were no legal impediments to doing so.
Evidently, following the outcry over the April 19 incident, NCIP ordered pineapple producer Kiantig Development Corp., which has ties to Quezon Mayor Pablo Lorenzo III, off the field.
Given the richness of the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples (IPs), agribusiness interests are flocking to them for cultivation projects. In most cases, they are able to gain entry by resorting to intimidation and bypassing the consent process required by Ipra. These have resulted in a situation where the true owners of the land are living miserable lives on the fringes of vast plantations that bring huge profits to their corporate owners.
After being driven out in 2017, the Manobo of Quezon established temporary shelters along the national road, lacking basic services such as water supply, and exposed to the dangers of passing vehicles.
It is a story that is repeated in other communities in Mindanao where 61% of the estimated 12-18 million IPs in the country live.
Of the country’s 30 million hectares of land, some 7.7 million hectares are occupied by indigenous peoples and some 5.7 million hectares were already covered by Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) in April 30, 2019.
About 3 million hectares, or 53 percent, of the total area receiving CADT subsidies is in Mindanao. In addition to plantations, these lands are the subject of interest for mining and energy projects.
Land dispossession uproots tribes from their main source of life, resulting in them wallowing in poverty, a situation conducive to resistance and dissent.
According to the 1Sambubungan Initiative, a gathering of intellectual property support groups, tribes have come under attack for defending their lands and asserting their rights over them.
He noted that under President Duterte’s administration, 92 deaths were classified as extrajudicial executions while around 160 people were victims of attempted murders.
Some 227 IPs were also illegally arrested, detained and abducted; 27 were allegedly tortured; and six enforced disappearances. 1Sambubungan describes the situation as “the human rights crisis in intellectual property communities”.
Intellectual property rights advocates say the only hope to turn the tide is to elect leaders, especially a president, who can revise and transform “the framework for the state’s engagement with peoples and communities.” indigenous peoples from a regime of aggression and marginalization to a regime anchored on the full realization of the rights of indigenous peoples”.
“The urgent task of the next administration is to end the attacks on indigenous communities, bring the perpetrators to justice, initiate a process of genuine peace dialogues between the state and indigenous political structures and support the efforts aimed at affirming and advancing their own development plans,” read the 1Sambubungan Initiative IP 2021 Election Agenda.
He said it was crucial to “begin the process of restoration and healing needed in the IP communities”.
Protecting the ancestral domains of tribes, advocates say, benefits the whole community. They pointed out that the watershed areas within the ancestral domains provide water supply to the adjacent rice-growing communities in the lowlands, which helps ensure food security.
Nationwide, these outlying communities are estimated to have up to 25 million residents.
They further noted that 85% of the country’s key biodiversity areas are in ancestral domains.
“This highlights the important and essential role of indigenous peoples in the protection and sustainable management of our natural resources,” 1Sambubungan said.
“It is therefore imperative that the government fulfill its mandate to protect the biological resources and the environment of the country, by protecting the ancestral domains. Protecting ancestral domains is a triple win – for Indigenous peoples, for the national interest and for the government,” the advocates said.
In the Bangsamoro region, defenders hope that steps could be taken soon to legislate a law defining the rights of non-Moro IPs, such as to their ancestral lands.
Under the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the regional government charter, this power is vested in the 80-member parliament. Regional leaders promised earlier to work on such legislation now that the duration of the caretaker government has been extended until 2025 to achieve real, inclusive and collective development, which ensures the well-being of all,” said 1Sambubungan.
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