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SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Protracted claims, delayed justice for the Lumad

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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 4 October) – Some ancestral domain claims of Lumad in Bukidnon have been granted recognition by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Among them are the Talaandig inhabiting areas within or adjacent to Mt. Kalatungan in Talakag town and the Bukidnon in Baleteon, Brgy. Dalwangan, Malaybalay City, both in Bukidnon province.

Yet, the issuance of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) has not meant security for the Lumad. The Talaandig in Talakag complained about the encroachment of big business interests and illegal logging in their area. They said a businessman is using tourism as cover for what they believe is his real agenda – treasure hunting. The same businessman, they alleged, has been harassing them with the complicity of some military and police personnel. If confronted, he would just say “magkita lang tas korte” (see you in court).

The Lumad added that the businessman blocked the right of way of owners of lands adjacent to the CADT area apparently to pressure them into selling their estates to him.

Moreover, many outsiders have laid claim to lands inside the domain using tax declarations. The Talaandig expressed fears the declarations might be converted into Torrens titles, a scenario that could result in a lengthy legal battle. They said the most they can do for now is ask the local government to refuse tax payments using these instruments and render the occupancies as illegal.

The Bukidnon tribe in Baleteon faces a similar problem. In 2014, or six years after the tribe’s claim was approved, a group of outsiders arrived and settled in the area without the Lumad’s consent. Some of these persons reportedly sold part of the area to another individual.

The intruders have since refused to leave the area, arguing they would only do so if the tribe can show them the original copy of their CADT. This sounds like a subtle accusation that the Lumad are lying about the status of their claim. But since they don’t want the conflict to worsen the Lumad opted to just wait for the document, which the NCIP is yet to release 13 years after the approval of the application.

Leaders of the tribe are also worried that the cases filed in 2005 against them by the Department of Agriculture (DA) Regional Office in relation to their occupancy of the area are yet to be dismissed. The tribe members were accused of squatting, leading to the demolition of their dwellings after the Regional Trial Court in Malaybalay granted DA’s petition to eject the claimants. The DA claimed the Baleteon domain as part of the agency-run Malaybalay Stock Farm.

DA Region 10 had opposed the CADT application of the Lumad based on the following arguments: 1) The claimants received 253.4551 hectares from President Ramon Magsaysay in 1954 through Proclamation 73, but that they sold their lands; 2) It was only in 1994 that the claimants entered the area, and that there is no proof that they had claimed or occupied it prior to that year; 3) Proclamation 637 creating the Malaybalay Stock Farm only covered 785.2675 hectares after it excluded the 253.4551 hectares given to the claimants through Proclamation 73; 4) The Malaybalay Stock Farm is reserved for public welfare and service.

But the NCIP noted that the claimants’ time immemorial occupation of the area is supported by, among others, tax declarations dating as far back as 1916, 1939 and 1949, their intimate relationship to the land as can be gleaned from the written accounts of their customs and traditions, and their birth certificates and marriage certificates. NCIP also cited the 1887 and 1918 maps in Dr. Madronio Lao’s book which mentions Dalwangan as one of the oldest settlements in Bukidnon, bolstering the fact that there were already indigenous inhabitants then.

The Commission added that the fact that the claimants were listed as among the beneficiaries of Proclamation 73 only proves that they were already in the area as early as 1954, negating DA’s claim that they only entered in 1994.

“The claimants and their ancestors may have been displaced from their ancestral domain as a consequence of this government program/project, but it does not and cannot disqualify them from acquiring formal recognition of their right over their ancestral domain. They did not leave their domain but were forced to leave therefrom. IPRA expressly includes within its ambit the ICCs/IPs who have been displaced from their domain as in the case at bar…” NCIP Region 10 Director Datu Tommie Labaon said in his executive report to the NCIP En Banc dated October 7, 2008, recommending for the approval of the Baleteon ancestral domain claim.

One need not be a lawyer to understand that with the approval of the CADT the cases  against the Lumad in Baleteon no longer have a legal basis.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com)



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