MIXED feelings greet this month’s Indigenous Peoples celebration. After 25 years of living under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or RA 8371, indigenous communities are still fighting subjugation and discrimination perpetrated by a government tasked to protect them.
On the other hand, some Baguio IPs prefer to avoid the sad truth of a continuing injustice by holding their own festivals, drowning the realities with “Samigil and pulutan”, an Ibaloy peculiarity that has been practiced since. It is “pyesta ni ulay” (always feasting).
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the government office tasked to implement the IPRA, holds IPRA anniversary programs that only last until the guest speaker says bye-bye after being treated to lunch.
The agency has the funds to schedule IPRA activities for a month like lectures and seminars on issues close to the heart of their IP clients. A speaking engagement by an expert about ancestral lands, the Regalian Doctrine, and the Native Title Doctrine would be good material, but nothing.
Memory fails to remember if any NCIP commissioner during IPRA anniversaries ever explained the Native Title Doctrine a.k.a Cariño Doctrine. It was first recognized in the country when the US Supreme Court issued the decision on February 23, 1909.
US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. recognized the rights of Mateo Cariño, an Ibaloy whose land was grabbed and converted to a military reservation by the Americans. The Cariño Doctrine was the basis for the inclusion of a provision in the 1987 Constitution which also became the foundation for the IPRA in 1997.
A discussion on how the IPRA came to be, including how the respective bills of Sen. Juan Flavier and Representative Gregorio Andolana were consolidated to become RA 8371 would be a very interesting part of the IPRA anniversary program. But the commissioners are busy with their personal interests.
We copied the Indigenous Peoples’ Month and Indigenous Peoples’ Day from the American native Indians who signified their protest against Columbus Day during an event that started in Berkeley, California, and Denver, Colorado.
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day” was a day of protest against the conquest of North America by Europeans who were blamed for the death of native Indians and their culture through disease, warfare, massacre, and forced assimilation.
If we acted like the native Indians in America, the IPRA anniversary could have been marked with protests against Spanish and American colonizers and the injustices, prejudices, and biases that they committed. But we chose a subdued way of celebrating IP month.
On October 5, 2009; then President Gloria M. Arroyo signed Proclamation No. 1906 s. 2009 declared the month of October of every year as “National Indigenous Peoples Month” and issued Proclamation No. 486 declared October 29 as National Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Day to recognize IPs in the Philippines.
The international IP month of October always brings me back to a time when IPs were requested to join parades organized for the inauguration of the Charter anniversary of Baguio. I could only tell them that I cannot be with them because of my view that the Charter was not something to be celebrated.
I say so because the Baguio Charter of 1909 crafted by the American colonizers stirred the peaceful settlements of Ibaloys in Baguio. The Charter made the Ibaloy communities powerless, disunited and uprooted from their lands as they were asked to move away from the center.
The Charter provided a semblance of legitimacy for the American colonizers to officially grab and sell the lands in Baguio. The land which became Baguio City was delineated from the old towns of Tuba, Itogon and La Trinidad, Benguet.
Sometimes I think about giving up and stop discussing the IPs and the lands in Baguio, but I have to sustain it because as the IP month of October is celebrated annually, we still have to see that injustices are corrected.
Even officers of the court do not take the side of the IPs. Take the case of ancestral land claimants whose 36 ancestral land titles were canceled. The discussions of the SC justices were mostly focused on Sec. 78 of the IPRA.
The decision kept on stressing that Section 78 of the IPRA “grants the city Charter control over lands within Baguio’s townsite reservation,” disregarding US SC Justice Holmes’ previous decision that lands in Baguio never became public lands.
The SC further stated that the NCIP has no legal authority to issue CALTs or CADTs in the city, short of saying that there are no ancestral lands in Baguio, when the truth remains that all of Baguio is Ibaloy private ancestral lands even prior to the arrival of foreign colonizers.
When I read the decision, I hurriedly looked for that part of Section 78 that says that Baguio is not covered by the IPRA. It was silent about it. I found nothing that says “there are no ancestral lands within the city.”
What is clear in every IPRA anniversary is that the wishes of a few politicians are the ones that are upheld. Passing through South Drive where the mansions of Baguio migrants stand, I try to find out how the owners were able to acquire land titles unrestrained.
Along the same road stretch behind the Teachers Camp, illegal occupation of prime lots by informal settlers is undisturbed and given more importance by politicians who need the votes, but IP ancestral land applications are opposed by the same politicians who are supposed to protect them.
Even with the IPRA and all efforts combined, the fight for IP rights and ancestral lands in Baguio is unnecessarily taking too long, but it must be fought. IPs have to see to it that those in government who were tasked to implement the IPRA do their duties properly without reservation.