Higaonon representation in Iligan city council discussed

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews) – National and local government offices, as well as civil society groups, are bent on fast-tracking the representation of the Higaonon tribe to the city council here, as discussed in a two-day summit that ended Friday in time for the International Human Rights Day.

Summit participants discussed how to integrate customary laws in national policies to redefine mechanisms on how to choose the tribe people’s sectoral representative to the local legislative body.

Regina Antequisa, executive director of Ecoweb Inc., a non-government organization with programs for indigenous peoples, said that “the summit discussion reviewed the Local Government Code to find provisions where indigenous peoples can maximize their mandatory representation and integrate the customary criteria on selecting sectoral representative for decision-making bodies; discuss about strengthening the traditional justice governance; and to recognize the tribal councils in seven communities in hinterland barangays as well as those resettled lumads in urban barangays of the city.”

Antequisa also said that discussion included details about the “interrelation of these tribal councils and their structures as a community in relation to their unified claim of the 30,000-hectare ancestral domain, which has just passed second reading at the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).”

They also assessed the Higaonon tribal governance structure to address concerns for development issues, especially in the formulation of Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Program (ADSDPP).

Jane J. Docallos, city director of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), talked about the salient features of the Local Government Code (Republic Act 7160).

She emphasized that there are supposed to be three sectoral representatives in the council, one of which is from the indigenous cultural communities. This, however, still needs an enabling law, she said, adding that this is not yet exercised in Iligan City nor in the whole of Region X.

Docallos pointed out that the DILG secretary has already issued a circular for the “Mandatory Representation of Indigenous Cultural Communities or Indigenous Peoples in Policy-making bodies and Other Local Legislative Council based on IPRA Laws.” The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (RA 8371) amended the provisions in the Local Government Code that were not clear on the lumads’ representation.

The summit also organized the Higaonon tribe’s adjudicatory councils in eight communities to formalize the structure that will mediate and resolve issues, problems and concerns of the indigenous community. The councils took their oath of commitment before Buddy Landong, provincial officer of the NCIP-Lanao del Norte office.

Mayor Lawrence Lluch Cruz recognized that the “solid partnership of NGO and local government in upholding IP rights is wonderful.”

He said that lumads need solid attention and should be respected by listening to their stories as well as care for their rights.

“We have started the foundation for their CADT (Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title) application and we are looking forward for the titling. We discussed matters on governance and maximize IPRA as an enabling law. Maybe we can roll down the wheel of governance of IP communities,” he said.

He hoped that the output of the summit will reach his office because this will serve as basis for policy recommendations for the city council’s deliberation.

Conchito P. Cruz, from the office of Rep. Vicente Belmonte, vowed to support the IPs in advancing their rights, their culture and ancestral domain.

He also updated the Higaonons on road developments in their areas in the hinterlands.

Ariel Anghay, city councilor and chair of the committee for indigenous peoples, encouraged the lumads to define criteria and guidelines for nomination of their sectoral representative.

Marcos Alexander A. Cabaro, desk officer of the Office of the Maranao, Higaonon and Other Cultural Communities (OMaHCC), presented a review of related customary laws. He discussed the traditional structure of Higaonon tribe, roles, and partly the criteria of datuship.

Landong also presented and updated the Bayug Unified CADT application status of the seven indigenous people’s communities in the hinterland areas of Iligan city. Copies of this update were distributed to participants.

He emphasized that this ancestral domain is not something that can be sold nor mortgaged. He noted, too, that if such will be developed for large scale generation of income, tax will be exacted by the government.

The summit discussed the lumads’ problems relating to resource management and ecology conservation as they all confront issues on mining operations and illegal logging.

In a workshop on the second day, tribal leaders were one in demanding from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources( DENR) to stop logging operations in the Limunsudan areas; to ask government and agencies to improve the social services in hinterland communities, especially health services; as well as to improve access roads and provision of electricity.

They also agreed “to stop conferring honorary titles to persons who are not members of the indigenous community as this is one of the many reasons why their traditional governance is ruined.”

Rolando Soong, chieftain of the tribe in Barangay Rogongon, said that the “Higaonon tribe still needs to work for the preservation and strengthening of the tribal structure and its practices to ensure that the tribe can essentially practice its governance.” (Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews)