Protesting Lumads to NCIP: IPRA sows division

Organizers of the protest rally in front of the regional office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) charged that the 10-year old Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) sows division within tribal communities and introduces private ownership over ancestral lands.

"The main contention of many indigenous tribes against IPRA is that it contradicts the IP’s basic concept on land, land use, and ownership. While land is a communal property for Lumads, IPRA introduces private ownership and in the process creates a new breed of a few landed elite," the Confederation of Lumad Organizations said in a statement at the rally of around 30 Lumads from various tribes.

The group called for the scrapping of the law passed in 1997 supposedly to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

Tribal leaders from the Mandaya, Mansaka, D'babawon, Ata-Manobo, Ata-Matigsalug, Tagabawa, Obo-Manobo, B'laan, and Bagobo tribes gathered here for the 5th General Assembly of their group, PASAKA, or the Confederation of Lumad Organizations.

The protesters, accompanied by rally barkers from the PASAKA network, wore traditional clothing and carried placards with messages such as "Stop militarization in lumad communities.”

The protesters said the law facilitates entry of mining, logging, and other "destructive" projects in their ancestral domains. They also hit “militarization” of their areas and urged the military not to make their communities "battlefronts."

Bigkay said IPRA has become an instrument to sow division in their communities. She feared that other tribal leaders have applied for titling of their ancestral domain in Bukidnon's Pantaron Range.

She said some Lumad leaders are propelled by personal interest to own lands.

Another group in the rally, the Salupongtan Ta Tanu Igkanagun of Talaingod, Davao del Norte. withdrew its application for a CADT in 2006 and opted to use traditional laws to shield themselves against abuses.

The group urged the government last year to respect their rights to land and self-determination, which PASAKA said, goes beyond the scope of IPRA.

Lawyer Roque Agton, Jr, NCIP Southeastern Mindanao regional director, told MindaNews the law serves in protecting the Lumads' interests.

IPRA, he said, did not become an instrument of division and did not introduce private ownership. He stressed that CADT is a "communal" property and could not be transferred to an individual or family.

He said NCIP also does not impose over communities to submit to CADT application. But he said the tribes need the CADT to formalize their native title and for their protection.

He said whether the indigenous people would like it or not, whether IPRA is there or not, development would really come in. He said the communities need protection now after their lands were destroyed by logging concessionaires.

IPRA, he added, promotes consultative processes, which involves the community deciding by rule of the majority or consensus. He said the NCIP's role is only facilitative.

He said through IPRA, Lumad communities have the power to negotiate with any business interest eyeing to lease a part of their ancestral land via the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) process.

The protest ended without an audience with Agton, who got a copy of the PASAKA statement from the media.

His staff initially told reporters he was on an out of town trip and his officer in charge was on field work. But reporters found Agton  in his airconditioned office upstairs. The office has a good view of the protesters.

Agton, a Lumad himself, said he could not understand why the protesters are against the law when IPRA seeks to protect them.

Speaking from his desk where a golf club stands besides a closet, Agton said he pitied the Lumads as he alleged they are being used by non-government organizations. He did not name the organizations.

Outside, as protesters were about to end the rally,  men started to perform a war dance and another one chanted in their language the pains of their tribe.

"We hope NCIP will see our situation. The IPRA is not helping us," Tabilisan Lubi, from Bukidnon's Ata Matigsalug tribe in San Fernando town said after his 10 minute chant.

Bigkay said Agton should not say the protesters were being used by some non-governmental organzations.

"We came here to express our valid protest against the IPRA. We too, have the right to be heard and we can make our own decisions," she said speaking through an interpreter.