Hofer, who is here for the Seventh Araw ng Sibugay celebrations dubbed Sibug-Sibug Festival, stressed that supporting the indigenous peoples (IP) in the province is one of her priorities.
Her other major priorities, she said, are the establishment of the Philippine Rubber Research Institute, Ipil's city-hood to make it the catalyst for development in the area, the conversion of some provincial and barangay roads to national highway to ease transport woes in far-flung barangays, and the establishment of an eco-park in the province.
Datu Wilfredo Sanggayan, the indigenous peoples' representative to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, expressed elation when informed of Hofer's announcement.
"We have been expecting that but (Rep.) Ann Hofer's announcement is a big boost to the morale of all the indigenous peoples in the province," he said.
Sanggayan, who is the first IP representative to the provincial board by virtue of Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA), initially envisioned the establishment of the IP economic zone and living museum sometime in 2005.
"Fourteen of the 16 towns of the province are thickly populated by the indigenous peoples and it is natural for us to establish the economic zone and museum as a tool to preserve and promote the dying indigenous peoples' culture and tradition," he explained.
The IP representative lobbied with the provincial government to fund the feasibility study of the proposed economic zone and living museum.
"The money needed to conduct the study was already approved last year by Gov. (George) Hofer," Sanggayan said, adding that the study is yet to be implemented early this year.
Sanggayan said "the indigenous peoples of the province are looking forward to a brighter future so that we can be active partners of the government for development."
There are at least four ethno-linguistic groups residing in the province which approximately comprise about a third of the population. These groups are the Subanon, Kalibugan, Yakan, and Samal. (Antonio M. Manaytay / MindaNews contributor)