A second look at ancestral domain issues surrounding Mount Kitanglad

But most of the time, mutual intransigence marked the relations between the two parties. The DENR and PAMB, confident in their legal mandate, simply went on with their lives as policymakers. Migketay, meanwhile, made moves that can only be interpreted as attempts to supplant existing systems and structures in Mount Kitanglad with "culturally defined" ones. It would seem he was testing the limits of
IPRA (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act). nd every time he did so, the gulf between him and the park management widened.

The conflict worsened when, on April 17, 2001, the Talaandig tribe imposed a sala (cultural penalty) against Protected Area Superintendent Felix S. Mirasol Jr. and 10 other officials and employees of DENR-Malaybalay. The charges were:

– Implementing Community-Based Forest Management and other projects inside ancestral lands in Mount Kitanglad without the Free and Prior Informed Consent of the concerned communities.
– Transgressing and destroying the dignity and integrity of the cultural traditions and leadership of the tribe by obstructing the programs, projects and initiatives of the Talaandig community.
– Manipulating and deliberately destroying the unity of the tribe in accordance with their cultures and traditions.
– Invading and slaying the cultural personality and identity of the tribe.
– Destroying the cooperation and support of the tribe in the protection, conservation and management of the environment.
– Transgressing and destroying the image and integrity of the leadership of the tribe responsible in promoting peace and development among indigenous cultural communities in the country.

These alleged violations required the following offerings: three pigs, three sacks of rice, seven bottles of white and red wines, seven chickens, ten carabaos, eight meters each of red, white and black cloths, one Talaandig ganta of white coins. The "respondents" were given 15 days to settle the case. Migketay warned he would bring the issue to the attention of the Ombudsman, World Bank, NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples), DENR-National Office and indigenous people's organizations.

Constrained by their unfamiliarity with the concept and process imposed by the Talaandig and convinced that they had done nothing against the tribe in as far as their work was concerned, the "penalized" DENR personnel were reluctant to submit to the sala.


Mirasol, for example, reasoned out it's part of his mandate to implement CBFM (Communtiy-Based Forest Management) projects and that the communities consented to it.

CBFM is a stewardship project of the DENR that grants communities or people's organizations the right to manage forestlands for a period of 25 years. Based on the approved Resource Utilization Plan, they may exploit certain forest products.

Migketay had argued that CBFM was DENR's way of diverting the Lumad's attention away from the ancestral domain issue. He had a point. The CBFM, despite its relatively long timeframe, is not a tenure instrument.

At the heart of the sala issue, therefore, was the unresolved unified ancestral domain claim. Migketay himself, in a letter dated May 15, 2001 to then DENR Regional Executive Director Fernando P. Quililan, said: "Please be informed that the key issue in Mount Kitanglad is simple recognition of the ancestral domain rights of the indigenous peoples in the area."

It was just awkward for Migketay to say he would bring the issue to the World Bank as his group had earlier declared a "loss of confidence" in CPPAP, a WB-managed project in Mount Kitanglad. Furthermore, on September 14, 2001, he issued a statement accusing CPPAP of committing "violations against the ancestral domain and customary rights of the tribes."

"The implementation of projects under CPPAP has evidently undermined the issue (ancestral domain). It has practically undermined the concerns of the tribe," the statement added.

'Death penalty'

Mirasol and his fellow "respondents" failed to comply with the first sala deadline (June 19, 2001) set by the Talaandig. The penalty was then increased twofold and a second deadline (August 3, 2001) set. The concerned DENR employees again failed to meet the second deadline. The tribe responded through a manifesto dated August 4, 2001 in which they announced that the original penalty had been increased four times.

The manifesto further warned that after the seventh deadline and the "respondents" still failed to comply with it, "the case will be turned over to [the] keepers of the 'Lupak ha Manumbilan' who shall impose death penalty to the offenders."

The PAMB, some mayors and even the provincial government intervened to try to settle the issue.

Mirasol, for his part, was not unwilling to mend fences with Migketay. On April 26, 2001, he wrote a four-page letter to Migketay containing his response to each of the charges raised in the sala. He also referred the case to his superiors for their advice and action. He expressed some doubts, however, that he and his colleagues could get fair treatment under the sala process since Migketay, he complained, acted
as "complainant, prosecutor and judge."
In short, efforts to resolve the sala proved futile until the seventh deadline came, on November 2, 2001. The Talaandig tribal council extended it until February 17, 2002, to no avail. And on the same day, the tribe held a ritual to mark the closure of the sala. The rite meant they were leaving it to their guardian spirits to define the death penalty to be imposed on the "offenders."

It's not clear whether the death penalty desired was literal or just symbolic, or whether it was a metaphor whose meaning is discernible only to those who believe in its power. What is clear is that the sala, by coming to an inconclusive end, spelled death to hopes of reconciling Migketay's agenda with that of the DENR and PAMB. Many bridges have been burned.