A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Hope arises in the uplands of Jose Abad Santos

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MOLMOL, Jose Abad Santos, Davao Oriental (MindaNews/20 April) — In August 2014, the members of the Davao Redemptorist Mission Community took over the administration of the Nuing Mission Station (NMS) covering 11 barangays of the municipality of Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental.   Fr. Richie Cuaton CSsR, was assigned as the full-time in-charge of the NMS.  Early on, we already saw that one of the issues we had to deal with in the NMS was the issue of land.  In the months that we found ourselves immersed among the various Lumad communities (mainly Sarangani Manobo as well as with B’laan and those who have inter-married), we heard story after story as to how the land issue impacted their daily lives.

We had a consultation with all those connected with the Diocesan IP Ministry of the Diocese of Digos – with the attendance of Bishop Guillermo Afable, parish priests of parishes with big Lumad population and IP workers – sometime in October 2014 to discuss how we could as church personnel respond to some of these issues. In the months that followed we had consultations with the NMS lay staff on this issue, along with the Lumad leaders (having meetings at the NMS center in Nuing as well as in Molmol) and LGU officials.  In the process of our immersion and consultations, we were able to find out that:

Way back since 2006, Fr. Sonny Villehermosa, who was then in charge of NMS invited the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) Provincial Office in Digos City, in collaboration with the Assisi Foundation (with Giovanni Soledad as the main in-charge) to explore the possibility of securing the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) of the remaining ancestral territory of the Lumad in NMS. The process began with all the documentation and survey work that had to be done towards the issuance of the CADT. There was also the setting up of the Indigenous People’s Organization that would represent the Manobo-Blaan people, with the name MALOKA (in Manobo it means TO WAKE UP but is also the acronym for MALAHUTAYONG AGRIKULTURA, LUMANDONG ORGANISASYON, KINAIYAHAN AMPINGAN – Sustainable Agriculture, IP Organization and Protect the Environment).

Eventually in 2012 (six years since the process began), the CADT application was approved by the NCIP National Office.  But three years later, the CADT that covers 2,540 hectares has not yet been awarded to the Manobo-B’laan claimants of Barangay Molmol. And there was no aggressive movement at all from the NCIP to do the necessary follow-up on this CADT despite the attempts of MALOKA to follow them up.  Assisi Foundation had pulled out of Molmol thinking that NCIP and MALOKA were in a position already to sustain the efforts. But this did not turn out to be the case.

jas_karlAfter a five-month immersion and consultation process with MALOKA and the NMS staff, Fr. Richie Cuaton, CSsR and members of  the Davao Redemptorist Mission Community decided to go ahead to organize a FORUM ON LAND ISSUES.  Since late last year the various government agencies – especially the NCIP, DENR, DAR, DILG and the Provincial Agriculturist’s Office at their provincial offices in Digos City – as well as non-government organizations (mainly the Ateneo Legal Center and the Assisi Foundation) and the church personnel involved of the Diocesan IP Ministry were contacted to join this Forum.  Among those who were present at the April 17 forum in Molmol where the following: NCIP: Diomedes E. Mirafuentes, Merry Jane T. Kinoc, Dominador D. Dala, Rene Chavez, Cesar Labastin and Luciano Lumangkas of NCIP Sarangani Province.

DAR was represented by Atty. Aison Garcia of the DAR National Office and Wilson Antiga – PARO of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office, Digos City.  Raul Mazo of CENRO DENR in Malalag represented DENR.  DILG’s representative from the JAS municipal office was Maria Teresa Sioco.  From the Provincial Agriculturist’s Office was Syrial Surmion  while JAS Municipal Agriculturist’s office was represented by Ronvel Muego.

The Local government units came in full force. From the Province of Davao del Sur, Atty. Jason John Joyce, Provincial Board Member, attended. So did his father, Mayor James Joyce, Mayor of JAS who came with a number of kagawads and staff persons.  Mayor Joyce had his bulldozer improve on the barangay roads up to Molmol so that vehicles could penetrate this interior village.  Fortunately, there had been no heavy rains, so with the improved road, the guests could reach Molmol.

There were also a number of representatives from nongovernmental organizations like the Ateneo Legal Center and Assisi Foundation.  The Diocese was represented by Fr. Jomar Momo and Ms. Elenita Salip, both with the Diocesan IP Ministry.

The problems related to the delay in the issuance of the Molmol CADT as explained by Mr. Mirafuentes involved the following facts: 1) The CADT was already approved en banc at the NCIP National Office with the attendance of Datu Estoon in 2012. 2) Things have been cleared with the DAR. 3) However, there were still technical matters to be dealt with CENRO-DENR which is why the CADT has not yet been issued. A number of times, the NCIP Provincial Office had written to CENRO asking for a Certificate of No Overlap (CNO) to find out if there were no longer overlaps between the CADT territory and the area covered under the DENR.  But the CENRO has ignored their communications so far despite their attempts at following up on this request. 4)  For this reason, the NCIP could not proceed with the process of securing the title with the Register of Deeds (ROD). Without the ROD’s document, the NCIP could not issue the CADT to the Manobo-Blaan people in Molmol, JAS. 5) However, he indicated that the process of dealing with the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Program Plan (ADSDPP) has already started.  The MALOKA and its collaborating agencies can actually already be involved in the setting up of the ADSDPP.

There was then a discussion on the basis of the report of Mr. Mirafuentes. Mr. Mazo of CENRO said that he was not familiar with the NCIP request for certification and did not hear about these. But he said that he would inform the CENRO about this.  Mr. Mirafuentes insisted that a few requests from NCIP had been forwarded to the CENRO.

A few suggestions to facilitate the CNO issuance by the CENRO came from Mr. Lumangkas and Mr. Antiga which include the following: 1) For NCIP and Assisi Foundation (with the personnel of the NMS and Diocesan IP Ministry) to make representations with the CENRO to facilitate the CNO issuance. 2) If No. 1 has no effect, the MALOKA officers with the NCIP Provincial Office ask for the document from either NCIP National or Regional Office indicating the approval of the Molmol CADT, come up with a resolution demanding action from CENRO and submit these to the CENRO hoping that within 15 days, the certificate could already be issued.  If not, they can proceed with submitting a complaint with the Ombudsman’s office. 3) Mr. Antiga proposed ways of dealing with the ROD; however, since the ROD office handles Davao and Cotabato, it is to be assumed that it will take time before the title can be issued.  The DAR Provincial office could assist the MALOKA and NCIP in following up the ROD.

In the morning of Friday, April 17, 2015, around a thousand and five hundred Lumad residents in the uplands of Barangay Molmol and adjacent villagers converged in the barangay’s public plaza for the forum.  During the three-hour Forum which began with a DUGSO, the Manobo ritual to ask the Deity to bless the event, the representatives of government agencies and LGUs as well as NGOs and church ministry were able to address the crowd and help to explain the land laws of the country and how some of the land conflicts could be resolved. With the lawyers and NCIP staff, the people were able to raise all kinds of questions related to land in the language they could understand.

There were a lot of clarifications raised regarding the issuance of the CADT, and the interface of the Tribal Chieftain with the IP Mandatory Representative of the Local Government to deal with governance questions. The people were also encouraged to restore traditional indigenous governance structures that could help resolve local land issues without having to go to the offices of government.  Thus the call to strengthen the Tribal Council and MALOKA.

There would have been more questions related to land.  But at 12 noon, the summer sun was getting hotter and many people stood under the sun with only a few having umbrellas. People were hungry as they hiked hours to reach the venue. The Mayor sent word that he had made sure that lunch would be served to the multitude.  Fr. Cuaton said the Closing Remarks and thanked everyone for having joined this rare event in the uplands when government agencies and LGUs made an effort to meet the poorest of the poor in the most periphery of peripheries.

jas_karl2There was a dark cloud hovering in the western sky and one sees parts of the mountain range being approached by the clouds. Mt Golo was beginning to be enveloped by fog.  We feared it would rain, which meant we could be stranded up in the uplands, unless we were willing to walk hours to where we can catch a habal-habal.  So immediately after a quick lunch, all the visitors rode on their vehicles – army trucks, various vehicles with 4-wheel drive and habal-habal – and rushed to leave Molmol.

As we departed, I looked at the faces of the hundreds of Sarangani Manobo and B’laans who had joined the forum and sought to read the emotions that were manifested.  This was perhaps the first time in their lives when a big group of people converged in their interior village to dialogue with them on their land problems.  They were able to ask questions and perhaps they understood some of the answers, even as they might have been confused with the legalese language.  They knew a lot of work still needs to be done, especially the MALOKA leaders and those of the Tribal Council.  But perhaps, a hope arose in their hearts that some solutions to their enormous problems might be on their way.

But perhaps many of them knew that it will not be the outsiders who will solve these problems but they, themselves.  That realization is, in fact, what brings hope to the uplands of Jose Abad Santos.  As if the Dugso ritual was considered favorably by the spirits, rains fell on the mountain range around Molmol that late afternoon of April 17 in these days of a drought. Indeed, as the song goes, “sometimes on April days, will suddenly bring showers, rain to grow the flowers for a rich bouquet.” [Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI), and author of several books, including the recently launched “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)].

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