ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (14)

14th of 16 parts

Rudy Buhay Rodil

(Done in 1992 at Iligan City, published initially as two versions. First as the abbreviated edition published by The Minority Rights Group, London entitled The Lumad and Moro of Mindanaw, July 1993. The Philippine edition carrying the full draft was printed by AFRIM in Davao City 1994. This was later updated in 2003, summarized in an epilogue. This is the third revision, now with an expanded Epilogue.)

Chapter 6. Prospects for Problem Resolution and Peace

Let us start by asking basic questions. What do the indigenous communities want? The Moro people?  The Lumad? What they seek is that they be recognized as they are, with their distinct cultural identities, with their own traditional territories, and that these are basic to their survival and dignity.

What the Moro People Want

Speaking for the Moro people, the MNLF originally wanted an independent Bangsamoro Republik whose territory shall be the entirety of Mindanaw, the Sulu Archipelago and Palawan or simply Minsupala. 

For reasons not yet so clear, they agreed to modify this to regional autonomy starting with the Tripoli agreement covering only a territory of 13 provinces and nine cities. Due to failure to agree on details, this agreement was never fully consummated.

In another round of negotiation, this time with the Aquino government, the MNLF shifted to full autonomy in the same Minsupala region. The ratification of the 1987 Constitution with its own provisions on regional autonomy got in the way and the talks collapsed again.

This revolutionary organization has consistently rejected the Constitution as the basis for any talks. Presently, there are occasional cries for the implementation of the Tripoli agreement.

Other revolutionary groups, like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have consistently demanded the implementation of the Tripoli agreement. The MNLF allegedly keeps trying to get full membership status at the Organization of Islamic Conference. The MILF has consistently advocated implementation of the Tripoli agreement.

And the MNLF-Reformist Group has apparently shifted to purely parliamentary activities; its leader was appointed director of the Office of Muslim Affairs in the Aquino government and he continues to serve in the government service. 

In the meantime, the constitutionally created Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanaw is in place in the four provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

But what is to be  done with thousands of other Muslims outside the autonomous region?

What the Lumads Desire

Through Lumad Mindanaw, the Lumads have said that they want the government to recognize their ancestral lands. They desire genuine self-determination within the territorial integrity and under the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines. They prefer self-government within their ancestral lands, in accordance with their customary laws. What concrete form this will take within the government structure, however, remains to be seen.

They have their immediate concerns, too. They want the return of all lands taken from them through deceit, harassment, illegal manipulations, or simply grabbed. Also, lands within tribal territories which have been mortgaged, confiscated and declared public lands because of loans for commercial trees like falcatta, rubber and ipil-ipil.

They want the government to revoke permits secured by individuals and companies operating logging, mining, pastures, rattan gathering and other agri-based industries within tribal territories. They may operate within areas of ancestral domain only with the permission of individual tribes through their legitimate organizations.

The migration of settlers into the ancestral domain of the tribal people must be controlled.

Having seen their indigenous culture laughed at by those of the majority, having observed how their children’s indigenous culture has been eroded year after year within the school system, they also feel the need to keep alive and uphold their own dances, songs, material culture, history, and their own system of workshop, and healing the sick. 

These, many of them believe, should be learned, respected and taught as part of the DECS (Department of Education and Sports). This way their children will be educated and still remain indigenous in identity.

The government should disband paramilitary units and stop militarization in Lumad territories. Stop giving support to fanatic groups which have caused our dispersal. Halt recruitment of Lumads into paramilitary units. Stop the incorrect application of the Lumad pangayaw (revenge raids).

The government should cease recognizing fake Lumad organizations and fake datus which have become standard practice not only to foil or diffuse legitimate Lumad aspirations but also to advance selfish interests among government officials and their influential friends, not the least of which being the acquisition of Lumad ancestral lands.

Lessons From the Past

There are at least two sides to the problem, the government and the indigenous cultural communities. And for this reason, both sides must also be responsible for the solution.

What lessons can be drawn from the Lumad and Moro experiences? 

First, there is no concealing  the fact that it was and has been the machinery of the state that has been responsible for the minoritization of the indigenous peoples. There is no need to harp on whether said machinery of state was colonial or otherwise. The reality is that the policies and laws which brought misfortune to the indigenous communities were initiated indeed by the colonizers, first by the Spaniards and then by the Americans. But the greater misfortune is that the Philippine government continued the same policies and laws which multiplied ICC misfortunes. And now that the western colonizers are gone, only the Philippine government is left to resolve mountains of accumulated  problems.

Second, there is also no denying that the weaknesses manifest in these communities made them fair game for the so-called majority, highly vulnerable, easily manipulable. Indigenous communities have their own numerous documented accounts of how they were deceived into parting with their lands.

Third, there were not lacking those elements of the majority who had no scruples pursuing selfish gains at the expense of the former, as there was also a good number of individual members of the ICC who held positions of traditional leadership and broke custom law to dispose of ancestral lands for selfish gain, thus further weakening their own people’s defenses. The more contemporary phenomenon is the emergence of fake datus who are in turn encouraged and supported by government for purposes other than for the benefit of the ICCs. 

Fourth, now,  as a result of all these, the ICCs, especially the Lumad, find themselves at the receiving end, so far, of two distinct but inseparable contradictions, both seemingly irresolvable, the two conflicting systems of property: (a) public domain vs. ancestral land; (b) Western-oriented property law vs. indigenous custom. 

Fifth, now the ICCs must hold on to their respective ancestral lands as they would to their own dear lives for there is so little that is left. Genuine self-determination seems to be the best option. But they have no illusions that this is going to be easy work. Unity within their own ranks have to be improved.

Prospects of Legislative Reforms?

Responsive legislative reforms, especially where it involves the present demands of the Indigenous Cultural Communities, leaves much to be desired. A quick review of some related legislations will illustrate how painfully slow it was for the state machinery to extricate itself from the colonial past.

There is a grave need for a well-studied national policy on the Indigenous peoples. However, despite a number of favorable provisions found in the 1987 Constitution, Congress failed to pass the two bills on ancestral domain. The legislators missed a golden opportunity to break away from the orientation advanced by the Commission on National Integration. This is not an isolated situation.

In the crucial sphere of land laws, provisions affecting the ICCs remained essentially the same from 1903 to contemporary times. It even worsened with the introduction of the 18 percent limit for mountain slopes set by President Marcos classifying those above as forest lands, and therefore inalienable.

It can be said that the root of the present land problem is the Regalian doctrine. It has been at the heart of the Philippine property system since the arrival of the Spanish colonizers to the present — at the expense of indigenous institutions. The natural resource classification has been a sacred provision, carried over from the American-made Philippine Bill of 1902, integrated into the 1935 Constitution, embedded in the 1973 Charter, and is very much a part of the 1987 Basic Law of the land. Forest and mineral lands or lands of the public domain are non-disposable and inalienable. Only agricultural public lands may be privately owned.

The 1987 Constitution in the first paragraph of section 3, Article XII, provides: “Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks. Agricultural lands of the public domain may be further classified by law according to the uses to which they may be devoted.

Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands.

Private corporations or associations may not hold such alienable lands of the public domain except by lease, for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and not to exceed one thousand hectares in area.

Citizens of the Philippines may lease not more than five hundred hectares, or acquire not more than twelve hectares thereof by purchase, homestead or grant.”

“Taking into account the requirements of conservation, ecology, and development, and subject to the requirements of agrarian reform, the Congress shall determine, by law, the size of lands of the public domain which may be acquired, developed, held, or leased and the conditions therefor.”

What happens to the indigenous occupant? He becomes a squatter in his own land. All proceedings under the Public Land Act are based on the assumption that the land is, or at least used to be, part of the public domain. By applying the Public Land Act even to ancestral lands occupied since time immemorial, it is assumed that even these lands are held from the State.

It did not matter that the ownership of the indigenous occupants to their ancestral lands predated the advent of the Republic of the Philippines or even its predecessor the Spanish Regalia, from whom all claims to land are supposed to originate.

Making the Regalian doctrine an even more bitter pill to swallow is the fact that ancestral land has never come under the effective control of Spanish colonial government. “Ownership, therefore, to ancestral land has long been vested and, in most cases, was never interrupted”. 

But under the Regalian doctrine, such claim of original ownership has no legal standing.

In the past, the classification of lands into timber and mineral automatically converted ancestral lands into inalienable public domain.

As if these were not enough, and after they have been driven to the forest areas by the pressure of settlers, the Marcos regime introduced through the Revised Forestry Code and the 1976 Ancestral decree a detail that lands on 18 percent mountain slope are automatically declared forest and, hence, inalienable, and those below the 18 percent slope mark may further be declared as inalienable public land by the mere expedient of declaring them as public reservation areas.

Given the constitutional shield on the Regalian doctrine, it seems certain that any major change in the property system will have to be premised on a constitutional amendment. Until then, what are the prospects of legislative reform? Or of the government recognition of ancestral lands? Much will depend on the state of enlightenment of the next Congress to understand the nature of the problem and manifest political will in favor of the indigenous peoples.

However, the outlook is bright for consolidation activities among the indigenous peoples. There are also other fields of endeavor which do not require legislative action. Intervention from the Executive branch of government will suffice.

It is a well-known fact, for example, that government-approved Social Studies textbooks in Philippine grade schools carry a lot of distortions of facts, or simply omissions on matters related to the Lumads or Moros. If this is immediately remedied, a lot of negative sentiments about them can be eliminated from the minds of young children.

Government-recognition of fake datus which has caused a lot of confusion and demoralization among the people can easily be withdrawn and rectified.

Consolidation of Forces Among the Indigenous Communities

Inner transformation within the ranks of the ICCs has been going on for some time now. The Bangsamoro are visibly the more militant, given their long and extensive experience in centralized activities and in confronting external enemies, but even they must face divisiveness from within.

The split of the MNLF which led to the establishment of other factions like the MILF and the MNLF-Reformist Group are more than eloquent proofs of this.

The Lumad tend to be more gentle. But both are experiencing a fast pace in the awakening process.

Among the Lumad, events unfolded fast from the time of the church-initiated first inter-tribal assembly in 1977, which only had a handful of participants, then churchily called “Tribal Filipinos”, to the founding congress of Lumad Mindanaw in 1986.  Lumad-Mindanaw was constituted by a coalition of, initially, 78 local and regional all-Lumad organizations. 

The name “Lumad” was born by consensus from the realization of a need by people who discovered from the similarities of their marginalized situation a common cause and a common destiny.

The coalition was born in the context of the Marcos dictatorial regime, in an atmosphere of militarization, human rights violations, poverty, land-grabbing, undue intrusions by multinational corporations, and government neglect. And the aspiration and struggle for self-determination was seen both as a desirable process and an ultimate goal.

Processes in their assemblies followed traditional custom. Sharing and analysis of problems and finding solutions to these were consciously consultative, participatory, and consensus oriented. No one is left out. And growth in consciousness is more or less even.

In the recent past, too, a good number of support groups emerged to help the Lumad out in their struggle, the most active being KADUMA-Lumad. Their number have also multiplied. More public forums like the Second Ancestral Land Congress where public officials were deliberately invited can be held.

Their local and regional organizations, but more especially Lumad Mindanaw itself, will play significant roles in pressuring government to recognize their ancestral lands, or in bringing about the acceptable resolution of the contradiction between public domain and ancestral land. At the same time, similar experiences of the Moro peoples somehow point towards the same directions.

Undoubtedly, it is not easy at this point to gauge how the MNLF or the MILF will move forward in its struggle. At present the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanaw is in place. The revolutionary organizations seem to be inactive but MNLF leaders are reported every year  to be following up their application for membership in the Organization of Islamic Conference. There is occasional cry for the implementation of the Tripoli agreement but there continues a search for political processes that can truly respond to their legitimate demand for a more genuine autonomy.

Meanwhile, the indigenous peoples in Mindanaw pursue their quest for an authentic peace — where sustainable development takes place as a social process, initiated, activated and sustained by themselves, the very people who seek it. It can be the process of self-government initiated, activated and sustained by the people themselves in accordance with customary laws and with due respect a corded their ancestral lands.

Indeed, it will take time. As their struggles have taken much time. But the Bangsamoro and the Lumads of Mindanaw have long exhibited incomparable patience and  tenacity and there is no reason why these virtues will not serve them well until they obtain their just due: a life of peace and prosperity.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate.)

Tomorrow: Part XV: Selected Bibliography