NCIP rules against Bukidnon ranch owner

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/1 Oct) – The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, sitting en banc, decided to annul the compliance certificate it issued to a ranch operator in Maramag, Bukidnon, reversing a verdict it made more than three years ago. The case involves a 480-hectare ranch being contested by a tribal group as part of their ancestral domain.

In its decision dated Sept 20 but released only on Sept. 28, the commission granted the petition of the Panalsalan Dagumbaan Tribal Association (Padata), whose members are from the Higaonon and Talaandig tribes, to annul or recall Compliance Certificate No. CCRX-08-7-150 issued to Engr. Ernesto Villalon.

MindaNews was furnished a copy of the decision by petitioner Padata.

The decision came more than a month after the killing of 28-year-old farmer Welcie Gica, who was reportedly shot last Aug. 24 by security guards hired by the Villalons in Panalsalan village in Maramag. Gica, father of two, refused to hand his backpack to the guards during a dialogue because he was not aware of the guards’ orders to the farmers as he came late, his colleagues said. But security guards contend Gica drew a gun, forcing them to shoot him, a claim refuted by his colleagues because he did not own a gun in his whole life.

Joseph Coles of Task Force Mapalad, the group supporting Padata, said the NCIP ruling actually cost the Villalons the case.

The commission, in its decision, said that some members of the community were excluded in the hearing for the Villalons to obtain free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from indigenous people in the area and cited actions of its field personnel that have to be corrected.

It was apparently referring to the exclusion of Padata in the FPIC process as the Villalons obtained consent only through a Manobo tribal leader, whom Padata claimed comes from another village.

The commissioners added that the act “goes against the very purpose of the NCIP, which is to ensure genuine participation” of the Lumads in decision making.

“Compliance Certificate No. CCRX-08-7-150 issued in the name of Engr. Ernesto Villalon for the renewal of his Forest Land Grazing Management Agreement (FLGMA) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is hereby revoked,” the commission said in the final paragraph of the decision.

Villalon obtained the compliance certificate in 2008 after the NCIP Ancestral Domain Office recommended it on August 8, 2008. Ten days after, the Padata members filed a protest before the commission contesting the FPIC on the 607-hectare area in Brgy. Dagumbaan in Maramag.

Villalon first obtained the 15-year Pasture Lease Agreement (PLA) No. 1816 for the same area in 1981. When it expired, Villalon applied for renewal. The PLA was later renamed as FLGMA. With the passage of Republic Act 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), the renewal process has included a free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from the indigenous peoples in the community where the area subject of the lease agreement belongs.

The decision was signed by commissioners Datu Cosme M. Lambayon, Percy A. Brawner, Conchita C. Calzado, Dionesia O. Banua, Santos M. Unsad, Roque N. Agton Jr., and NCIP chair Zenaida Brigida H. Pawid. Commission officer-in-charge clerk Ma. Victoria R. Formento certified the veracity of the decision.

When asked for comments, Villalon’s counsel Claver Ariño said they have not yet received a copy of the decision as of Sept. 30.

Lawyer Pinkly Pabelic, NCIP 10 regional director, said that they released copies of the decision to the parties at the same time last Thursday (Sept. 29).

Coles, meanwhile, said the next arena is the DENR, which should decide to cancel the FLGMA due to the cancelation of the NCIP’s compliance certificate for the FPIC, one of the requirements to renew the agreement. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)