MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 April) – The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), sitting en banc, has issued a “final and executory” decision on the 480-hectare Villalon Ranch, denying the motion for reconsideration filed by the camp of Engr. Ernesto Villalon for “lack of merit” and “for being filed out of time.”
This is according to a copy of the decision emailed Monday by Task Force Mapalad (TFM), the group supporting the Panalsalan Dagumbaan Tribal Association, Inc. (Padata), the petitioners.
The commission granted in September 2011 Padata’s petition to annul Compliance Certificate No. CCRX-08-7-150 issued to Villalon.
Villalon appealed but the NCIP en banc denied his plea last month. The commissioners argued that Villalon’s appeal “did not offer any valid argument or cogent reason to overturn the verdict”.
Villalon’s camp also filed the motion for reconsideration way after the 10-day period for appeals. The appeal was filed on October 25, 2011. According to NCIP, Villalon’s group received the decision on September 30, 2011. The appeal period should have lapsed on October 15.
But Claver Ariño, counsel to the Villalons, told MindaNews via telephone they will contest the ruling at the Court of Appeals on April 24.
Padata, whose members are from the Higaonon and Talaandig tribes, said in a statement they are now banking on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “to implement the order and eventually compel the Villalon group to yield control of the land.”
Padata, in a letter to Environment Secretary Ramon Paje on September 27, 2011, has asked the DENR to cancel the Forest Land Grazing Management Agreement (FLGMA) it issued.
Felix Mirasol, chief of the DENR’s provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office-Bukidnon, acknowledged receipt of a copy of the decision from TFM. But he told MindaNews via telephone they are waiting for the order from the DENR national office which, he said, sent a validating team to the area.
The decision, signed on March 21, 2012 by NCIP chair Zenaida Brigida Pawid and the six other commissioners, affirmed the September 20, 2011 decision, which annulled the compliance certificate it issued to Villalon, reversing a verdict it made in 2008.
The DENR cited that they renewed Villalon’s FLGMA because they obtained the certificate from NCIP.
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 town in southern Bukidnon. Only 480 hectares was indicated in the FLGMA, noted Joseph Coles, TFM coordinator for Mindanao.
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 people in the community where the area subject of the lease agreement belongs.
Villalon said he had secured FPIC in spite of protests lodged by Padata members who claimed that the FPIC was dubious since they were not informed about it, adding that the consent came from people in another area.
In spite of this, the NCIP issued a compliance certificate to Villalon on August 26, 2008 and Padata filed a case to junk the certificate, a requirement for the FLGMA to be renewed, and issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) instead to stop Villalon from exercising control over the estate.
Padata was keen on acquiring control of the property since they seek to have a Community-Based Forestry Management Agreement (CBFM) with the DENR over the area. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)