MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 27 January) – The new Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Bukidnon urged his colleagues to give “special care and special attention to our indigenous peoples” to help protect and uplift their lives.
In a privilege speech right after taking his oath of office last week, lawyer Arbie S. Llesis, a Talaandig from Lantapan town, said IPs in Bukidnon comprise 60 percent of the province’s population and occupy 60 percent of its land area.
In previous statements, Llesis said there is an imbalance because the IPs remain among the poorest of the poor.
Llesis, who was elected by fellow IP leaders as IPMR on Nov. 25 last year, assumed the post more than a year after the resignation in October 2021 of Datu Laglagengan Richard Macas, who ran as 2nd District representative but lost to reelectionist John Flores.
He is the province’s third IP mandatory representative to the SP. The first, Datu Magdaleno Maida Pandian, served from March 2012 until his death in 2015. Datu Laglagengan Richard Macas, succeeded him and served from 2016 to 2022. The latter resigned in October 2021 when he filed for his candidacy for a congressional post.
In an interview with Kaglambaga Radio Program of Bukidnon State University’s DXBU on Dec. 9 last year, Llesis presented a platform of “emancipation from injustices against the IPs.”.
He expounded about his “father” and “mother” plans to ensure self-governance among the IPs, save “them from oppression, neglect and injustice,” and for equality and peace.
The 34-year old IP leader said during the interview that they intend to set up a Bangsa Lumad Legal Center and a Bangsa Lumad political party by 2025 to ensure these aspirations by the end of his term.
He also vowed to file ordinances and resolutions for the local government units to allot a bigger percentage of their budget to the IPs.
”If the Lumads claim to own the lands in Bukidnon, they should have a (fair) share of the bounty,” he said.
His plans to assert the rights of the IPs, Llesis said, do not intend to displace others. He said this is just to appeal for their just share and not to render others bankrupt, adding “We are only after the commensurate share of our resources.”
”Let’s pray it will be realized, justice and equality equals peace,” he said.
Llesis emphasized that he is an advocate of consultative and participatory governance, consensus and unity among the tribes. He noted in the interview the two types of Bukidnon natives, those born with Bukidnon blood and those who were born in Bukidnon.
He clarified that he only intends to claim what the law affords the IPs and is keen on the proper implementation of Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
RA 8371, Llesis said, provides that all development projects inside ancestral domains must obtain consent from the IPs. He said part of the consent-seeking process is an assessment of impact on the environment and culture. He added that from there, negotiation can be done to determine the sharing scheme.
He said that in all economic projects, the community is entitled to 1-percent share of the gross income as royalty or share.
He said the Lumads should have a good share of the bounty from the start of projects and not just be left to gather the leftovers.
He cited that hundreds of development projects have been introduced in the ancestral domains of the IPs but they have not enjoyed the economic benefits.
”The IPs are invited only to the opening to do the ritual and given only tokens like chickens,” he said.
Llesis is pushing for an inventory of all existing corporations operating in the province.
”Are they complying with these provisions of the law? If not, we can open negotiations,” he asked.
He cited that IPs used to own the whole of Bukidnon, and when the settlers first came to the province the Lumad accommodated them in their lands.
”It’s time to return the favor. Now that the Lumads are at a state of disadvantage, it is your time to help uplift the IPs from their situation,” he added.
He cited the alleged disconnect between the disadvantaged situation of the IPs and the fact that they comprise 60 percent of the population and own 60 percent of the land (through ancestral domains).
Issue of space
”The issue here is space. If indeed Bukidnon is our home, then it is just right for us to use a good room inside the house, not just in the back near the pig pen or chicken coop,” he said.
He cited that when the IPs hold rituals, they allot offerings even to elements they could not see.
He acknowledged that realizing the vision will not be easy.
He said there must be a system or mechanism that can address issues like land-grabbing affecting the IPs.
He said that sometimes they would approach the Integrated Bar of the Philippines only to be sent back to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
”IPRA has been implemented for 25 years but the impact is not felt on the ground,” he said.
He cited that several applications for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title have not been processed or granted.
‘Father’ and ‘mother’ plans
Llesis said the legal center, considered as the “father” plan, will help address legal issues and give justice to the IPs who are the owners of the resources.
He described the “mother” plan as the intent to set up a political party for the tribes for their self and participatory governance. He said they intend to organize the party in the 20 towns and two cities and register the party before the Commission on Elections. He cited that organizing can be done in the first six to eight months, documentation in the ninth to tenth months and submission of application to Comelec by November to December 2023.
But he noted that he is only a representative of the IPs and the vision should be shared by the different councils of elders and other stakeholders.
If realized, he said, it will be the first time in the province that a political party has been set up by the IPs.
He cited that the “father” and “mother” plans are expected to bear more plans like the organization of the IP professionals, youth, senior citizens, business, farmers, among others to energize and synergize the (IP) population.
”There will be no successful IP struggle without the participation (of the different sectors),” he said, adding they will identify towns and barangays with sizable IP populations.
More IP share in LGU budget
Another specific plan, which he outlined during his radio interview, was the intent to create a general plan at the provincial level, which could be customized and adopted at the town and city levels.
He, however, admitted that since the budget for the local government units (LGUs) has been passed for 2023, they will just pursue “hangyo-hangyo” (appeal for negotiation). He said he intends to negotiate for a share of the IPs in the budget for the youth, gender and development, senior citizens, among others.
He noted that some LGUs have bigger budgets for ballpens and office supplies than for the IPs.
”We pray that our political leaders will help us in this. We ask the governor, the vice governor, board members, down to the mayors to help the Lumad,” he added.
Powers, duties of IPMR
The authority of the IPMR emanates from the community through the indigenous political structure, according to NCIP Administrative Order No. 03, S. 2018 or the Revised National Guidelines for the Mandatory Representation of Indigenous Peoples in Local Legislative Councils and Policy Making Bodies.
As a regular member of the local legislative councils and policy-making bodies, it is the primary duty of the IPMR to carry out at all times the collective interests and aspirations of the community.
Aside from sponsoring ordinances and resolutions and conduct committee hearings that will promote and protect the well-being and interests of his or her community and inclusion to the LGU annual budget the implementation of programs and projects relevant to the community, the IPMR should formulate the IP agenda with the community and conduct regular meetings with IP elders/leaders or the entire community.
The IPMR should also facilitate provisions for financial support for the implementation of the IP agenda, to include delineation and titling of ancestral domains, indigenous political structure documentation, formulation and implementation of Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan, selection of IPMR, community-based information and education campaign on IPRA, convening of the community for agenda formulation, and periodic reporting and assessment on the IPMR’s performance.
The IPMR should closely coordinate and collaborate with the NCIP on implementation of projects and programs, support the conduct of IP census within his or her area of responsibility during the first year of his or her term, and to perform such other powers and functions as the community may deem appropriate. (MindaNews)