Around seventy key leaders and representatives of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces have gathered together in Nuro, Municipality of North Upi in Maguindanao on October 12-13, 2013 for a dialogue and to discuss key issues affecting them in the core and adjacent areas of the envisioned Bangsamoro new political entity.
Organized by the Organization of Teduray-Lambangian Ancestral Claimants (OTLAC), Mamalu-Tabunaway Tribal Council and the Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc (KFI) with assistance from Bread for the World-Civil Peace Service, the event also tried to come up with a unified IP position on key issues such as ancestral domain, governance, resources and territory which will then be presented to the Transitional Commission (Transcom) tasked with drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Based on workshop results, the tribal leaders coming from Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo tribes have demanded for recognition of and respect for IP rights on their ancestral domain based on Indigenous people’s Rights Act (IPRA) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
On the aspect of governance, they have asked for the recognition of tribal governance and justice system, gender rights, and equal participation of tribal women in Bangsamoro government and parliament.
They have also pointed out the need for recognition and protection of the resources within their territories especially in the just-concluded annex on wealth sharing signed between the GPH and MILF.
Lastly, the tribal leaders have asked for the recognition of traditional boundaries and for the creation of a tribal province within the soon-to-be created Bangsamoro territory.
The issue of transitional justice was also raised by the tribal leaders during the consultation-dialogue, citing, for example, the IP lands grabbed or taken away by the settlers.
Timuay Jovito Martin, chairperson of OTLAC, singled out the Consunji logging firm operating in South Upi and Sultan Kudarat which, despite the turning down of its application for Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA), allowed its armed forest guards to settle in the Dulangan Manobo areas thus ejecting the tribes from their own communities through fear and dispossessing the later of their ancestral lands.
“How do we pursue justice in our Bangsamoro Basic Law? Consunji used force, and the Dulangan Manobos are asking for justice,” he asked.
Another tribal woman leader, Erlinda Erese, also cited the case of Dulangan Manobo communities ejected from their lands in San Jose, South Upi in September.
Timuay Alim Bandara opined that as public lands such as the timberlands operated by Consunji are not subjected to land reform, the IPs could still seek assistance from the ARMM or have it worked out in the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
For Atty. Raissa Jajurie, a member of the Transcom, the issue is part of the ongoing peace talks especially under Normalization and Transitional Justice. She told the IP leaders that if some grabbed IP lands could still be returned back to them, they ought to be returned; if not, there has to be a proper compensation.
Strategy and tactics
“But it is not only the Tedurays, Lambangians and Dulangan Manobos who seek recognition of their lands but the Tausugs, Maranaos and Maguindanaons too, “ says Atty. Zainudin Malang of Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MINHRAC) who was also a guest in the gathering.
“It is usually either less or no recognition at all of our claims,” he told them.
Malang said that in 1903, about 95 percent of inhabitants of Mindanao are IPs. It was the Regalian Doctrine, as later embodied in the Land Act of 1902, which paved the way for massive and systematic loss of IP’s ancestral domain, resources and autonomy.
“It’s the Philippine state created by colonization which dispossessed us of our ancestral domain!,” he stressed.
Reminding the IP leaders that the annexes to the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) are yet to be finished one year after its signing, he challenged them to rethink their strategy and tactics, i.e. whether to negotiate as one IP with their Moro brothers , or as a separate IP entity.
Malang thus exhorted the IP leaders in the gathering to look at the root causes of the Mindanao conflict, to forge unity among themselves, to look into the similarities and common problems of Bangsamoro and IPs, and to assert their right to self-determination as an individual and collective right.
“We are on the right side; it’s what strengthens our unity,” he said.
North Upi Mayor Ramon Piang, a native Teduray himself and a member of the GPH peace panel, appealed to the IP leaders to support the peace process as they also have “the same goal” as their Bangsamoro brothers, especially concerning the ancestral domain issue. He said that if ever the peace process succeeds, the other issues they have been fighting for will also be realized.
Piang further said that they, as IPs, should look at the ancestral domain “within the context of the peace process” so they don’t quarrel with their Bangsamoro brothers.
“Let us sit down together, let’s look at the status of the TransCom within the road map and the peace process.”
Citing a recent study that only 45 percent of the population in the ARMM are aware of the peace process, he urged them to study the FAB and the peace roadmap.
“We should walk together as one and make Bangsamoro a reality within our core areas which is under the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro,” he said.
Malang also made the same appeal as Piang: “Let us show there is a big support and constituency for the peace process not only in Mindanao but also in the national level.”
This is important, according to him, in the light of possible factors which may derail the peace process, of which he mentioned three: a delay in the signing of the remaining annexes, disapproval of the draft BBL by the Congress, and failure of the BBL to be ratified in a plebiscite.
Two position papers were presented by two IP groups before selected members of the Transcom during the second day of the gathering.
One position, presented by Timuay Alim Bandara of the TJG and Teduray,Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo Ancestral Domain Claim (TLADMADC), calls for a Bangsa Mamalu autonomy within the Bangsamoro political entity and for a tribal-based governance in case of a federal state structure.
Bandara made it clear that the Bangsa Mamalu is not a state structure but an “autonomous governance structure “within the Bangsamoro with defined shared and devolved powers between it and the later. There must be a full recognition of the inherent rights of IPs to govern themselves based on customary practices recognized by law, he said.
The TLADMADC claim covers a total of 308, 941 hectares including the coastal waters.
The second position paper, representing that of OTLAC, was presented by South Upi mayor Bedz Campong. It asserts for the recognition of ancestral domain of the tribes covering an estimated land area of 289,268 hectares located in Maguindanao and portions of Sultan Kudarat Province and Cotabato City. It also calls for an equitable share in the resources located within the IP areas, respect for traditional and customary laws, and a genuine autonomy within the Bangsamoro under the principle of peaceful co-existence.
Reactions from the two presentations followed. A tribal woman leader remarked: “We don’t want to separate from our brother Tabunaway. We simply want to stand on our own feet as Tedurays, as IPs.”
Timuay Gaspar Mosela from Rimpes countered: “If there is no Bangsamoro, there will be no Bangsa Mamalu. What is most important is mutual respect. “
What worries him more, he said, is that if they don’t act fast, the settlers and the miners are coming in to dispossess them more of their lands and resources. Thus, the need for them to dialogue and unite as Bangsamoro,” he added.
Reactions from Transcom
Four members of the Transcom were present to give their reactions to the presentations and the activity: Timuay Melanio Ulama, Froilyn Mendoza, Atty. Raissa Jajurie and Hussein Munoz.
Ulama, citing the signed Annex on Wealth-Sharing, told the body that the IPs have the right to a fair share in the utilization of their own resources and also to a governance based on their customs and traditions.
Mendoza, on her part, said that she too will work for the strengthening of tribal governance within the Bangsamoro. She added: “Amidst diversity, identity should be reflected in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
Meanwhile, Jajurie expressed that she is glad to have witnessed the process IPs have been going through. IP advocacy, she told them, is “a continuing struggle” which will not be finished within the Transcom or even after the peace process.
“Negotiation is a give-and-take. It is important that we are talking and trying to come up with a common agenda to hasten the process,” she said.
Hussein Munoz, former Deputy Chief of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), admitted too that negotiation is a “long political process” and that self-determination is “not easy.“ He assured the tribal leaders that they will incorporate their proposals in the Transcom, including the recognition of and respect for the rights of women and children.
Further, he advised them to give emphasis on education to produce capable experts and human resource for the Bangsamoro: “While waiting for the big fish, we should start developing our communities.”