“Assertion of our rights as Indigenous Peoples is really a big challenge; but we ourselves have to do this assertion.”
Thus declares Timuay Santos Bello of Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG) the main challenge confronting them as thirty five key leaders of non-islamized indigenous tribes residing within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the adjoining towns of Sultan Kudarat province have gathered together in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato last December 20-22, 2012.
Organized by the Kadtuntaya Foundation with the assistance of the Bread for the World-Civil Peace Service (CPS), the activity was aimed at reaching a common understanding of the basic issues affecting the IPs in the ARMM and Central Mindanao and a convergence of their divergent positions vis-à-vis the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).
Since the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) in August 2008, IP groups came up with divergent positions on the GPH-MILF peace process with one group giving it its full support, another its critical support, while another is demanding a separate IP representation in the talks.
One of the pressing political issues identified by the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan-Manobo leaders in the Lake Sebu consultation is what they called as ‘policy conflict’ between the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 and RA 9054, otherwise known as Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Considering the fact that ARMM is excluded in the coverage of IPRA, they argued that this made it extremely difficult for IPs within the region to process their claim over their fusaka inged or ancestral lands.
“There is a law, but there are no implementing rules and regulations,” a Teduray tribal leader working with the local government in North Upi explained.
The IP leaders also bewailed their very limited political participation in different levels of government, the overlapping political boundaries, massive land grabbing and selling of tribal lands, and the unabated logging and incursions of multinational corporations in IP communities without their free, prior and informed consent. Moreover, they cited the presence of armed rebel groups in some IP communities which endangers their security, especially during armed clashes between the former and government forces.
In the economic front, they mentioned the chronic and unaddressed poverty in many IP areas forcing IPs to sell their tribal lands as well as the unsustainable livelihood due to the entry of cash economy and insecurity over land tenure.
Lastly, they lamented social discrimination and what they consider as their fast-vanishing cultural identity. According to the Teduray participants, only 35 percent of their tribe still have their traditional culture intact; 40 percent have been semi-assimilated and the rest have been fully assimilated.
Ancestral domain still remains a common issue among the IPs and between them and the Bangsamoro, says KFI director Guiamel Alim in his synthesis of the workshop reports. What is crucial, he stressed, is their ownership and leadership of the ancestral domains.
Alim singled out national oppression as the root of the problems faced by both the IPs and Bangsamoro, which he then summarized as political and economic marginalization, cultural alienation, and social disintegration.
“We have to look at the roots of our marginalization and develop our own analysis of our problems,” he told them.
Among the challenges he posed on the IP leaders were how to look at the “big issues affecting them both vertically and horizontally”, how to protect and defend their identity, how to forge unity and solidarity to assert the implementation of laws for them, how to work for the implementation of reform within the ARMM or LGUs, and how to define the role of local NGOs in responding to the needs of IP communities.
Atty. Raissa Jajurie, a member of the MILF peace panel, briefed the participants on the basic contents of the FAB signed by the GPH and the MILF on October 15, 2012.
“The recognition of Bangsamoro identity is a very important element of FAB as it defines political identity,” she said.
Jajurie explained that the FAB provides for the establishment of the Bangsamoro government which will replace the present ARMM. The roadmap for its creation, she said, includes the formation of a Transition Commission tasked with drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the passing of BBL bill to the Philippine Congress and then to the President for approval, a plebiscite to ratify the BBL in core territories to be covered by the new political entity, the formation of Bangsamoro Transition Authority with ministerial form and cabinet system of government and finally, the establishment of Bangsamoro government after the election and assumption into powers of members of Bangsamoro Legislative Assembly in 2016.
Another very important component of FAB, according to Jajurie, is the power-and wealth-sharing between the Bangsamoro and the central government.She said that though the reserved powers of the latter have already been defined, other details, especially on wealth-sharing, are still being negotiated by both parties in the ongoing talks.
FAB ensures respect and protection of the basic rights of citizens under the territories to be covered by the new political entity, she added. It also provides for Normalization which deals with the gradual decommissioning of MILF fighters, internal policing, and the disbandment of private armies.
During the open forum, Jajurie explained that the power- and wealth sharing between the IPs and the Bangsamoro government should be negotiated within the framework of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
On the question of amending RA 9054 as an option to ensure IP rights within the ARMM, Jajurie replied that there is not much time left anymore to amend the said law, but that proposals for its amendment and that of RA 241 (Muslim Mindanao Act) which also recognizes IP rights could be an input in crafting the BBL.
“Don’t settle for less than RA 9054. If you think IPRA is the more appropriate legal instrument for IPs, then assert and work for it,” she challenged them.
However, she also encouraged them to engage not only the GPH but the MILF as well.
“How can we get a prize if we have not made a bet?”, she asked.
Autonomy within an autonomy
An option for IP autonomy within the Bangsamoro was presented by Timuay Alim Bandara of Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG). In his proposal, IP autonomy basically means their right to supervise and manage their ancestral domain.
He also defined the political identity of this IP autonomous entity as Bangsa Mamalu.
Bandara said the the proposed IP position is based on their right to the following: ancestral domain, political territory, governance, and resources.
After the signing of the Ten Decision Points by the GPH and the MILF on April 24, 2012, Bandara said that what has become a central issue for IPs in the ARMM and Central Mindanao is the recognition of IPs as a distinct people compared to the Bangsamoro, thus the need to recognize their distinct identity and rights.
“The IPs in the ARMM are neglected by the state – 23 years under ARMM and 15 years under IPRA,” he said.
He also stressed that the IP agenda is “legitimate and not just riding on the GPH-MILF peace process.”
Platform for convergence
KFI’s Alim encouraged the IP leaders to already draft a law for Bangsa Mamalu with a clear definition of its identity, power and rights which they could submit to their representatives in the Transitional Commission. He said they should popularize it to further develop Bangsa Mamalu consciousness and identity.
However, he also appealed to them that anything they are planning to do “should not jeopardize the reaching of GPH-MILF peace agreement.”
Moreover, he told them that KFI could offer itself as a platform for convergence and solidarity. “In our narratives, let us highlight the good relationship between the IPs and Bangsamoro in the past,” he pleaded.
Jajurie, on the other hand, considered the IP position as “workable” and “has no basic contradiction” with the FAB. Like Alim, she also advised them to be clear with their strategy and tactics, particularly in confidence-building with the GPH and the MILF.
Among the follow-up activities agreed upon by the participants are the convening of a dialogue among their baglalans (traditional and formal leaders) and a campaign to convince the IPs in municipalities outside the ARMM to join the Bangsamoro through information drive and a petition of 10 percent of their registered voters.