July 16, 2024

Councilor Arthur Allad-iw denounced Section 78 of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), labeling it as a historical injustice that continues to perpetuate the loss of ancestral lands of the indigenous communities in the city.

The said provision of the IPRA specifies that Baguio City will continue to be governed by its own charter.

It states that all lands within Baguio that have been proclaimed as part of its townsite reservation will remain classified as such.

It further states any land rights and titles that were recognized or acquired through judicial, administrative, or other processes before the IPRA came into effect will remain valid.

However, it also specifies that this protection does not apply to any new territories that have become part of Baguio City after the effectivity of IPRA. 

During the Baguio City Council’s regular session on June 3, Allad-iw claimed this was a “compromised provision” agreed upon by congressmen to ensure the passage of the law.

He argued this provision had led to the denial of ancestral land rights in the city which runs counter to the IPRA’s vision of protecting IPs’ rights nationwide.

The councilor said the exclusion of Baguio from the issuance of ancestral land titles due to Section 78 continues to further marginalize and dispossess indigenous communities in the city.

Allad-iw added out a glaring irony: Despite Baguio City being the birthplace of the Mateo Cariño Doctrine, Section 78 undermines these ancestral land rights.

The Mateo Cariño Doctrine, a landmark legal decision named after a native chieftain who contested the takeover of his land by the American colonial government, has helped indigenous peoples (IPs) worldwide protect their land rights.

Allad-iw sought recommendation on how to address this “unfair” situation in Baguio where the Mateo Cariño Doctrine originated but is contradicted by Section 78.

He said there is a need to rectify this “historical injustice” to ensure fair treatment of the land rights of IPs in the city.

NCIP-Cordillera Regional Legal Officer Mia Laude Tupeng said the original wording of this provision intended to exempt Baguio City entirely from IPRA.

However, due to lobbying efforts, the language was altered to its present wording.

Tupeng said during negotiations with ancestral land claimants in the city, recommendations were made to address land ownership issues.

One proposed solution was to amend Section 78 of IPRA, but this was deemed challenging.

Another recommendation was to amend the Baguio City Charter which, according to her, was considered an easier and more feasible solution.

The discussion stemmed from the advisory issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples en banc suspending until further notice the processing of certificates of ancestral land titles (CALTs) and certificates of ancestral domain titles (CADTs) in the city, pursuant to the final Supreme Court (SC) decision.

In its 2019 ruling, the SC ruled the NCIP does not have the legal authority to reclassify lands that were previously included as part of the Baguio Townsite Reservation.

The SC stated the power to reclassify such lands is vested solely in Congress.

The decision was part of a case titled “Republic of the Philippines vs. National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Register of Deeds Baguio City, Land Registration Authority, Heirs of Cosen Piraso represented by Richard Acop, Heirs of Josephine Molintas Abanag represented by Isaias M. Abanag, Marion T. Pool, Joan L. Gorio and Virginia C. Gao-an.”

Atty. Brain Masweng of NCIP-Cordillera’s Legal Affairs Office said the suspension aimed to realign the budget allocated for the issuance of CALTs and CADTs to prevent it from reverting to the national treasury.

It also sought to avoid potential legal repercussions resulting from the SC ruling.

Masweng said the suspension was also intended to pave the way for the resolution that the NCIP is pursuing from the SC through a motion for consideration.

He said until the SC provides a resolution, the NCIP’s stand is to wait for further instructions or decisions.

Councilor Peter Fianza expressed concern about the interpretation of the NCIP en banc’s advisory, claiming while it may not allow issuing titles, other processes like delineation and identification can continue, raising a 2021 SC decision over the case of Daco vs. Cabajar as a reference point.

Tupeng shared Fianza’s view that while CALTs may not be issued, recognition of land claim certificates can be provided which is a form of acknowledgment without full ownership rights.

Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan encouraged the NCIP representatives to carefully review the advisory.

“The NCIP should not surrender any jurisdiction. Instead, you should actively participate in this struggle. Please stand in solidarity with the IPs,” Olowan said.

Councilor Maximo Hilario, Jr. was tasked to study the issue and suggest possible solutions. – Jordan G. Habbiling