STRENGTHEN, NOT POLITICIZE IPMRS
For a region like the Cordillera that is dominated by indigenous peoples, there is a need to strengthen the participation of legitimate IP leaders in governance.
This is to help the duly recognized IPMRs in every barangay, municipality, city, and province achieve the intents of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act that recognizes, protects, and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities/IPs – the first of its kind legislation in Southeast Asia.
Among other provisions, the IPRA recognizes the IPs’ right to participate in decision-making in matters which may affect their welfare, rights, lives, and future through customary procedures.
With the myriad of issues confronting the IPs and ICCs, ranging from ancestral land claims and exploitation of their resources, there is a need to strengthen the participation of legitimate IP leaders in governance by recognizing their right to participate in policy making bodies, such as in the local councils.
In the Cordillera, while it is true that most of the elected leaders are IPs and are therefore expected to advance their welfare through legislations, the law explicitly provides there should be an IPMR sitting at the local council and receiving salaries and benefits as the regular members of the legislative body.
This brings to fore the case of the city council in Baguio, which does not have an IPMR despite the fact that the city is inhabited by individuals from various ethnolinguistic groups.
This also reminds us of the bitter and ugly circumstances surrounding the earlier attempt to send an IPMR to the council, ranging from questionable qualification and concerns by other IPs of exclusion from the selection process.
A recent order from the Commission on Audit granting the claims of a former IPMR of La Trinidad, Benguet of over P1 million in unpaid salaries, allowances, and other benefits that were denied by the local government unit he served for more than a year is a testament that even the concerned agencies recognize what is due the duly recognized IPMRs.
We hope with the issuance by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples of the updated guidelines in the selection of IPMR and with the formation of an IP organization composed of elders of the Kalanguya, Kankana-ey, and Ibaloy groups, IPs in Baguio will soon have a representation in the local legislative body, as in Benguet, which has an IPMR from the barangay to the municipal council up to the provincial board.
Local government units and other stakeholders should also help the IPs realize the positive intents of the IPRA by providing the IPs an environment that is friendly to them, among which is recognition of their rights to participate in local governance.
At this time when IPs and their ancestral domains are besieged by various controversies, including manipulation of their customary decision-making processes, there is a need for legitimate IP leaders who are genuinely concerned about protecting the interests of the IPs and ICCs, especially in this highland region.
We hope that in the selection by these groups of their IPMR, genuine consensus will prevail and the representative will focus on promoting the rights and welfare of the IPs and not a politician working for self-vested interests.
We hope too that elected leaders will insulate the IPMR from political pressures and let the IPs craft their own agenda, taking into consideration what is best for them and their communitie