April 15, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

The role of indigenous peoples mandatory representatives (IPMR) to be the voice of indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) in policy-making bodies has been watered down by their lack of experience in legislation, an educator and an official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples said.

The participation of IPMRs has in fact been limited to holding rituals in events instead of being fully immersed in the crafting of policies on the use of natural resources, preservation cultures and traditions, protection and assertion of rights of indigenous peoples and cultural communities, said NCIP Development Management Officer 5 Michael Umaming and IP educator Lucy Ruiz.

In a press conference organized by the Kordilyera Media-Citizen Council (KMCC) on Feb. 7, Uma-ming said the role of IPMRs has been limited to performing cultural rituals while the management of ICCs is mostly delegated to the local government unit.

As a result, Umaming said a crucial role of IPMRs, which is to help craft policies on the use of resources located in the domain of ICCs is slowly being set aside, with government policies taking precedence over indigenous knowledge, systems and practices (IKSP).

An example of a government instrumentality taking precedence over indigenous practices is the issuance of tax declarations over lands, including ancestral domains.

In Sagada, Mountain Province, for instance, Umaming said pine trees at the said tourist town would have been conserved but because of the issuance of tax declarations to certain individuals over areas within an ancestral domain, the community’s collective sense of saving the resources within the domain has been delegated to whom the tax declaration was issued on the premise that they already own the land. 

“Ancestral domains have been privatized through the issuance of tax declarations kaya nawala na ang collective sense (of indigenous cultural communities) of ownership over the resources,” Umaming said.

Ruiz added lack of long-term policies has also resulted in cultural misappropriation. 

“Hindi pa rin inclusive ang IP education,” Ruiz said and shared that in their monitoring, IP education is not included in the school curriculum as IKSP is only discussed every October or during the observance of the Indigenous Peoples Month.

Adoption of K to 12 curriculum has also affected the full implementation of the IPED, Ruiz said.

Approved in 2011, the IPED gave rise to the IPED Curriculum Framework which intended to enhance the curriculum in by including IKSP in the basic education curriculum.

“Part of the IPED is multilingual education pero ngayon may clamor pang tanggalin ang mother tongue,” Ruiz said of the many challenges IPs are facing.

She said festivals which are supposed to be one of the platforms to educate the public about ISKP has become just entertainment without due regard to protocols on the presentation of tangible heritage such as indigenous dances or attire.

“Festivals are supposed to promote our culture. But what we see is a combination of a lot of things,” Ruiz said.

She said a lot of words used to describe tangible heritage are not appropriate.

“Clothing should be called attire, not costume. A performance should be called cultural presentation, not cultural competition. And the criteria for judging…why is there a category for ‘creativity’ and ‘choreography’?”, Ruiz said and pointed out that as every culture is unique, they should not be made to “compete”.

Criterion that tends to judge performances based on “creativity” and “choreography” also alters heritage for there are protocols to every dance or ritual performed by every ethnolinguistic group, Ruiz added.

IPMRs continue to face many challenges in the discharge of their duties. Shari Carantes, who represented IPMR Baguio Maximo Edwin Jr., admitted the city’s first IP representative is not well-versed in the legislative process, but with the help of fellow councilors, she said he was able to navigate the process of making laws.

She also said the tasks of an IPMR are immense as most of these involve the need to reconcile national laws and ancestral land rights.

Carantes said many of these required budgets but have no appropriation in the local government, resulting in the use of personal funds by the city IPMR. 

Umaming said in order to help IPMRs fully realize their roles, the NCIP and the Department of the Interior and Local Government should continue to capacitate them through continuing education.

“IPMRs should have a good grasp of the historical injustices committed to indigenous peoples at least in their locality kasi doon naka-angkla ang legislation nila,” Umaming said.

The discussion on the role of IPMRs as guardians of culture and heritage is the second of a series of dialogues initiated by the KMCC to strengthen the engagement between civil society and the media.

The first dialogue was about the red-tagging by State forces of journalists and activists in the Cordillera.