March 5, 2024

Has the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples been converted as the political arm of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (NTF-Elcac)?
Councilor Jose Molintas raised the question last week when the city council invited NCIP Commissioner for Cordillera and Region 1 Gaspar Cayat to shed light on the latter’s earlier statement that linked the Igorots and other indigenous peoples to the communist rebels.
Molintas said it seemed the NCIP has become a medium of the NTF-Elcac, which keeps on associating progressive groups, including the IPs, to the communist rebels.
“You have been treating any opposition to a government program and the invocation of the right of the IPs to a free, prior, and informed consent as being influenced by the communist groups that is why we do not know what’s your role now. Are you an anti-insurgency group or are you for the protection of the indigenous peoples?” Molintas said.
The council invited Cayat to explain why in one of his speeches, he discouraged the use of Igorot, Lumad, and Tumandok to refer to the IPs, saying these terms are being used by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front to identify the IP or indigenous cultural communities.
Cayat’s statement, which he uttered in 2021 during the launching of the NCIP coffee table book, “Epanaw”, and continues to circulate on social media.
This prompted the council to invite him to explain his remarks.
Cayat said the NCIP is not an arm of the NTF-Elcac, but is supporting the government’s whole-of-nation approach in putting an end to terrorism and insurgency, being a government agency.
He said the context of his statement was that some progressive groups have co-opted the terms Igorot, Lumad, and Tumandok to agitate and mobilize the people to go against the government.
The Lumads refer to the IPs of Mindanao while Tumandoks are used to refer to an IP group in the Visayas.
“My point is, the terms Igorot, Lumad, or Tumandok should not be co-opted by interest groups who have political intentions to go against the government and development partners. We do not want our identity to be used to agitate people in the indigenous cultural communities and go against the government,” Cayat told the council.
Councilor Arthur Allad-iw said Cayat needed to clarify his statement because it is worrisome and leaves the impression the Igorots are associated with the communist groups.
Cayat said it was not his intention to link the term Igorot with the communist rebels.
“My point is, those who are misusing the assertion to advance their interest should not use the term Igorot,” he said.
The city council asked the NCIP to refrain from linking progressive groups, including the IPs who are airing their concerns against the government, to terrorism or to being members of the communist groups.
“Dissent is not terrorism. If the IPs complain, do not do not brand them as members of the communist groups. You should instead help them justify their claims because of the injustices they have suffered for a long time because the government never recognized them as ancestral land owners,” Molintas said.
He added the NCIP is not authorized to brand people or groups as communists or terrorists because that is a function of the court.
Molintas said the NCIP should instead focus on advancing the welfare of the IPs whom they are bound to protect. – Jane B. Cadalig