April 17, 2024

A house bill that aims to rationalize the ancestral lands administration and adjudication process by amending the landmark legislation, Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act IPRA, has been filed at the Lower House.
If passed, the proposed legislation will sever the arms of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and administration and adjudication processes in matters involving ancestral domains and lands under the NCIP Ancestral Domains Office will be transferred to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In turn, NCIP will be left with only a handful of functions, such as facilitating the installation of Indigenous peoples’ mandatory representatives (IPMRs), validating and issuing certificates of confirmation, and reviewing and evaluating IPs wanting to avail of the Educational Assistance Program.
On its explanatory note, the author of the bill claimed that there were “fraudulent claims to ancestral domains and ancestral lands undermining [sic] the IPs’ rights, leading to disputes and injustices”. The legislator further alleged that “non-ICCs are also involuntarily subjected to customs not their own through the encompassing jurisdiction of the NCIP”.
NCIP is not immune to controversy and the claims may hold merit. If this was a popularity contest, it will lose. Contentions of fraudulent claims of ancestral domains and lands are not new. There, indeed, are a lot of fraudulent ancestral domains and lands claims. There are also a lot false claimants. Hence, NCIP enforces strict rules and procedures to ascertain that claimants are indeed owners before any Certificate of Ancestral Land Title (CALT) and/or Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) may be issued.
While the NCIP entertains all claimants wanting to register their respective claims, they likewise direct all claimants to submit themselves to the rules and procedures to prove their claims.
While I subscribe to the idea of change in the NCIP, I don’t agree with the premise of HB 9608 as the mode for such change. My plea and strong stance to weed out erring NCIP agents, who have inflicted irreparable injury to the IPs, is no less different from my aspiration for NCIP’s re-organization for the rest of NCIP agents who genuinely desire to rid the IPs from the ills of historical injustices.
NCIP was the successor of the Office of the National Cultural Communities (ONCC) and it carried with it the age-old organizational structure of the latter. It is an outdated structure that has remained to this day. There were enhancements made, but such were minimal that these did not cause any substantial improvement in the NCIP. The mandates of the ONCC tripled when it was transferred to the NCIP. Plantilla positions formerly held by ONCC were simply carried over. Delineation processes for ancestral lands and domains, formerly held by the DENR, were also absorbed by the NCIP.
Note that it was first the DENR that issued the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) and Certificate of Ancestral Land Claim (CALC). After absorbing the functions of delineation, NCIP was then directed to convert all CADCs and CALCs into CADTs and CALTs.
The problems of injustices against the IPs, while deeply rooted in history, have evolved, yet the agency created to correct historical injustices against the IPs, did not. Some say this was intentionally done by the former legislators because they foresaw how powerful IPRA can be, if wielded by an efficient independent agency. The awesome powers of IPRA and the potential empowerment of IPs were feared by the powers-that-be. To suppress such powers, the NCIP was calculatedly made to regress rather than to evolve and fend off the repetition of the ever-progressing historical injustices slowly being institutionalized within the bureaucracy.
With its present organizational structure, the NCIP regressed due to limited manpower. On delineation alone, NCIP lacks geodetic engineers – from the regional offices down to the provincial offices. Field offices are hilariously manned by two medical personnel, one community affairs officer, and three plantilla positions that do not require a bachelor’s degree. All is under the supervision of a community development officer. If they are lucky, these field offices are complete with the staff members required. However, this is not the case for most. I witnessed a field office catering to six ancestral domains while being manned by only two personnel.
Given this setup in the field offices, medical personnel are forced to trade off their tools and medical knowledge to learn how survey equipment works and lend a hand to the lone geodetic engineer at the provincial office. This is on top of other office functions, such as facilitation of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent processes, documentation of indigenous political structures, formulation of the ancestral domain sustainable development protection Plan, indigenous peoples organization organizing, IP dispute mediation and resolution, and other validation and investigation activities.
Apart from geodetic engineers, the NCIP lacks researchers, anthropologists, community organizers, and social workers. Plainly, the NCIP is in desperate need of a legislation tilted on re-organizing the agency through personnel augmentation. The NCIP does not need a legislation that will sever its functions, as what HB 9608 intends to.
A legislation must accord the NCIP a budget to accommodate additional positions, requiring appropriate set of skills, to address the problems of the IPs. A law to be legislated must be a statute that fortifies IPRA rather than a piece of legislation that diminishes its noble spirit. Perhaps, our legislators might want to look at the possibility of crafting a law that will make the NCIP an office independent from the Office of the President. It would be best if the NCIP is placed under one of the independent constitutional commissions, like the Commission on Human Rights.
With an efficient organizational structure complete with able personnel and independent from politics, the NCIP can and will live up to what was envisioned for the agency, bringing our IPs a step closer in achieving the noble intent of IPRA.