Justice for Mindanao Lumads

While I am fully supportive of a good Bangsamoro Basic Law, one that complies totally with the Constitution as well as substantially with the political agreements with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a critical threshold issue for me is how the rights of indigenous peoples are addressed. Unfortunately, the original draft falls far short of what is demanded by basic norms of justice. I hope that the human rights advocates in the House of Representatives, legislators like Kaka Bag-ao and Barry Gutierrez, as well as the Makabayan Party List Representatives, make sure changes are done to ensure that this is addressed. I hope that our Representatives from Mindanao, including the Chairman of the Ad Hoc House Committee Rufus Rodriguez, also champion such changes.

North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco, in the sponsorship speech she delivered on proposed amendments to the BBL, eloquently argues the amendments needed and why. A graduate of Ateneo de Davao University and one of the most passionate and competent legislators in this country,  she certainly knows what she is talking about, being a Manobo-Tagabawa and the Chairperson of the Committee on National Cultural Communities.

In her sponsorship speech, Catamco starts with something all of us from Mindanao know but frequently disregard: “Sa wala pa ang gobyerno, sa wala pa ang Kristiyano, ug sa wala pa ang Islam, naa na ang Lumad, apil sa mga bitoon ug mga sapa….Naa na ang mga Manobo, ug mga Teduray, ug mga B’laan. . .”( “In the beginning, when there was no government yet, no Christians, or Islam, the Lumads were already there, together with the stars and the rivers…There were already the Manobos, the Tedurays, the B’laans…”)

This declaration, according to Catamco, “gembodies the sentiments of many Lumads—or the Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples.” She points out: “Time and again, we are confronted with the same struggle for respect and recognition of the rights of the Lumads first, within the ARMM, and now, in the Bangsamoro. While indigenous people’s rights have already been recognized and encapsulated in the national sphere, through the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), this recognition failed to muster meaningful implementation in the ARMM, and similarly, in the present articulation of indigenous people’s rights in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

Representative Catamco then shared the Lumad narrative of Mindanao history: “Lumads and Moros represent two distinct types of indigenous minorities. Spanish anti-Muslim prejudices indicate that throughout the Spanish colonial period (1565–1898), Moros were treated very differently than the Lumads, despite the fact that both were native to Mindanao. American colonizers (1898–1946) initially administered the Muslim Moro groups separately and granted them a limited degree of autonomy; during this period, the Lumads and other small-scale groups were referred to as ‘Pagans,’ and later as the ‘non-Christian tribes’. Since Philippine independence in 1946, the national government has carried over the administrative separation of Moros and IP’s from the mainstream Filipino groups, as well as from each other, with different generations of separate bureaucratic offices.”

Unfortunately, as Representative Catamco points out, notwithstanding the separate identities provided in in the expanded ARMM Organic Act, the cultural identity and rights to the ancestral domains of the Lumads/Non-Moro Indigenous People’s remains problematic in the ARMM. And now, in the BBL, we have “the omission of the full rights of the Lumads”

Representative Catamco proposed several provisions to be included in the BBL. Among others, she suggests a definition of Non-Moro Indigenous Peoples to establish clearly and unambiguously their ethnic identity, recognizing explicitly their diverse identities and distinct cultures, traditions and histories.

In her speech, Catamco also raised a very important point that pro-BBL legislators and supporters must bear in mind. She recalled that in the North Cotabato vs. Government of the Republic of the Philippines case, where the Supreme Court declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain unconstitutional, the High Court reprimanded the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process “when it failed to conduct systematic consultations, and dishonoured one of the three underlying principles of the comprehensive peace process, that it “should be community-based, reflecting the sentiments, values and principles important to all Filipinos” and “shall be defined not by the government alone, nor by the different contending groups only, but by all Filipinos as one community”. In that case, the Supreme Court also pointed out that besides being irreconcilable with the Constitution, the MOA-AD is also inconsistent with the Indigenous Peoples Rights Acts, among other national laws.

As an expert in constitutional law and as someone who has worked on ancestral domain and indigenous peoples’ legal issues for the last twenty-five years both here and abroad, I predict: without adequate provisions protecting their rights, Lumads, who are clearly real-parties-in-interest, will join petitions in the Supreme Court that would question the constitutionality of the BBL. They will be invoking genocide, as some groups have now done, and will be supported by human rights and indigenous peoples organizations in the Philippines and all over the world. And they will be vindicated. Sadly, the whole BBL could be declared unconstitutional for such a failure, a pity because this is really just one aspect of the law.

There is a critical mass behind these amendments to recognize indigenous peoples rights. The Peace Council, for example, has supported a better formulation of indigenous peoples’ rights. And, indeed, even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has gone a long way from its refusal to even consider the issue as late as 2010 to the general provisions they agreed to in the draft BBL. I personally believe that is not a red line for the MILF and that, reluctantly, they would accept these amendments given that this is the right thing to do. In my view, the MILF is not in bad faith on this; it certainly has no intention to oppress Lumads. Understandably, they want full control of land and natural resources in the areas of the Bangsamoro. That is expected but it is not right, given the rights of these indigenous peoples. That is why the national government must step in.

Although there is a commitment, to be included in the law, to pass a Bangsamoro indigenous peoples’ rights law within 18 months after passage, this is not credible given that the ARMM legislative assembly has not enacted such a law in nearly 20 years of existence.

Rep. Catamco is right: “Now, this is a historic moment – and could be our last – to correct this historical injustice and decades of neglect against our Lumads.   Let us get to the heart of this problem. A radical transformation is imperative. My friends, it is not just about the percentage in their share of their natural resources. No, this goes beyond giving slots to them in the Parliament. This is about identity; this is about dignity; this is about respect; this is about lands and their spiritual relationship with their lands; this is about the meaning of their existence and their right to flourish as indigenous peoples. This is about justice that brings about peace.”

Dean Tony La Vina Twitter: tonylavs

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