Photo courtesy of John Louie dela Victoria
THIS WAY TO MAJESTIC APO.
The sign reads at one of the hiking trek entrance of Mt. Apo, known as the highest peak in the Philippines. According to oral tradition, Mt. Apo was believed to be inhabited by Apo Apao Sandawa in the 1830s, the ancestor of the Obo Manuvus. He divided the mountain and the forest amongst his children. One of his children is Datu Adot Umpan.
Little is known that behind the majestic and breathtaking view and teeming resources within the mountain, the descendants of Apo Apao Sandawa are in conflict over management of their titled 3, 177.199 hectares approved ancestral domain. Before then, the issue of ownership, control and access to the bountiful resources on their ancestral domain remain an unresolved issue. Five generations later, another Datu Adot Umpan took the name and continued the fight for their management of their ancestral domain.
Datu Eduardo Umpan or Kapitan Adot is now the three-time elected barangay captain of Barangay Balabag. Now on his last term, he vowed to still lead and continue the struggle of his people. “Ang pakigbisog alang sa among yuta wala nahuman sa pagdawat namo sa titulo o CADT. Bisan naa na mi titulo, wala gihapon napanghingusog sa tribu ang iyang katungod sa pagdumala sa yutang kabilin. Apil pa nga away-away sa mga tawo sa kun kinsa ang mga nakapahimulos sa benipisyo gikan sa yuta sa tribu. (Our struggle for our land did not end when we received the title. Even we already have the title, our voice as a tribe and our way to govern our land is not recognized. Adding to this is the conflict between the people as to whom receives benefits from the land that is owned by the tribe).”
To protect, promote and respect the rights of the indigenous peoples in the country, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) or RA 8371 was enacted into law. However, twelve years after the law’s enactment, what are the changes to the lives of Obo- Manuvus of Mt. Apo?
Kapitan Adot Umpan, as datu and also a leader of the smallest unit of governance, what changes has he observed? Being the implementor of the Local Government Code (LGC), how it is being harmonized to their law which is the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997? “Walay konplekto kay kabalo ko sa kultura sa mga tribu, kabalo sad ko sa balaod sa gobyerno. Mas naging advantage nako kay IP ko. (There was no conflict since I know of the culture of the indigenous people and of the law of the government. It is an advantage for me since I am a member of the IP). Otherwise, he sees it as an opportunity in leading the diverse community composed of Obo-Manuvus, Islamized Indigenous Peoples and even with the Bisaya settlers).
For him, claiming their ancestral domain and having a title or Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) to prove for their ownership did not end their woes. “Wala may pagbag-o. Oo naa mi titulo, kining CADT pero wala may development. Kung naa man pagbag-o, katong mas nagkagubot mi hiunon. (There are no changes. Yes, we do have a title but there are no developments. If there are changes, that is we have been divided).
What he is referring to is the division in the community which he thinks is sowed by the entry of the Philippine National Oil Company- Energy Development Corporation (PNOC-EDC). Ironically, PNOC is a government owned and controlled corporation. But as of July 2007, the majority of shares of stocks of the government were sold to the Lopezes, as the major stockholder of PNOC. Lopezes are one of the richest family in the country that owns ABS-CBN, Meralco, Myniald among others.
A memory revisited
The northwestern part of Mount Apo constitutes the ancestral domain of the Obo- Manobos. The home for the endangered Philippine eagle and endemic flora and fauna, it was declared as a natural park by President Quezon in 1936.
When Mindanao was opened for resettlement during the 1930s, lowland Mount Apo became home to the migrants from Luzon and Visayas. Slowly, the Obo- Manobos have been displaced and faced with new concepts of land ownership. Before precolonial times, everything is considered as communal property; the land is not owned by any person. The community is the steward or caretakers of their surroundings, thus it must be protected. The colonial government of Spain and America brought new ideas of titling as proof of ownership of lands. Slowly, the hinterland of Mount Apo was issued by tittles and owned by the new settlers. Big logging concessions were also given to Busque and Manila Venneer Company. (hindi ko pa po nakita ang date when exactly it was given)
Through the Juris Regalia Doctrine, started by the Spanish colonial government, the Philippine government has a legal right to control the use of land and resources within Mount Apo. The Obo Manuvus has been stripped off of its right over their lands. The late Datu Abon Umpan has seen their powerlessness and displacement. He filed a petition to the then Bureau of Wildlife (renamed and now known as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or DENR) for the government to allocate 1,500 hectares as settlement areas for the indigenous communities. President Magsaysay granted the request but President Garcia nullified the decision when he assumed office after the former’s death on a plane crash.
The Gulf War on early 1990s had caused oil crisis. During the Aquino administration, it sees immediate tapping of indigenous energy projects. Mount Apo is viewed as a viable geothermal source. By 1991, DENR issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to PNOC- EDC to tap Mt. Apo’s enormous geothermal energy. Amidst protests of environmental activists and from the inhabitants, the project was pursued and was formally signed by President Ramos effective on January 23, 1993. This gave PNOC the right to tap the mountain for its geothermal energy generation project covering 701 hectares of Brgy. Ilomavis within the ancestral domain of the Obo- Manuvus.
Losing their land, their traditions and eventually their identity, the Obo Manuvus particularly the Bayawan and Umpan clans formed a movement called Tudduk to Kalubbaran ni Apo Ayon Umpan (Pillars of the Descendants of Ayon Umpan) which aims for cultural regeneration. However, this is impossible without involving reclamation of their ancestral domain where their lives, traditions and governance are inextricably linked.
On 1993, the DENR issued an order, DAO 2 which outlines the procedures wherein the indigenous peoples can claim their lands. DAO 2 gave them recognition of their ancestral lands and territories. This is through issuance of Certificate of Ancestral Land/Domain Claim (CADC/CALC). It is in this legal context that several claims on Mount Apo sprouted. One of this claim is filed by Datu Santiago Aba who is not a part of the Apao lineage but included Mt. Apo on his CADC claim.
On July 16, 1996, the Apao descendants submitted a petition to the provincial office of the DENR to protest the claim of Datu Santiago Aba, who included areas from another clan. This petition paved way to the formation of Ilomavis- Balabag Apo Sandawa Manobo Ancestral Domain Claim (IBASMADC). IBASMADC passed a claim over 20,000 hectares within the northwestern part of Mount Apo. The claim was reduced to 3, 753 hectares by DENR.
With strong clamor of different indigenous peoples in the country and from the international organizations such as United Nations (UN) and International Labor Organization (ILO), a bill was being formulated on the halls of Philippine Congress and Senate. Then Congressman Gregorio Andolana of North Cotabato passed a bill in House of Representatives with Senator juan Flavier passing a same bill in the Senate that outlines the provisions for protection, promotion and recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. Long deliberations and marches followed before IPRA was finally enacted into law on 1997.
IPRA has legally recognized the IP rights not only through certificates (CADC) issued thru DAO 2 by DENR which is incommensurable compared to the Torrens title. Through IPRA , IPs have been given legal recognition and for titling of their ancestral territories as well as outlining provisions on governing the resources.
This inspired the IBASMADC to follow-up their claim. They have been successful in consolidating the different clans and spearheaded the claim-making process for their ancestral domain. The processing for their CADT) as processed by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the lead agency tasked for IPRA implementation. IBASMADC has been following their application.
However on mid- 1998, the group faced one of the biggest challenges. Some of the Apao leaders in Sayaban separated and formed Idpossokadoy Ta Linubbaran ni Apao (ILAI). They contested IBASMADC’s claim and filed a separate application with DENR. This had caused a rift between the clans and caused tension in the community. According to some IBASMADC members, the management of PNOC has a hand on the rift.
CADT, PNOC and the rift within
Heaving a sigh, Datu Adot Umpan explained how it happened. “Ang mga clan sama sa Bayawan, Umpan and Andot nga anaa sa Barangay Ilomavis, Balabag,ug Kawayan, mao na sila ang mga original na IBASMADC members. Tapos katong nihawa ang uban ilabi na katong mga taga Ilomavis nga gipanguluhan ni Lucio Serrano, nagtukod sila ug ILAI. Human ato gusto nila angkunon ang parte nga anaa ang PNOC. Kato nga area dili lang sa tibuok Ilomavis.. Naa man na sa sentro sa ancestral domain. (The major clans namely Bayawan, Umpan and Andot that occupies barangays Ilomavis, Balabag, and Kawayan constitutes the original IBASMADC membership. Later on when other members particularly those coming from Ilomavis separated and was headed by Lucio Serrano, they formed ILAI. Then they wanted to secure on their application the area where PNOC is constructed, However, PNOC is not solely on the part of Ilomavis, it is on the center of the ancestral domain).”
“Ang mga tao kabalo dinhi na ang PNOC man nagtabang sa iLAI aron magpasa ug separate claim. Syempre aron hawak nila sa liog ang mga lideres, dali ra mailad. Bisan pila ra ilang ihatag, okay ra. (The people here know that PNOC helped ILAI in filing a separate claim. They have control on the leaders, so they can easily manipulate. Whatever they give, they would just receive),” he added.
During their claim making process, Datu Atawan Bayawan heads IBASMADC while Datu Lucio Serrano leads ILAI. To resolve the issue, the NCIP, held a on-on-one meeting with the two leaders to “unify” their claim on the area and to clarify political boundaries. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed on December 2, 2002 that there will be a unified claim for CADT but the two groups will have a separate management on traditionally bounded territories but will share revenues derived from utilization of the domain. They decided to rename the claim into Manobo- Apao Descendants Ancestral Domain of Mount Apo (MADAMA). Datu Bayawan and Datu Serrano were appointed as representatives in the ancestral domain claim.
He protested on the said agreement. “Katong desisyon wala man to nakonsulta sa tibuok IBASMADC. (The decision was not consulted to the whole IBASMADC constituents).”
Then a meeting was held to elect Council of Leaders, which in turn elected 7 Council of Elders. The Council of Elders in turn elected 3 IP representatives to the MADADMA. The three IP representatives were Datu Atawan Bayawan (representing Kawayan), Datu Lucio Serrano (representing Ilomavis) and him (representing Balabag).
He allegedly added that, “Katong 2005, ang mga manager sa PNOC gifinance ang meeting sa Council of Leaders sa Peps, ug naa silay plano nga ituboy ug himuong Supreme Datu si Lucio Serrano. (On 2005, managers of PNOC financed a meeting of the Council of Leaders and they planned to push and anoint Lucio Serrano as Supreme Datu).”
This is dangerous, according to Datu Adot when someone is anointed as Supreme Datu, as no one can question his decisions. He even narrated that if oral traditions and lineage will be scrutinized, Datu Lucio Serrano would not be representing Ilomavis, but it should be somebody from the Andot clan. Lucio Serrano as the locals say is “tabid” or he came from the woman’s family married to the Andot clan. According to tradition, the datu who can represent the clan should come from the family of the man.
He further claims that, “kanang naa sa Council of Leaders except ra sa akoa, naa na sa payroll sa PNOC. Bisan ako giofferan dati muadto ra ko sa opisina kada akinse ug katapusan (All of those who are in the Council of Leaders except me are into PNOC payroll. I was even offered to just go to the office every 15th and end of the month).”
He himself used to work as a security guard on 1992 wherein a year after, he was promoted as security supervisor. The next year, he was already the assistant security personnel supervisor. He resigned when the community applied for CADT.
“We are fighting for that piece of land where PNOC was constructed and to avoid conflict of interest, I resigned,” he added in vernacular. He thinks that if he didn’t resign, he could now be a regular employee of the company. Or he could choose to accept the money offered to him. “Ikaw ra maganar, unsaon man ang ubang pamilya? Mura ra nimo gibaligya imong katribu. (You only will benefit, how about other families? It seems like you have sold your fellow IPs).” For him it is an act of betrayal.
He contends that the geothermal plant is within the center of their ancestral domain. Any benefits should be shared by the whole community not only that of Baranagy Ilomavis where the geothermal plant is constructed. “Sa IPRA man gud dunay probisyon para sa royalty share sa mga IP nga ang resources gamiton sa mga negosyante o sa bisan unsang kompanya. Pero katong gihatag sa amoa ang CADT katong July 2004, wala giapil ang 701 hectares sa PNOC area. Tibuok area gihatag namo except ra katong sa PNOC. Bisan pila ra ilahang ihatag, walang klarong accounting. Dili man dapat ing-ana. (There is one provision in IPRA regarding royalty share of IP community on the revenues in the usage of resources by any companies. But when the CADT was awarded to us on July 2004, the 701 hectares occupied by PNOC was not included. The whole area was given excluding the PNOC. Now, they are only giving without no clear accounting. This should not be the case).”
According to Edtami Mansayagan, one of the NCIP Commissioners during the time of Obo Manuvus claim, he did not agree to “donut-like” approval of the ancestral domain. It means, the 3,117.99 hectares were awarded to the Obo Manuvus yet the 701 hectares occupied by PNOC remains at the hand of the government (but with a separate clause on the NCIP resolution stating that the Obo Manuvus can reclaim the area and of non-expansion of the geothermal plant). This is one of the complex conflicting interpretations of the law and the implementation to the local level.
Section 2, Article III of IPRA states that the “IPs have the rights to benefit form the utilization, extraction, use and development of lands and natural resources within their ancestral lands/domains and to be compensated for any social and/or environmental costs of such activities.”
“Ang nahitabo ang Ilomavis ra ug Kawayan ang nakabaton aning share gikan sa revenue sa PNOC nga ang titulo ani nakapangalan sa tibuok MADADMA. Dapat tanang tao sa komunidad makadawat. Pantay-pantay dapat. Ang kasubo ani, mga lideres ug pipila ra sa ilahang pamilya ang nakahimulos. (What happened is Ilomavis and Kawayan received shares from the revenue of PNOC but the title is named to whole MADAMA. Whole people in the community should be able to receive from the share. It should be equal. Sadly, it is only the leaders and their families that benefited).
IP governance and the lost opportunity
The struggle could not fully move on since many of them are working in the geothermal plant. A resort was also opened near the plant. The heat from the mountain was tapped into a hot and cold lake resort as a part of the joint-venture agreement supposedly between the local government of Kidapawan and MADADMA. This Lake Agcu resort was said to be given under the management of the IP leaders of MADADMA. “Unsaon man nila pag manage na igo ra man na sila hatagan ug kwarta ug painumon. (How can they manage it, they are just given money and liquors).”
While still on the claim-making process, the community should have an Ancestral Domain Sustainable and Development Protection Plan (ADSDPP), a detailed plan as to how the resources will be managed. Sadly, the claimants and now CADT holders were not able to do it. Right after the CADT was awarded, members of the community went back to their lives but the rift could no longer be remedied.
“Oportunidad na unta to kung unsaon sa tribu manage ang mga resources na anaa dinhi, apan unsa nahitabo? Interes sa PNOC ra ang naprotektahan. Pipila ra ang nahatagan, apan majority nga apektado sa hungaw sa planta, wala. (It was an opportunity on how the community would manage the resources we have here, but what happened? It is the interest of the PNOC that is being protected. Only a few benefited, majority who are also affected by the smoke coming form the plant, they haven’t received anything).”
Encroachment on natural park, ancestral domain
Aside from the rift between members of the community, another concern of Datu Adot is the planned expansion of PNOC beyond its designated areas. The Lake Agcu Resort are also expanding. But these expansions, according to Datu Adot are without consultations. Another cause of concern is the unprecedented entry of banana and oil palm plantations on their lands.
By virtue of PD 59 and the National Integrated Protected Area Systems (NIPAS), Mt. Apo was declared as a natural park and protected area. Encroachment is highly prohibited. However, banana companies have been expanding, inching up to the upland area of Ilomavis. Being also a declared ancestral domain of the Obo Manuvus, consultation must be seek first from the members of the community through their right for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) under Sec. 7, Article III (will check again later) of IPRA.
“Wala gyud na dinhi may nahitabong konsultasyon. Nahatagan ra sila ug Environmental Compliance Certificate sa DENR. Unsa mga epekto aning pagpahalapad sa mga sagingan? Dunay mga kemikal ginagamit tapos protected area gud ni. (There is no consultation conducted. They were given ECC by DENR. What is the effect of expanding these plantations? It uses chemicals and to think this is a protected area).”
The companies would contend that only affected areas will be consulted and it is the people who have leased their private lands. Aside from this, they give jobs to the people. To this Datu Adot asserts, “Ang mga tawo dinhi nahimo ra nga mga hurnalista. Hurnalista sa ilang kaugalingong yuta? Sila muaaply sa mga pesticides sa saging, ilahang panglawas maapektuhan Dunay magreklamo nga sakit sa mata ug mga pangatol. Barato pa sad kayo ang bayad, wala kaabot sa minimum wage, tapos kining ganansiya aning mga kompanya daku kaayo. Dati wala pa kaabot sa minimum wage. (The people here remain as laborers. Laborers on their own lands? They wouold be the ones who would apply the pesticides on bananas, their health are at stake. There are who would complain eye irritations and skin infections. The daily wage is beyond minimum but the profits of these companies are huge).”
Then on 2006, the residents of Balabag had a General Assembly wherein 350 families signed the petition asking for evaluation and inventory of protected areas within their area, asking for DENR and NCIP to investigate the intrusion of private entities on such areas and the violation of their right to free, prior and informed consent. They filed the petition and seek for the joint investigation of DENR and NCIP. These two agencies has quasi-judicial functions but to his dismay, they receive no response from both agencies.
“Sa IPRA kining musulod dapat muagi sa Council Elders apan kini tanan gisunod. Unsaon ta man sad, akong katungod isip isa ka kapitan limitado ra sad sa barangay. Muingon man sila human na sila nananghid sa siyudad. Nabuhat na nako akong parte ug budlay kayo ka yang ubang mga ahensiya nga unta responsible ani, wala sad ginabuhat. (Based on IPRA, whoever would enter should pass through the Council of Elders, but this are not followed. My rights are only limited to the barangay. They would tell us they have already secured the permission from the city. I have done what I can do, the problem is when these agencies responsible for this are not doing anything).”
He also lamented the another five hectares planted by oil palm at Sitio Lumut.
Ways forward: develop local economy
Kapitan Adot on his diversified farm
Selling of land is common especially if the person is financially challenged. It is commonly done by IPs especially during hard times. A piece of land is sold even in exchange of horse or carabao. But when this area is already under CADT, IPRA prohibits this act. But beyond this community “owning” the ancestral domain, there is also prior vested rights of the individual especially those migrant settlers within the community who already owns portions of land registered at the Bureau of Lands. A homogenous tribal village is no longer common after all. Thus, managing the ancestral domain entails balancing the rights of the individual titleholders and that of the communal ownership of other resources within the domain.
“Ang dapat unta tabangan nga mahimong produktibo kining yuta aron dili na maisip sa mga tawo ilabi na ang tribu nga ibaligya. Ngano pa man niya ibaligya kung duna siya makuha nga kita gikan sa yuta? (What should be done is to make the land productive so that people especially IPs not to think of selling the lands. Why would you sell it if you can make a living out of the said land?).”
He knows it is a challenge since support from the government is minimal. The lands are no longer as productive as before. That is why he encourages his constituents to practice sustainable agriculture, by utilizing the available materials within their area. Twenty meters away from their home, he cultivated the one-hectare land he inherited from his father and turned it into a demo-farm for organic farming teeming of various fruit-bearing trees such as durian, mangosteen, marang, lanzones and passion fruit and livestock and poultry for breeding. He also has a fishpond full of tilapia.
All varieties of durian are available. “Nagtanom ko tanang nga variety, ang uban girequest sa DA (Department of Agriculture) aron kun gusto sa mga tawo nga mangayo ug semilya, pili ra sila kay naa man tanan. (I planted different varieties; others were requested from DA so that when the people would want to get seed they just have to choose since everything is available.
He owed to durian the piece of residential lot he purchased and the construction of a semi-concrete house at the center of Kidapawan City where his two sons and wife stays on weekdays. His sons are both college students while his wife works at the capitol. “Sa unang harvest, naka P140,00 ko, tapos sa ikaduha, mga P150,00. Apan tiguwang naman ang mga puno, dili na ing-ana kadaghan ang bunga.(During the first harvest, I was able to earn P140,00 then on the second harvest around P150,000. However, the trees are quite old now, the produced fruits are no longer the same as before).”
He thinks what is more important is to develop the community livelihood and food sufficiency. While asserting for right to land in legal terms, the community must strengthen their claim for land by making it more productive.
Since it’s his last term now, he plans to take a rest and continue his passion for farming. He plans to focus more on his farm and his vermiculture production Due to illness that struck his lanzones trees, he plans to replace the plants with passion fruits. For him, his farm is his refuge and a stress reliever. Every morning he walks to his farm to feed his turkey, chicken,pigs, cows and tilapia. “Gikan ta sa lupa, mubalik gyud ta gihapon sa lupa. Mang-empleyo ta apan dili man hanggtud sa hanggtud makaya nato mang-empleyo kay naa man retirement age. Muretire ta ug mubalik gyud ta panguma. Tan-awa mga dagkung negosyante, mamalit sila yuta kay nakita nila dagku gyud ang kwarta sa yuta. Mao sad gani interesado sila sa yuta sa tribu kay lapad gud na. (We came from the land, we all would return to it. We seek employment while we can but we would not stay that way, and there’s a retirement age. We will retire and we would go back to farming. Look at the businessmen, they buy lands since they know there is money in land. That's why they are even very interested to ancestral domains since it is huge).”
As he was slicing the durian, he called his youngest daughter. “Gusto ra nako makita nga akoang mga anak ug ang tribu makabenispiyo sa among yuta. Himuon kining produktibo nga walay kadautan sa yuta. (I just want my children and the future generation of the tribe to be able to benefit from our lands. Make the lands productive without destroying it).”
This wish will only be attained through collective action from the community itself. But with the still unresolved rift between leaders caused by the entry of economic opportunities, it would take different strategies for resolution. The current conflicting laws and the non-implementation of the laws by responsible agencies also make the problem more complex. Strengthening and equalizing benefits to different barangays within the ancestral domain and PNOC’s observance of corporate social responsibility to the community must be observed.
NB. To know more about historical struggle of the Obo-Manuvus in Mt. Apo and other indigenous peoples' communities in Mindanao, I encourage you to read "Conflicting Laws, Overlapping Claims: The Politics of Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights in Mindanao" by Ms. Aida Vidal.