Councilor defends IP rights on lands-A A +A
By JM Agreda
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
THE wanton issuance of ancestral land titles is not the most serious problem in the city but the inaction of local government in protecting rights of Indigenous Peoples over their lands in Baguio.
This was highlighted in a 17-page privilege speech delivered at the City Council on Monday by Councilor Isabelo Cosalan Jr. as he enumerated several lapses of local government in recognizing the prior rights of IPs over their lands in the city.
Cosalan, who previously chaired the committee on urban planning, lands and housing in the City Council, harped on every lapse of local government to address land issues while focusing on what he calls as a "blame game" aimed at IPs and ancestral land claims.
"That to wallow in unfounded fear, hatred and reproach because of IPs and Ancestral Land Claims is an exaggeration bordering to an alibi. The IPs need not be feared, hated or blamed," Cosalan said.
Cosalan recounted the travails of the IPs whom he claimed have been placed in the sidelines in the 104 years of existence of the City Government instead of being included in various affairs of the local government as major stakeholders of Baguio and as original settlers in the city.
The councilor cited history saying that since the American civil government and in the constitution of Baguio as a Chartered City, there had been recommendations of coming up with an Advisory Council.
One of its salient provisions is Section 2554 establishing an Advisory Council “composed of five members ‘who shall be Igorots’ as a feedback mechanism for [IPs] to understand the course of governance.”
“This was the most direct incorporation of the IP to the mainstream of local or city governance. Sadly, it has never been implemented to this date even as the City of Baguio celebrates its 104 years of existence on September 1, 2013,” Cosalan stressed.
With the enactment of Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and various proclamations by National Government of IPs’ prior rights over their lands, Cosalan underscored the importance of incorporating ancestral lands and ancestral domains in all levels of the city’s development plans.
But the city alderman hit the City Government's usual reactions to the issues of CALTs and Ancestral Lands, which are "mostly in the negative."
“Given the wrong notion and misinformation, most often than not, the City Government opted to be on the defensive side every time CALTs and ancestral land related issues surface,” he said.
He highlighted popular cases involving IPs such as the Certificates of Ancestral Land Titles issued in Busol watershed, Forbes Park Reservation and the expressed desire of the Bases Conversion Development Authority to move for the nullification of CALTs over portions of the Camp John Hay Reservation.
In the Forbes Park Reservation, Cosalan observed "the bias of the local government against Ancestral Lands and the Claimants" adding the reservation is slowly diminishing not because of ancestral land claims but because of local government turning a blind eye by allowing withdrawal of the forest reserve for residential purposes.
He said of the original 67.9391 hectares of the reserve, it was slowly diminished when in November 17, 1970, through Proclamation 773, an area of 6.9982 hectares was withdrawn for settlement purposes and allowed by the city. Only recently, last September 9, 2000, 4.1873 hectares were again withdrawn for residential purposes by virtue of Republic Act No. 8963.
He said Parcel III of Forbes Forest Reservation is currently being worked out for withdrawal for residential purposes standing to lose yet another 21.2266 hectares of the forest reserve and giving way to informal settlers.
"In all of these events, the City Government practically gave away a total of 32.3121 hectares of its forests lands badly needed for its survival equivalent to 47.71 percent of the Forbes Park Forest Reservation," he said.
The councilor stressed the city “slept on its guardianship of critical resources and succumbed to political pressures and to the so-called informal settlers who overran every bit of the reservation” but continued to single out IPs who are not a party to the diminishing forest reserve.
While the city focuses on ancestral claimants at Busol watershed, Buyog watershed is left to be engulfed by concrete houses.
"Oh, how the City Government howls and growls over CALTs and Ancestral Land Claims fearing the imagined lost of a paradise but has readily opted to turn a blind eye to the glaring and obvious. What a double standard! Is bullying now the new way to rein over the ancestral claimants?" he said.
He said IPRA's Section 78 which claims Baguio is not covered by the law seems to be the city’s sole anchor in various cases it filed against ancestral land claims. But Cosalan cited even the Supreme Court in its decision on February 4, 2009, said, "IPRA demands that the city’s charter respect the validity of these recognized land rights and titles."
The councilor further held that presently, the city government has failed to allocate a single centavo to advance the interest and welfare of the IPs despite the city’s role as one of the origins of the IPRA in the country.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 22, 2013.