The dilemma between City Hall and ancestral claimants

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Friday, March 28, 2014


Snapshot Focus

THE problem that the Baguio City Administration meets in pursuing its development plans in the face of blockages by ancestral claims of land is very unfortunate. It is needless, that is, if the correct concept of ancestral claims and land ownership is observed by both parties. The problem really is that both the City Government people concerned and the land claimants seem not to be conversant with the indigenous rules of land ownership and consequent ancestral claims. What is going on as I see it is a case of intending to play softball while using rules of baseball. Imagine saying ancestral claim but in trying to resolve conflicts arising therefrom, we call on the lawyers who had raised their hands in oath to use regalian laws, rules and procedures. This is nothing but saying “Agtutungtung tayo nga nasayaat ta salbarentayo ti problematayo,”(Let’s talk things over and search for solutions to our problem), but instead of calling for knowledgeable community elders we call for lawyers and title the case immediately with the use of “versus”, which a clear expression of the adversarial, which, in turn, is the very contrary of the amicable “tungtungan”. From then on, methods and deliberations are guided by principles of the regular national courts. In other words, we do not go to solve together but to win over the other although we know that no one wants to be defeated.

Next, let us see the mind of ancestral claimants in the city.

Manifestly, many if not most of them focus only on the acquisition of the land without knowing that ancestral claim is to assure preservation of the ownership of land for the common good and not the disposition thereof. The same with the lawyers who passed their bar exams because they knew from their PCC that as owner, you can “use” and even “abuse” your property in whatever manner you want. This mental set will surely influence decisions made so that if a hearing officer is a lawyer who is non-conversant of the indigenous custom laws and practices he/she will not know that you cannot just do what you want with the piece of the land just because it is your property. In selling, for example, you have to inform your kins starting from the nearest going farther outward. If no one of them is able financially or interested to acquire, only then can you transact with non-relatives.

Next comes the idea of demolition. In the Cordillera traditional ili, this is not countenanced. An attack on a person’s house is an attack on his very person. A man who does not defend his home habitation is considered a puus, a useless male individual, a despicable coward. There is, therefore, the pressure of culture.

But City Hall will say, “But this is Baguio, a chartered city; it has its own rules,” which can be countered with “Why then do we celebrate right at Burnham Park to show our appreciation of the ancestral? have NCIP here to enforce the IPRA Law? Even the native cañao but where it does its function thru acknowledging ancestral claim at the Busol area, it is condemned?”

Adversarial arguments and counter-arguments go on ad infinitium and only heighten ill-feelings, while trees are felled and water sources are depleted particularly at the Busol area.

Why not both sides employ the more pacifying tungtungan patiently and properly where the ancestral claimants can be told in a pleasant atmosphere that certain territories, according to indigenous custom laws and practices, are sacrosanct for communal use; these cannot be objects of appropriation by individual persons or families for their exclusive usufructuary benefit. The claimants on their part should accept that tenet. Cordillera ancestors were proud to donate lands for use of government offices, church and schools because they saw they were for the common good, which would include their progenies.

But before this can be done, we have first to choose what law to follow: the adversarial national or the amicable tungtungan? Easier said than done but we simply cannot mix oil and water. To remind ourselves, it was for this reason that we put up the CAR to lead us to autonomy, to govern ourselves in the way we know or understand. The ancestral claimants can be swayed more peacefully. Why not negotiate to give them royalty from the water income of BAWADI or scholarship to descendants or similar benefits in return for the unavoidable elimination of structures already built? But by all means, demeaning demolition should be preempted. Ancestral claimants, in turn, should be more civic-minded like their forebears. They should think of the common good and, most of all, refrain from serving as conduits for the foreignization of this very limited city land of ours that we call variously Pines City, City of Flowers, Summer Capital of the Philippines but to us, our only Baguio.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 29, 2014.

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