ON FEBRUARY 10, I had the immense good fortune to watch my own play, “Song of Mateo,” come to life as performed by the seniors of the Baguio City High School Arts and Design track in the city high auditorium. The production was funded by the NEDA-RDC in cooperation with the Ifugao State University as part of an Information and Education Campaign to make one and all aware, especially students of the Cordillera Administrative Region Association of State Universities and Colleges (CARASUC) of Cordillera heroes with significant contributions to the cause of Igorot self-determination.

“Song of Mateo” treats of Mateo Carino’s famous landmark case against the government: Cariño vs. Insular Government. The decision in this case was penned by American Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. on February 23, 1909, upholding and enshrining the all-important doctrine of Native Title in both Philippine and American jurisprudences. This decision has also contributed to the cause of indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands and domains in the Philippines and outside of it.

One of the most significant statements of the judgment is this: “… when, as far back as testimony or memory goes, the land has been held by individuals under a claim of private ownership, it will be presumed to have been held in the same way from before the Spanish conquest, and never to have been public land.”

Much erudite scholarship abounds that deals with the concept of “as far as memory goes,” or “time immemorial,” or “time out of mind,” meaning “time extending beyond the reach of memory, record, or tradition, indefinitely ancient,” or “ancient beyond memory or record,” or “time beyond legal memory” – from various dictionaries. So when Holmes found for Cariño, it was because the land that the US Army was wrongfully occupying, what was Cariño’s land since time beyond legal memory, was never public land.

To now hear of this doctrine of Native Title being used to support squatters on private properties that are not theirs in Baguio City itself, the very place site of Cariño versus Insular Government is infinitely disturbing. We hear of a city ordinance in the works to effect some sort of system by which squatters on private properties can use the Native Title doctrine to say they have native title. Such premises are so very wrong.

(To be continued)