THE memorandum enjoining our presence in the presentation by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) of their Land Tenure Case Study allowed us no option but to attend and participate– “for strict compliance.”

The memorandum directed us to the H100 Ecolodge, Magsaysay, Baguio City, last February 28, 2017.

I was there and actively participated as directed. Am I glad? During the open forum, I was surprised to know Atty. Basilio Wandag who was seated opposite me in the conference table was the Commissioner himself, for regions 1 and CAR.

Along with the local government units (LGUs), the NCIP is a partner agency in the implementation of the Department of Agriculture (DA)- Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resources Management Project or CHARMP2, with funding support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). CHARMP2 was implemented in the six provinces of the Cordillera in the last seven (7) years. Its interventions are expected to be scaled-up to benefit 18 more barangays in the region for the next two years.

The NCIP was lead implementing agency for the CHARMP2 sub-component dealing with the improvement of land tenure instruments for the Project’s beneficiaries, particularly indigenous peoples (IPs) in its coverage areas.

From the presentation, there are lessons to be drawn and learned, including action agenda that NCIP must generate and continue to deliberate on with dispatch. The times demand it and I reckon our fellow IPs has just been ushered in a most extraordinary time. In the Cordillera, their lands are not only plundered. The good ones are getting tighter and resources including water are getting scarce. What good options are available that they can draw on in resolving emerging conflicts in these times?

I am glad that Commissioner Wandag shared the same sentiment. In a remark he made on social media, he expressed his appreciation of the presentation, noting that “there are things to be done “ASAP.” He added, “I hope to do my part.”

Every time I participate in a meeting to deliberate on IP concerns, I gravitate on a simple compass – an IPness derived from experiences and encounters with my grandparents in a village setting, some four decades ago.

In those days, the life my grandparents shared with me in the “ili” or village informs me that the conflicts we face today are not necessarily “traditional.” That would include tribal war.

In their time, full scale tribal wars in the Cordillera were rare. Large scale killing or murder was quite unknown, except with the arrival of Spaniards and during the Second World War. In isolated villages, the strengthening of tribal and clan relations for trade and for purposes of helping each other in times of need was the norm. Individual conflicts between tribes occurred but were rather restrained.

Nobody has really recorded a full-scale tribal war in the Cordillera. Wars among tribes are quite recent. As much as they are inclined, they avoided strangers. William Henry Scott and Eduardo Masferre who have travelled and knew the Cordillera tribes would have given us any full description of so-called full scale tribal wars, if there were any. I am inclined that in this context, inter-tribal conflicts are but responses to changes coming from the outside world – part of the globalization and imperial designs from the west.

Most of our conflicts involving boundaries (political), governance, economic development, foreign interventions and militarization are mostly recent. Losing our identities as distinct tribes and peoples has been a deliberate objective of the government to mainstream us with the majority.

The meeting today sought to draw lessons from the land tenure case study outputs by NCIP from the investment of the CHARMP2 for the former to process and award land tenure certificates to communities within the coverage of CHARMP2 in the six provinces of the Cordillera.

My immediate and initial reaction to the presentation concerned the long duration it took NCIP to successfully process and issue a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) in the region ( 1 out of a target of 18).

This successful CADT was hard fought in light of the myriad of activities and efforts done by the agency to attain their target but had to trim it down over a period of 10 years.

In the early days, a village tribe in the Cordillera would point to a river, or the mountains and ridges as boundaries of their territory with neighboring tribes. These natural permanent landmarks and their characteristics are imprinted in their minds, consciousness, and oral history. The elders and those who traversed the boundaries once in their lives can talk about the terrain, the plants, trees, rocks and landmarks as verifiable proofs to the tribe’s oral history pertaining to their boundaries.

There is a mountain ridge dividing two villages in Besao and Sagada, Mountain Province. It is quite sacred in my reckoning of how the old folks avoided the place and would not even mention it as a tribal boundary.

Overtime, it became a common hunting ground, forest and watershed. However, as the population increased and the old folks and their ways disappeared from the consciousness of new generations and residents, the mountain ridge was slowly cleared and settled through the years. I hear some clans on both sides of the ridge have made claims over large portions of the common mountain ridge boundary today.

Meanwhile, the settling of the mountains and forest areas of the region were made easier or accessible to the people after logging corporations built roads into these areas and plundered its resources.

Life has become more difficult and even harder as several conflicting interests play on the peoples’ minds, to include economic pursuits (investments, mining, ancestral land claims on common boundaries, water rights, confusing religious beliefs and systems, ideologies, etc.). Every inch of the land in the Cordillera is becoming precious, claimed or must be claimed in due time.

My real question actually is how has NCIP prepared itself for the emerging challenges and concerns affecting indigenous peoples today? How is the agency strengthened to perform its role? The sacrifices of performing NCIP staff may not suffice to uphold the credibility of NCIP and IPs that is now at stake here.

I hope with Commissioner Wandag that the gods will help and guide him to do something relevant and meaningful during his watch as Commissioner to protect what remains of the people’s forests and watersheds in the Cordillera. These are common resources that guarantee quality and sustainable living for all people in the region and even Northern Luzon today and forever more.