LAST Thursday March 11, Chrislyn Zarate of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples sent a text message asking me why I was not at the launching of a hand book we together with young(er) professionals working in government and a non-government organization worked on.

The HandBook on Land Tenurial Instruments is a product of the Cordillera Regional Development Council through its Committte on Indigenous Peoples (CIPC). Land tenure instruments simply refers to land titles. In the Cordillera, a person may avail of an array of land titles issued by either the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agrarian Reform and the Register of deeds.

Click here for Election 2010 updates

Some of these land titles are patents, certificates of landownership award and decrees.

We will not discuss each of the land titles here. The Handbook does. National government agencies and local government units will receive copies of the Handbook. And they can order more if needed. The Handbook does not discuss how to go about overlaps of land titles or even the conflicts that arise from the different land titles. These can be settled in courts.

What we will try to discuss here is how a land title is not just a proof ownership but a land management paper that can be subject to restrictions by factors in the place, time and culture the land title finds itself in.

But before that let me just state that the Cordillera Administrative Region is the only region in the Philippines that has a CIPC. And why is that important? The CIPC is a special body that deals primarily with the rights of IPs including the right to their lands in the ili (village). The CAR is primarily a homeland of IPs like the Ifontok. The Handbook can be read by everyone including overseas workers, especially Saint Vincent High School Alumni working abroad.

Why this special mention of the Saint Vincent High School alumni? The SVHS has a website where we alumni are exchanging news. For sometime I received messages from them that they were able to read this paper using/accessing www.svs.bontoc.tk/ With the Handbook they and their families can educate themselves as to what land title is best for them as indigenous peoples when they invest on lands in their home towns or not.

Bontoc like any other place of the Philippines has a lot of overseas workers. And one thing that we Ifontok do is to invest first in the ili (Bontoc). This explains the many houses in Bontoc that are almost empty or used as boarding houses. These investments COMPETE with HUGE investments by local/provincial/National Government in terms of buildings.

Some of these buildings are from loans. What if government uses the private buildings as offices instead of competing with the privately-owned buildings which are investments by its constituents?

The latest government investment is a huge mall just below the plaza tauted be worth 60 to 80 million pesos worth of loans. The old market nearby is not yet fully utilized and if the information I got is right, the local government of Bontoc is still paying for the old market, also a loan. North-east of the mall is the government center, a three storey building used by government offices and rented-out to private store-owners.

Such is the obvious fiscal management style by the local and provincial leaderships in Bontoc. By fiscal management is meant the use of government money which usually comes from tax and loans. And in the case of Bontoc or Mountain Province as a whole, such investments (use of money) by government does not only crowd Bontoc with buildings, compete with private investments (houses) in terms of space and earnings, but shows that what is needed in this capital town is not rural but urban planning. By the way, are these huge government buildings part of the (updated) development plans of Bontoc and Mountain Province?

The Handbook on Land Tenurial Instruments guides one of the use, meaning and implications of the various land titles people can avail of to own their lands (officially). I say officially, because in Bontoc, almost everyone knows who owns what in Bontoc. This common knowledge include the history of how lands were acquired. A large chunk of the lands of Bontoc is communal (woodlands, sources of water, forests etc...) "Tayan" is the term.

With the government -provincial and national heavily and with hastily investing specially in Central Bontoc in buildings and huge infrastructure, ancestral common lands are sacrificed in the name of development that is not fitted for Bontoc as whole ili. The slope of Central Bontoc which is a valley runs from 15 to 90 degrees. The slope of Barangay Bogbogan is almost 90 degrees. Engineer Jaquiline Tudlong pointed this out to me at the start of the year (Sorry Jaquiline. I mentioned you sans your permission. See you!). By accident we met near the Mountain Province Polytechnique College and began discussing what's happening to our home town. Bogbogan too is almost heavily populated.

The terrain that drives up to Barangay Maligcong which is north-east of Bogbogan has slope running from 30 to almost 80 degrees. Considering the type soil (loose and other wise), building a huge GOVERNMENT building in this area is not only hazardous but not economically sound. Again, for whatever use a building be at this place will compete with private investments. It drives away the Ifontok private investors whether local or overseas like the SVHS alumni who have plans to invest in Bontoc.

The catholic layforce building at Teng-ab was built really well-meaning unlike most government structures which are not usually built well i.e. strictly according specifications. Come on we were not born yesterday.

Corruption is the story.

Corruption usually goes with fiscal management, again fiscal management simply refers to how government uses its money e.g investments. Calling on the masteral students of MPSPC. Fiscal management is an expertise developed in Public Administration. How does our dear local/provincial leadership use (up) our resources -80 to 90 percent of IS NOT REALLY an interesting CASE TO LEARN FROM.

It is obvious and can be boring. A vendor in the market may not have the term fiscal management. Staring at a huge government structure nearby and knowing the alleged cost runs to almost 80 million pesos, you can almost hear her say: "siya peht tsi" (crudely translated as" and so that’s the way it is").

Another may comment: "siya mampay" (yes that it is). In resignation another may end the talk, saying "mid angnen"(can't do anyway- a very crude literal translation). And I can almost hear my kakailian (townmates) laugh at my translations.

Ifontoks are known not just stand -by or resign really to a situation so undesired.

In fact, the Ifontoks with their elders rejected a land title covering almost 100 hectares in Bontoc Central. Many did not know about the land title. Local women (not led by any member of Gabriela or any of the well known women’s group e.g. Ebgan) stonewalled an adit (camote mine) recently. The local women know that the adit will affect the water source and water shed of ricefields below the adit. They won't take things sitting down. So that my earlier translations of the idioms are far-fetch from they really mean. There is difficulty of translating one's own language in English or even in Tagalog. To me, the difficulty rests in the soul of the language. Every language, I think has its own soul.

Too the handbook is a about land titles that one may avail of to secure his her ownership. And in the cases of the Ifontok that we just discussed, land titles are not just proof of ownership, they can more than that. Land titles can are soulic instruments, if I may continue. The Handbook quotes a Bontoc woman saying: "tsadlus ay nan ili nan suma-alan ya umpa-an si leng-ag". “It is in the ili that the soul can find its home and rest” The ili is the Land!