I got a chance to speak with one of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Barangay Katipunan, Arakan, North Cotabato on Friday, June 17, 2022, during the outreach activity of The Potters Community of Davao City.

Totally ignorant about their situation, I asked Datu Roberto, head of the Tinananon tribe’s judiciary, if they came up with their own laws and whatnot. Of course, he replied. Even if that meant making the wearing of face mask optional? He gave me a wry smile and nodded.

Well, aren’t they lucky?

Residents of Cebu, home to one of the largest linguistic groups in the archipelago, have no choice but to kowtow to the national government, even when the Constitution grants them similar but not exactly the same rights as IPs.

To those who don’t know, I’m talking about local autonomy.

Republic Act 8371 recognizes, protects and promotes “the rights of indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples, creating a national commission on indigenous peoples, establishing implementing mechanisms, appropriation funds therefor, and for other purposes.”

Section 13 states that “the State recognizes the inherent right of the ICCs/IPs to self-governance and self-determination and respects the integrity of their values, practices and institutions. Consequently, the State shall guarantee the right of the ICCs/IPs to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Let me pause here for a moment.

I won’t pretend to be a lawyer so I’ll stop quoting laws like I know them like the back of my hand because I don’t. But you get my drift?

I don’t how Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año would react to Datu Roberto’s statement or if he is even aware of the Tinananon tribe’s existence, but we all know how he went ballistic when Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia tried to exercise Cebu’s local autonomy.

If I’m not mistaken, the Cebu Provincial Government was given until this weekend to “amend, rectify or adjust” its newly passed ordinance making the wearing of face masks in open and well-ventilated areas in the province optional.

Otherwise, Año warned that the agency would “exhaust all legal remedies against them, including Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, as ordered by the Office of the President.”

He keeps referring to guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force, which ”highlighted the continuous observance of minimum public health standards, which includes the mandatory wearing of face masks in all areas under any alert level.” And yet, he conveniently skirts the issue of protocol violations during the campaign period.

So it was okay for hundreds of thousands of people to gather at rallies, but Governor Garcia can be found liable of violating the anti-graft and corrupt practices law or be slapped with administrative sanctions by making it optional for Cebuanos to go outdoors without a face mask?

No wonder Datu Roberto gave me a wry smile.