LEADERS and members of the Pansalsalan Dagumbaan Tribal Association (Padata) held a picket outside the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) office Monday.

The group called for the approval of their application for community-based forest management (CBFM) within the Villalon Ranch in Maramag, Bukidnon.

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The tribal leaders also called the NCIP to revoke the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) it issued to ranch owner Engineer Ernesto Y. Villalon, former mayor of Kibawe, Bukidnon, and to stop the ongoing negotiations between Villalon and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for a Forest Land Grazing Lease Agreements (FLGLA).

Tommy Labason of Task Force Mapalad said the farmers are demanding the cancellation of Villalon's FLGLA application so they can apply for a Community-based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA) or agrarian reform coverage over certain areas within the 480-hectare Villalon ranch.

"The NCIP is violating the doctrines of irregularity of a certain public official wherein the indigenous people is their main priority, not the ranch owner," Labason said.

Based on the statement of the Task Force Mapalad, a non-government organization that is helping the peasant farmers, the Padata farmers are the rightful owner of the 480-hectare land.

Labason said the farmers are already settlers of the area who planted corns and cassava as their means of living.

However, he said the farmers complained that they were being harassed by Villalon's group.

"Bukidnon is a province with thousands of hectares of agricultural lands suitable for rice, corn and other staple food. But these land are still under the jurisdiction of the DENR, waiting to be distributed to farmers," Task Force Mapalad said in the statement.

Villalon's FLGLA was approved after he was reportedly able to obtain an FPIC.

But Task Force Mapalad said the FPIC was acquired from Kibawe town, which does not have jurisdiction over the CBFM area. The Villalon Ranch is situated within the boundaries of Barangays Panalsalan and Dagumbaan in Maramag town.

"Villalon seek the signature of a leader and few members, which is a direct violation of the FPIC process," Task Force Mapalad said in the statement.

But Engr. Oscar D. Baldomar, NCIP spokesperson, said the NCIP is not the right office that would decide on Padata's complaint.

"We have no right to resolve the tribe's problem because they know what to do. In our case, we are just the mediator and the ones who will assist them," Baldomar said.

However, he said the indigenous people (IP) have the right to claim their ancestral domains if they are the "rightful owner" of the land.

"But we will require them to come up with a genealogy to trace their ancestors for us to determine if they really belong to the tribe," Baldomar said.

He said if they are the true datus of the land and their intention is clear, they will not worry since they can claim what is rightfully theirs.

He added that there are some bogus datus who are claiming the land, so the best way to protect the rights of the IPs is to screen the fake ones by requesting them to come up with their genealogy.

"The genuine datus are not against the NCIP because this is their office, not their enemy," Baldomar said. (Nicole J. Managbanag)