KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato -- Thousands of lumads in this province demanded representation in the municipal and provincial legislative councils as mandated by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (Ipra).

In a legislative consultation sponsored by North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco on Monday, the tribal leaders from the Manobo, Bagobo, B'laan and other minority groups said that until at present lumads are not given seats in the policy making bodies and local legislative councils.

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Section 16 of Ipra states that "IPs have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives and destinies through procedures determined by them as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous political structures. Consequently, the State shall ensure that the ICCs/IPs shall be given mandatory representation in policy-making bodies and other local legislative councils."

The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act was enacted on October 29, 1997 and took effect on November 22, 1997 yet until now the specific section that mandates tribal representations has not been implemented.

National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) provincial director Eric Raz however explained it was just recently that the guideline for the implementation of the specific section was completed.

He said the NCIP have submitted the guideline to the Department of Interior and Local Government for implementation anytime soon.

The Indigenous Peoples are among the poorest sector of Philippine society and also among the most powerless.

Ipra was created to address the marginalization and powerlessness of the Indigenous Cultural communities.

Lack of budget

Aside from the lack of representation, it was learned that the lack of budget also hounds the agency that's tasked to look after the IPs welfare.

Professor Leonor Briones of the Social Watch Philippines revealed that the NCIP's budget for this year is only P579 million. The country has 18 million lumads.

She said the half a billion annual budget is a far cry from the one-billion budget for the travel of the President and its P800 million contingency fund.

Thus, Briones urges the lumads to "identify their needs and inform their representatives determine the budget they need in the future."

"We are the first people of the Philippines we have the right to ask, we have the right to demand," Briones told the lumads.

Raz also admitted that several of their programs were affected by the low budget. Among those are the application for ancestral domains and the scholarship program for lumad children.

He said at present there are 74 pending applications for ancestral domain that remained unapproved due to lack of budget.

The NCIP North Cotabato only has P300,000 budget allocation for their scholarship program in 2009. Raz said that due to the stringent fund, they only allocated P5,000 per semester for each of their scholars.

Fortunately, some congressmen support the NCIP scholars as well as some non-government organizations (NGOs) also support the ancestral domain program of NCIP.

"Kulang din kami ng staff. We only have 16 employees with only 4 highly technical employees for the whole province," Raz lamented.

Most disarray sector

Former North Cotabato congressman Greg Andolana, however, said that the lack of budget from the National Government could be addressed by the available sources of funds in the local level.

He said that if only the lumads would learn how to unite for a common good, then they will have no problem where to get funds for their projects.

He called the lumad sector of 18 million as the most disarray sector compared to the Bangsamoro that only has 6 million members.

Andolana cited the case where tribal leaders withdrew their demand for royalty fees from several corporations operating within ancestral domains in exchange for a small amount of money or favor.

"I-treat lang sa ligo sa dagat ang tribal leader, muwidraw na dayon sa ilahang demand," Andolana said.

Tribal leader and Meohao barangay captain Alberto Encarnacion confirmed Andolana's claim. He said the lack of education and the introduction of vices in the lumad communities are the reasons why lumads are in disarray.

Tribal towns

For her part, Representative Catamco said she also plans to save the lumad culture by making official documentations.

She said she will also be passing a bill that will seek for the creation of tribal barangays and municipalities in North Cotabato that will serve as the showcase window of the rich culture of the indigenous peoples to the world.

Villages predominantly inhabited by indigenous people can be found in the towns of Arakan, Magpet, Upper President Roxas, Tulunan, Matalam, Antipas, Makilala, and Kidapawan City of North Cotabato.

"Gusto nato madugangan ang budget for the NCIP. And of course the creation of tribal municipalities and barangays. It's already provided in the IPRA law kaya lang wala gyud na-push. We have the laws but we don't have the enabling laws," Catamco said. (Ben O. Tesiorna)