Statements: A Challenge to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP): Fulfill your mandate to uphold the rights and interest of Indigenous Peoples!

By CORDILLERA PEOPLES ALLIANCE, CORDILLERA ELDERS ALLIANCE, TONGTONGAN TI UMILI and MMETRO-BAGUIO TRIBAL ELDERS AND LEADERS ASSEMBLY
www.nordis.net

October 6, 2017

Expedite the assumption into office of Baguio City’s selected Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR)!

It has been 18 years since the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was enacted in 1997. Yet, until today, the indigenous peoples of Baguio continue to be denied their right to representation in the City Council. This obvious gap in the recognition of indigenous peoples rights prompted the Cordillera Elders Summit held on August 30, 2016 to pass a resolution calling for the selection of the first Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Baguio City. The resolution declared that the IPMR of Baguio should come from the Ibaloi in recognition of the fact that the Ibaloi were the original inhabitants and owners of the ancestral land that is now Baguio City. Further, the resolution called on the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to facilitate the process through the formulation of local guidelines for selection determined by the indigenous peoples themselves. This resolution of indigenous elders in the Cordillera pushed the NCIP Baguio Service Center to initiate the process of drafting the local guidelines for IPMR selection.

What followed was a series of meetings, information and education campaign, and assemblies of indigenous peoples held in October 2016 to draft the local guidelines with the support of NCIP. The activities culminated in a historic day on November 4, 2017 when more than 300 Ibalois ratified the local guidelines and voted to select the first IPMR of Baguio City. Mr. Roger Sinot, Sr. emerged as the duly selected IPMR.

However, the bid to finally have an IP representative in the City Council was held back when certain individuals filed a protest on November 15, 2016 on the grounds that the Kalanguya and Kankanaey people of Baguio had not been informed nor involved in the selection process. This allegation was later disproven. An addendum to the protest was filed in January 2017, claiming that the selected IPMR was not qualified. The grounds cited for disqualification were also later debunked.

The Regional Director of NCIP-CAR then formed a Special Regional Review Body (SRRB) to review the selection process and look into the grounds of the protest. The findings of this body upheld that (1) the earlier selection process was in order; (2) the protestants/ complainants did not have the personality to complain based on the local guidelines; and (3) recommended that the NCIP-CAR issue a Certificate of Affirmation to the duly selected IPMR.

Still, NCIP-CAR Regional Director Ronald Calde refused to issue a Certificate of Affirmation despite numerous resolutions of different organizations supporting the selection of Mr. Sinot. The director also failed to issue a clear written decision regarding the protest. Instead the NCIP handpicked a few Ibaloi personalities to convene another assembly of indigenous peoples on June 24, 2017 to supposedly return the issue for the community to resolve according to the customary practice of tabtaval or tongtong. The assembly of June 24 disregarded the existing Baguio Council of Elders and Leaders and formed yet another set of Council of Elders and Leaders to try to resolve the protest. In the meeting on June 27, some members of the newly formed Council of Elders and Leaders were assigned to meet with the selected IPMR to clarify the issues mentioned in the protest. The report that came out of the meeting on June 27 had the same recommendation: that a Certificate of Affirmation be issued to the duly selected IPMR. Despite this, the NCIP-CAR Regional Director took no action on the matter.

Then on August 8, 2017, the Metro-Baguio Tribal Elders and Leaders Assembly (MBTELA) held its 6th General Assembly. They discussed, among other matters, the Baguio IPMR issue. The consensus reached during the Assembly was to put the IPMR issue to rest by demanding the issuance of the long-overdue Certificate of Affirmation in order to stop the brewing disunity causing division among the indigenous peoples of Baguio. This strong appeal to the NCIP was contained in a resolution that was submitted to the NCIP-CAR and Central Office.

Still the NCIP Regional Director failed to act on the issue. Thus the disenfranchised Ibalois sought an audience with NCIP Commissioner for the Cordillera Region Basilio Wandag on September 10, 2017 to raise their sentiments. Commissioner Wandag said that he would take up the matter with the NCIP Regional Director, still with no result.

Then on September 23, 2017 the MBTELA and IBAGIW jointly called for a General Assembly of ICCs/IPs in Baguio including the Ibalois and other ethnolinguistic groups. Here the people took matters into their own hands by signing a Certificate of Recognition and administering an Oath of Office as IPMR to Mr. Roger Sinot, Sr. The results of the assembly were conveyed to the NCIP-CAR. A group of indigenous elders even traveled to Manila on the 1st week of October to seek the intervention of NCIP Chairperson of the Commission En Banc Atty. Leonor Oralde-Quintayo. Yet these efforts failed too, as the NCIP officials concerned passed the buck to others who are supposedly responsible but who were conveniently unavailable at the time.

Meanwhile, the NCIP is purportedly convening yet another assembly of ICC/IPs in Baguio, on October 7, 2017, ignoring previous assemblies and meetings that have transpired. The purpose of the assembly is supposedly to present the decision of the Council of Elders/Leaders constituted on June 24, 2017 on the protest/opposition to the selected IPMR and to conduct a consultation and dialogue. The holding of another assembly will only further polarize the indigenous peoples of Baguio between those who uphold the earlier process of selection and those who oppose the selection of Mr. Roger Sinot, Sr. This latest assembly is expected to further fan the disunity and discontent among the people of Baguio by insisting on giving credence to the protest filed by unqualified persons.

Meanwhile, as the NCIP drags its feet on issuing the Certification of Affirmation for the selected IPMR, the indigenous peoples of Baguio are denied their rightful representation in the City Council. It has been almost a year since the IPMR selection, and still the selected IPMR is unable to assume office for lack of a Certificate of Affirmation issued by the NCIP.

The machinations of the NCIP are clearly at work here to favor certain political interests that are coming into play. Instead of uniting the people, the NCIP is serving as an instrument to further the political interests of one side against the other. What we now see is a divided constituency of indigenous peoples in Baguio, two sides pitted against each other by no less than the NCIP, the very agency that is mandated to uphold the rights and interests of the indigenous peoples.

We favor no particular individual to become the first IPMR of Baguio City. What we uphold, support and recognize is the legitimate and transparent process that was undertaken by the indigenous Ibaloi people of Baguio on November 4, 2016 in the selection of their representative to the Baguio City Council in the person of Mr. Roger Sinot, Sr. No one, not even and much less the NCIP, should undermine this democratic process of decision-making by the indigenous peoples concerned. It is the people’s right to decide for themselves on matters that affect them. The voice and vote of the people is the law. This is the exercise of their right to self-determination.

We thus challenge the NCIP-CAR and Commission En Banc. Be true to your mandate of upholding the rights of the indigenous peoples. Foster unity, not division, among the ranks of indigenous peoples of Baguio. Expedite, do not delay, the assumption into office of the selected IPMR. Let us heed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “A right delayed is a right denied.”

To the indigenous peoples of Baguio, let us join hands and guard against attempts to sow disunity among our ranks. Let us fight together to defend our rights as indigenous peoples and citizens of our country. Again, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. offer an apt reminder: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” #nordis.net

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