By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY — Cordillera folk mourn the death of a veteran human rights lawyer and staunch advocate of the indigenous people’s rights to self-determination. Atty. William “Billy” Funa-ay Claver, born July 16, 1936, passed away on December 15 at the age of 75 in his home in Tabuk City, Kalinga.
Colleagues in the legal profession, legislators, activists and Cordillerans, mourn the loss of a man who dedicated his life for the betterment of the Cordillerans, indigenous peoples and the greater Filipinos.
“We join all the awakened Cordillerans in expressing our grief. He had been in the forefront of regional autonomy and remembered well in his advocacy whether in Congress or outside, including in international venues,” said lawyer Jose Mencio Molintas, a forme United Nations expert on indigenous issues, and who like Claver, is a former chairman of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Founding CPA chairman
“Claver was in the forefront of the struggle for the right to self-determination. As a the founding chairman of the CPA, he was active in the popularization of the right to self-determination, including the recognition of the right to ancestral domain and genuine regional autonomy as the expression of self-determination in the Cordillera,” said Abigail B. Anongos, the present secretary-general of CPA.
“The highest honor and tribute we can give Claver is to persevere in the struggle for indigenous peoples rights and human rights; that way we continue to give life and meaning to his legacy as a CPA pioneer, human rights lawyer, legislator and champion of IP rights,” added Anongos.
Minnie Degawan, former CPA secretary-general, also urged to continue the struggle that Claver has begun, adding: “He was a staunch advocate for the indigenous peoples at a time that it was not an “in” thing and he will be remembered with fondness and respect by the people he has served well.”
Human rights lawyer
Recognizing his untainted record in the legal profession, the local chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines here also expressed their condolences to the Claver family. And they remember him as one of the few Cordillerans who took the cudgel in human rights lawyering.
“As a genuine human rights lawyer, he is fearless. He is a man of principle as he stood his ground against the Marcos dictatorship and its enormous machinery to the point of risking his life and that of his family,” said lawyer Frank Calpito, president of the IBP Baguio-Benguet chapter.
Pointing out the death of Claver is a great loss for all, Calpito said Claver championed the causes for the oppressed people and promoted the respect of human rights specially for the members of the cultural community. Claver was an active official of the Free Legal Assitance Group, a noted group of lawyers rendering legal services to victims of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship.
Among the high-profile cases’ Claver was the prosecutor in the case of Kalinga pangat Macliing Dulag, who was murdered by soldiers led by Lieutenant Leodegario Adalem on April 24, 1980. Macliing led the struggle against the Chico River dam, a World Bank-funded project of then Pres. Marcos. This was to establish four dams along the Chico River in the Mountain Province-Kalinga area.
A Bontok, Claver was once legal counsel of the giant mining Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) in the ‘70s but left the company for his advocacy.
“Claver could have embraced corporate lawyering but chose instead to take up the cudgels for indigenous people’s rights since the 1970s,” said Giovanni Reyes of Sagada, Mountain Province.
Claver was a member of the Constitutional Commission in 1972. When democracy was re-established in 1986, he was elected as Congressman of Kalinga in 1988 until 1992.
In the House of Representatives, he became a chairman of the Committee on National Cultural Communities. There he introduced and filed various bills that would be the forerunner of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
Even Cordillera congressmen recognized the efforts of Claver. “We owe to him that we are now empowered to fight for our rights through the bills he filed that paved the way for the crafting of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Acts (IPRA),” said Ifugao Cong. Teddy Baguilat Jr. In his media statement.
Claver was one of those who championed for the recognition of indigenous peoples rights and Cordillera autonomy when only a few brave ones at that time were speaking out for the people, said Baguilat, the present House chairman of the Committee on National Cultural Communities.
Claver he will be remembered. “He is a pillar in the Cordillera peoples movement,” says Benguet State Professor Ruth Batani. And as Mucha Sim says: “A life devoted to the struggle for freedom is a life well lived.” # nordis.net