By ROBIE HALIP
QUEZON CITY — Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat urgently called on President Benigno S. Aquino III to compel the immediate investigation of the assassination of key tribal leaders fighting to keep the indigenous peoples’ control over their ancestral domain being eyed by mining and logging interests.
In separate resolutions filed at the House of Representatives, Baguilat, who also chairs the House Committee on National Cultural Communities (NCC), said that the immediate investigation of the assassination of Florita Caya, general manager (GM) of the Unified Tribal Council of Elders and Leaders (UTCEL), and Armando Maximino, a Dumagat tribal chieftain of Delebsong, Dinalungan, Aurora is in keeping with the Aquino administration’s policy against extrajudicial killings, particularly of leaders of cause-oriented groups.
Baguilat pointed out that the killings of Caya and Maximino are attacks against indigenous peoples that aims to intimidate and discourage them from pursuing their rights as guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution, international covenants of the Philippines, and various acts and resolutions of Congress,” Baguilat said.
“I condemn these acts of silencing indigenous leaders who are struggling to defend their lands and resources from land grabbers and destructive development projects. Killing them will not silence the struggle of indigenous peoples instead it will further agitate us to pursue the recognition and respect of indigenous peoples rights in the country and to hold those responsible for these killings accountable,” he added.
According to reports gathered by the NCC, an unidentified gunman shot Caya at the back of her head, instantly killing her on April 27. She was the newly elected GM of UTCEL, a group of indigenous peoples (Mandaya, Manobo, Mang-guangan and Dibabawon), which was awarded in 2004 with a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title covering 30,468 hectares in 14 barangays in Monkayo, Compostela Valley.
Caya is the third GM of UTCEL to be killed by unidentified persons in a span of two years. And according to UTCEL members, the leaders had received threats to stop their activities, including keeping mining operations out of their ancestral domain, prior to their assassination.
Maximino, on the other hand, was shot in the knee last May 17 for allegedly trespassing in a piece of disputed property claimed by the Guerrero family in Aurora. He was shot by security guards belonging to a security agency owned by the same family.
Maximino, known for his strong stand in defending the Dumagats’ ownership of their ancestral land, eventually succumbed to blood loss, making him the latest victim of the long unresolved land dispute between the Guerrero family and the Dumagat tribe.
About 25 Dumagat families in Dinalungan, Aurora are being harassed and threatened for eviction from their 49 hectares ancestral domain which was in 2006 the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded 33 hectares to Gregorio Guerrero.
The case was eventually dismissed, however, as the DENR determined that the lot titled to Gergorio Guerrero is null and void and the said agency recommended for the cancellation of the titles.
Despite this, the land is still being occupied by the Guerrero group and the Dumagats have been ordered to vacate their land.
Aside from Caya and Maximino, Aeta/Abellen officials of the Maporac Ayta Organization in Maporac, Zambales have been receiving death threats, because of their fierce desire to safeguard their ancestral domain against mining and illegal logging.
Data show that the DENR has issued three small scale mining permits in the area without the Free Prior and Informed Consent of the affected indigenous peoples.
Baguilat has thus filed another resolution to direct the NCC to conduct an inquiry on these alleged threats involving the Aetas/Abellens who were awarded the Certificate of Ancestral Domain over their property as early as 1996.
Baguilat stressed that it was crucial for the government to respond to these threats as the indigenous peoples are in a vulnerable position against private interests bent on using their land for their own gain.
He added that the “chilling effect” on the pursuit of indigenous peoples’ rights over their domain can be thwarted only by a swift investigation and the bringing of the killers of Caya, Maximino and other indigenous peoples leaders to justice. # nordis.net