Sagada demands recognition and documentation of customary land laws

By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — Due to the threat of the state’s land-related policies on the traditional concept of land ownership in the municipality of Sagada, Mt Province, a forum-workshop was held entitled “Empowering indigenous peoples on traditional customary institutions” on May 8 this year. It was also a way of re-learning from the community’s experiences of asserting their customary laws on land ownership and settling disputes.

Various cases were raised regarding land conflict caused by the threat of state policies on customary land ownership. One of the cases was the encroachment of the Church property to peoples’ communal and residential territories. The elders narrated that prior to the arrival of American Missionaries, the area which is now included as the church property is owned by the Dap-ay Tudey and Dap-ay Ato. Elders of Tudey and Ato, Ayyawan and Dalip-o donated the area to the church. However, the elders added that the church applied for tax declaration, including their expansion area.

In 2011, the people had been asking the church to stop encroaching into their territory. Instead, the church filed a civil case to the court against those who have built small stalls into what they declared as their (church) property. As of press time, the case is still pending in court.

Traditional concept of land ownership vs. state land laws

The community’s concept of land ownership and settling disputes were discussed by the elders. According to them, there are areas in the municipality that are owned individually where the bases of ownership are usufruct, inheritance and “sukat” or properties that have been exchanged for another lot.

There are also areas that are considered communal or owned by the tribe. Even tribal boundaries are recognized by the tribe and their neighboring tribe or tribes, usually contained in their agreements, albeit, orally but effectively binding among them. These systems of communal ownership and tribal boundary are practiced since time immemorial, even prior to the state-introduced boundary system.

Another kind of ownership is the “Saguday” or woodlots by clans. Elders said that in the olden days, the dap-ay awarded portions of communal land to individuals who defended their tribe during the time of tribal conflicts. These portions of land became clan-owned and are being handed down through generations.

Customary dispute settlement

When it comes to settling conflicts, the elder’ members of the dap-ay are responsible in facilitating any conflicts until its resolution. They are guided by the principle of Inayan and Lawa (taboo or forbidden).While under the state system, local government units however are guided by the local government code where Barangay Lupon facilitates the settling of disputes. Unsettled disputes are elevated to the courts. The Lupon members are chosen on their educational achievements and inspired by the honorarium while elders in the dap-ay are chosen because of their age and wisdom earned from their community involvement and participates based on strong sense of voluntarism.

When it comes to Saguday, the most prominent problem that threatens this system is the individual application for tax declaration without consulting other clan members and the dap-ay.

Because of the threat of the state systems, the elders demand to the government the recognition of their customary laws in land ownership and conflict resolutions. In line with this, they also want the said customary systems to be documented so that it can be passed on to the next generations.

Women elders also urged the strengthening of community unity in order to continuously implement these customary laws. The youth, on the other hand, said that the principles of Inayan and Lawa should be strengthened as among the core of indigenous values.

Urging for continuous advocacy of indigenous peoples rights, Beverly Longid, the National President of Katribu partyist, stressed that the traditional concept of land ownership and the state land laws do not really go together.

“Customary laws view land as a source of livelihood while state land laws view this as a commodity,” Longid reiterates.

The activity was a project of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC). # nordis.net

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