Home Opinion Commentary Let the history of injustice be the guide in construing IPRA

Let the history of injustice be the guide in construing IPRA


“Those who have less in life should have more in law”

Former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay

Recently, the Supreme Court dropped a bomb in Baguio with its decision reversing the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeal (CA) in CA – GR SP No. 126498, including the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Resolution Nos. 107-2010-AL and 108-2010-AL. The judgment practically voided Certificate of Ancestral Land Titles (CALTs) earlier awarded to some of the Baguio Ibaloi land claimants.

In the 17-page ruling by the SC Second Division ruling, penned by former Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, ruled that “…private respondents’ rights over the subject properties located in the Townsite Reservation in Baguio City were never recognized in any administrative or judicial proceedings before the effectivity of the IPRA law. The CALTs and CADTs issued by the NCIP to the respondents are thus void.”

The decision reaffirmed Section 78 of IPRA by extracting its legislative intent through the unearthing of the Congressional Deliberations on both the House and Senate Bills wherein the framers excluded Baguio City’s land areas from the coverage of IPRA particularly the City’s Townsite Reservation.

Notwithstanding the decision of the high court, and for the benefit of discussion, allow me to present my five cents worth regarding the decision. This piece is a personal reflection from a migrant Cordilleran Native who considered Baguio as his home and not an official stand of my office. With this, let me start by citing the landmark case of Mateo Carino because one cannot appreciate the wisdom of Ancestral Lands without tackling the matter.

In the said case, Mateo Carino is a native who applied for the registration of certain land. He and his ancestors had held the property as owners for more than 50 years, which he inherited under native customs. There was no document of title issued for the land when he applied for registration. The government contends that the area in question belonged to the state wherein, under the Spanish Law, all lands belonged to the Spanish Crown except those with individual titles. Moreover, there is no prescription against the Crown.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mateo Carino.

Justice Holmes declared: “It might perhaps, be proper and sufficient to say that when, as far as testimony or memory goes, the land has been held by individuals under a claim of private ownership, it will be presumed to have been held in the same way from before the Spanish conquest, and never to have been public land.”

The magistrate pointed out the existence of native titles to land, or ownership of the land by the natives [Indigenous Peoples] under their possession and ownership since time immemorial. This ownership by the natives, according to Justice holmes, is independent of any grant from the Spanish Crown, an exception to the Regalian Doctrine.

The Native Title, as the exemption to the Regalian Doctrine, is the spirit of the landmark legislation RA 8371 or otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. The IPRA is a curative law, legislated to correct and cure the historical injustices done to the IPs by the hordes of colonizers. The colonization resulted in the dispossession of lands, differentiation, and marginalization of IPs, among others.

If we look back in history, the Americans forcibly acquired the lands of Baguio against the will of the native tribes who have already established domicile therein. Before creating the Burnham Park, Camp John Hay, and other American-named parks, and before the establishment of Baguio as the Summer Capital of the Philippines and a Townsite Reservation, native communities were thriving within those lands. It is there were their ancestral homes, pasture lands, farmlands, and even their cemeteries are situated. These Native communities, however, vacated these lands and were forcefully cast to the sides and outskirts of Baguio to pave the way for the said American amenities. Properties owned and possessed by the Baguio natives then were appropriated, disposed, and delineated by the Americans against the former’s will.

With that in mind, and in the advent of the SC ruling, I guess it is safe to say that the best angle in interpreting Section 78 should have been done by reading Section 78 in parallel with the entirety of IPRA and just the mere Section alone. Our history dictates that from birth, towards the enactment, Baguio played an essential role in IPRA’s realization. To think Baguio is outside IPRA’s coverage is like stripping the IPs of Baguio off their rights – rights which were fought and asserted by their ancestors.

What’s clear is that, if read in its entirety, one can ascertain that IPRA did not exclude Baguio City from its coverage. If not for the case of Mateo Carino that highlighted the plights of the IPs during the colonial times, the Native Title, as articulated by Justice Holmes, would not have been put into words in the landmark jurisprudence which served as the springboard in the enactment of IPRA.

IPs, particularly those heirs of the Baguio Natives who were cast aside, were given a chance to attain Social Justice through IPRA by allowing them to have their Native Titles be recognized through the issuance of CALTs and CADTs. However, this chance for Social Justice to correct the historical wrongs was swept away due to the present ruling of the Supreme Court.

The declaration of Baguio as a Townsite Reservation is a mistake. If we allow the wisdom of the Native Title to bow down to such error, then we are institutionalizing an illness, thus eroding the very value of Social Justice ingrained in the curative law IPRA.

The challenge currently being faced by IPRA in Baguio is not the first, and surely it won’t be the last. IPRA has met more enormous challenges, one that even challenged its constitutionality. But no matter how significant the problems were, IPRA emerged as the victor. In these challenges, particularly on the one being currently impressed to the IPs of Baguio, one thing is for sure; it is not IPRA that is being tested nor the rights of indigenous peoples; as these rights have not ceased to exist, and are only awaiting society’s ability to recognize them. What is currently on trial is the willingness of our bureaucracy and people seated in power to finally rid themselves of prejudices and misplaced fears.

The IPs, especially those who believed and fought for IPRA, their crusade did not end with its enactment. They are mindful that their movement is a continuous struggle to rid our nation from the historical injustice introduced by our colonizers that’s now on the verged of being institutionalized in our bureaucracy. It’s all about changing mindsets and ill-chosen prejudices.# nordis.net

The author is the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent Focal Person of NCIP-CAR and a student of law.

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