Mangyans’ lost Eden reclaimed (1)
There is cause for rejoicing this October, National Indigenous Peoples Month (Proclamation No. 1906 signed by President Gloria M. Arroyo on Oct. 5, 2009). The second Sunday of October is Indigenous Peoples Sunday according to the Catholic Church’s Philippine calendar.
Why rejoice? Mangyan friends in the Paitan Mangyan Reservation in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, received good news last week from their long-time staunch advocate, Senior State Solicitor Melanie P. Pimentel of the Office of the Solicitor General. (Yes, something good can come out of there.) The second Supreme Court decision in the Mangyans’ favor has been handed down. Therefore, there are now two Supreme Court decisions affirming that non-Mangyans have illegally occupied the land exclusively for the Alangan Mangyans, known as the Paitan Mangyan Reservation.
Good news indeed on the 85th anniversary of Proclamation No. 809, issued by Acting Governor General Joseph R. Hayden on June 4, 1935.
I had mentioned in this space that I was in Mangyan communities a number of times. In March 1988, I was in the Paitan Mangyan Reservation for almost a week to know the people and their culture and, more importantly, about their plight within the proclaimed reservation. On April 3, 1988, I came out with a lengthy feature article titled “Reclaiming a Lost Eden” in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. Much of what I wrote then I repeat here.
The Paitan Reservation is one of the three officially proclaimed reservations in Oriental Mindoro, thanks to the determination of their leader, Mayor Maximo Lintawagin.
He had recalled to my good friend and Mangyan rights advocate Sister Victricia Pascacio of the Holy Spirit Sisters that he was a young boy when government officials came to Paitan in 1935. Some of them were Americans. He heard them say, “This land is yours.” Eight years later, when Japanese forces came to the island, all the Mangyan families fled to the mountains.
After World War II, the Alangan Mangyans came down from the mountains and found Ilocanos settled in their reservation. The
Ilocanos even occupied the original village and the choicest portions of the reservation.
Inspired by Maximo, three other young Mangyans—Ignacio Lintawagin, Yolando Saballa, and Jose Orfrecio—dreamed and worked to reclaim the reservation.
Sometime in 1950, gloom fell upon the land. Without the Mangyans’ knowledge, part of the reservation was declared alienable and disposable through an administrative order by then Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources Fernando Lopez upon the recommendation of the Director of Forestry. The Oriental Mindoro provincial government also petitioned that the national government lift the reservation status of the Mangyan Reservation. The Office of the President denied the petition.
Surprisingly, a year later, the Bureau of Lands subdivided the land. Despite two directives from the Office of the Presidential Complaints and Action Committee to delineate the boundaries of the reservation, and from the assistant director of the Bureau of Lands instructing the District Land Officer to advise the Christian settlers to desist from intruding and leave the Mangyans alone in their reservation, the Bureau of Lands issued the first patents in 1955.
When the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) learned about it, they called the attention of the local officials. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. Two elder leaders of the community shared their discouraging experiences. Lintawagin said: “I remember people from the Bureau of Lands surveying the land and saying that we had no right to the land because we had no titles. The Ilocanos, the Tagalogs, they said, had titles. But I knew this was a reservation. Later, the Ilocanos and Tagalogs multiplied. They destroyed our plants and planted their own. They destroyed the coffee plants and planted calamansi. Nagpakumbaba na lang kami. Ayaw namin makipaglaban. Ubod kami ng duwag. Hindi kami nakapag-aral.” (We humbly gave in. We did not want to fight back. We are a very fearful people. We are unschooled.)
Later, when some Mangyan leaders went to the local Bureau of Lands office, they were passed around. Recalled Saballa: “Whenever we went to town, people either didn’t mind us or laughed at us. Ang mga Mangyan walang alam, hindi naliligo, basta Mangyan walang pera.” (To them the Mangyans were stupid, didn’t take a bath, and had no money.) The local Bureau of Lands office was of no help. The Mangyans decided to appeal their cause outside Mindoro.
(To be continued)
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