Mangyans’ lost Eden reclaimed, threatened (2)
Great news comes this October, National Indigenous Peoples Month (Proclamation No. 1906 signed on Oct. 5, 2009). The second Sunday of October is Indigenous Peoples Sunday according to the Catholic Church’s Philippine calendar. The year 2020 marks the 85th anniversary of Proclamation No. 809 issued on June 4, 1935, that gave the Mangyans the right to their ancestral domain.
Continued from last week: A week before I came to Paitan in 1988, a group of Mangyans led by the incoming leader, Juanito Guarde (father of the first Mangyan with a PhD whom I wrote about last Sept. 10), and Yolando Saballa, outgoing leader of their newly organized Samahan ng mga Nagkakaisang Mangyan Alangan, met with the new Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Fulgencio S. Factoran Jr. They had asked him to take up the memorandum issued by his predecessor Ernesto Maceda about the Mangyans’ claim to their ancestral domain.
The Mangyans were elated after listening to Factoran who took them seriously. Guarde exclaimed: “It feels good going to that office and not hearing any harsh words.” Later I learned that Assistant Secretary Gregorio Magdaraog was appointed to head the DENR team so that the Indigenous Communities Affairs Division was created under the Special Concerns Office headed by lawyer Donna Gasgonia. They were very supportive. A partnership with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) was forged with the cooperation of Undersecretary Gerardo Bulatao. Factoran himself made a short visit to Paitan to announce a 90-day target for initial results on the Maceda memorandum. The Mangyan leaders had clearly stated what they expected of government.
When the Mangyan leaders realized there was strong possibility of recovery of lands, they, out of the generosity of their hearts, asked that the non-Mangyans be compensated for improvements on lands they were willing to return to the Mangyan community. They had the ready solution to tap Budget Secretary Guillermo Carague again for this purpose. The secretary had offered to help put up three multipurpose buildings the year before. This time he released P2.6 million through the provincial governor for the buy-back scheme proposed by the Mangyans. With assurance of funding, the DENR-DAR Project for the Affirmation of the Paitan Reservation was launched in January 1990.
Soon, local and provincial government opposition came up. But the DENR was firm in its resolve to go on with the project.
The project took almost six years, with the Agpamuon, a Mangyan committee composed of Valentin Malayawan as leader and Victoria Lintawagin Guarde, Edicia Guarde, and Edicio Banlugan as members, working alongside the interagency team of government agencies led by the DENR-DAR. After the painstaking one-on-one talk between the Agpamuon and individual lowlanders, the interagency team visited those ready for assessment of improvements on the land. A deadline was set with the warning that those who refused to negotiate would be brought to court. Government lawyers from the DENR, the DAR, and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) prepared for the filing of cases.
The OSG took over in 1998 under the Division of Associate Solicitor Amparo Cabotaje Tang. When the consolidated cases for Recovery of Possession and Reversion were dismissed by the Regional Trial Court, Tang turned over all the cases to Senior State Solicitor Melanie P. Pimentel, who diligently pursued the cases for almost 15 years. Mangyan leaders joined her at every court hearing. She presented credible government officials to testify in court.
To Pimentel’s credit, two Supreme Court decisions have been handed down—the first in 2011 for Cancellation of Title and Reversion, and the second for Recovery of Possession and Reversion. All cases presented by the DENR then have been decided upon. The two Supreme Court decisions recognized that the entire 220-hectare reservation belongs to the Alangan Mangyan community of Barangay Paitan, not only because of Proclamation No. 809 but also because the Constitution stresses the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral domain.
The Mangyans’ lost Eden, particularly the reservation of the Alangan Mangyan of Paitan, has been reclaimed, but there are huge challenges ahead. Among them are the reported 12 approved licenses for hydropower plants in Mindoro and the blasting that destroys the contour of the land. The Mangyans are crying out. A battle looms ahead. Where is Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and his promises?
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