To bring change to IP communities | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

To bring change to IP communities

12:31 AM July 05, 2016

MY HEART bleeds every time I hear or read about yet another sad story involving the katutubo.  The lot of indigenous peoples seems one of unending travail—of discrimination, humiliation, exploitation.

Just recently the newspapers astounded readers with an unbelievable story: Authorities had rounded up or rescued some 100 Badjao panhandling in Baguio! Now, how on earth did these sea natives from down, down South in Sulu get whisked to the mountain city up, up North in Baguio to, not scour the sea for fish, which is their natural occupation, but pound the city streets for alms? I can only surmise that it was another ploy of a criminal syndicate bent on fleecing money from the public using guileless indigenous people as stooges.

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Not that being forced or inveigled to perform humiliating acts like begging is the only life difficulty that indigenous peoples endure. You hear of them trudging through rough forest trails and fording waist-deep rivers to take their children to school or rush kinfolk to an urban center for emergency medical help.

You hear of them robbed of their lands through legal maneuverings, subterfuge, cajolery, and, if these and other soft persuasion tricks fail, violence.

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There have been several efforts, continuing efforts, by the government to bring the social and economic standing of indigenous peoples to a level at par with the rest of the nation. These are sincere efforts generously funded by taxpayers, but these have failed to bring about the desired change. Indigenous peoples are still trapped in poverty; their lands continue to be grabbed; their wealth beneath the ground continues to be extracted and spirited away, with minuscule compensation in exchange; and swarms of them descend on the metropolis every Christmastime, not to see the sights and share in the festive atmosphere like the urbanites’ equals, but to beg.  In short, there are still no better deals, no better life for them.

I think a new strategy, a fresh approach, is what we need. A fundamental step is to bring the indigenous peoples’ intellectual capacity to a higher level. A massive and sustained educational program should be undertaken, the end of which is to create pockets of intelligentsia or intellectual elites in their homelands. These intellectual elites will provide the brain power for IP communities so that they can scrutinize, use, reject or discard project proposals and not be fooled by con artists and speculators.

In the early years of the US occupation, the Americans saw the need to develop an intelligentsia sector in the Philippines from where to source the nation’s future leaders. Thus was the pensionado concept born.  The government selected a group of bright young men and women and sent them to the United States for further studies. When they came back they were well-rounded educationally, and they did become leaders in many disciplines—education, medicine, engineering, etc.  And they did become the core of the rising intelligentsia.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We can use as template the American brainstorm and set up a pensionado pool in several IP settlements. Providing scholarships, as is now the fashion, is fine. But it has no direction. Scholars just take their course, finish it, and that’s the last you hear of them. Under the program, pensionados shoot for higher education, and when they complete the course, they return to their IP communities and impart their expertise for a number of years.

I am passionate about creating a collective of educated men and women among the indigenous peoples because for as long as they are mostly comprised of individuals unacquainted with book learning, bringing progress to them in a dramatic and accelerated fashion will remain a formidable challenge, a tall mountain to climb.

There are three steps that I think the Duterte administration should consider:

  • Increase the excise tax on extracted or produced minerals in IP ancestral lands from the present 2 percent to 5 percent. The 2-percent tax yields only P390 million. Raising the tax to 5 percent will generate a revenue of P6.9-7 billion, which means more money to share by the government with the indigenous peoples from whose land the minerals are extracted.
  • Strictly implement Republic Act No. 3985 (an act amending Commonwealth Act No. 452 or the Pasture Land Act) which prohibits the grant of pasture permit or lease on areas occupied by indigenous peoples, and of RA 3872 (an act amending Commonwealth Act No. 141 or the Public Land Act) which provides that indigenous peoples occupying tracts of land since July 4, 1955, whether this land is disposable or not, shall be entitled to a free patent.
  • Enlist a significant number of indigenous peoples into the administration. This will send the message that their struggle to gain equal footing with other Filipinos is bearing fruit, and that opportunities and high goals are available to and reachable by all of them.

Uplifting the lot of indigenous peoples is a long and tedious process requiring patience, focus and creativity. Regardless, it must be done. To quote the great American President John F. Kennedy, “The gift of equality for all men does not come from the generosity of the State, it comes from the hands of God.”

Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected]) is a past president of the UST Philosophy and Letters Foundation and a former governor and congressman of Ifugao.

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TAGS: Commentary, Community, indigenous, Indigenous People, IP, opinion, tribe
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