The Mangyans of Puerto Galera: Homeless in their own country

This report was first published on GMA News Online

Ciriaco Bibo is a name nobody knew before. Now every official in Puerto Galera, from its mayor down to the barangay tanods, are keeping a close watch.Bibo is the fiercest opponent of the landfill project of the local government of Puerto Galera. His is the voice that has landed this issue on national dailies and blogs that have gone viral, when the government would rather have kept it quiet.
On a hot Saturday afternoon, on the contested land of Sitio Lapantay in Barangay Villaflor, Bibo climbed a mountian to show the school that the Department of Education built for their children. They waited so long for this, he said, and they are not about to lose it to a landfill.

Apart from the school, 48 Mangyan families would lose their homes as well as the coconut and other fruit-bearing trees planted over the years for sustenance, all so that the government can have a place for its increasing trash.
“Eh, paano kami? Kung saka-sakali na pinilit magkaroon ng basura, eh, paano kami? Saan kami dadalhin? (How about us? If they insist on building a landfill, where would we go?)” asked Bibo.
Ciriaco Bibo sits inside the classroom of their tribe’s elementary school, just one of the many reasons he says a landfill should not be built on their land.

Ciriaco Bibo sits inside the classroom of their tribe’s elementary school, just one of the many reasons he says a landfill should not be built on their land.

‘Law is on our side’
Puerto Galera Mayor Hubbert Dolor readily granted an interview, armed with documents to prove he is on the side of the right, and of the good.
The property is a titled land that belongs to one Matilde Lumpas, who acquired the parcel of land in 1964. It was transferred to the Puerto Galera government in 2009 when they bought it specifically for this project.
Section 56 of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997 or the IPRA Law states that “property rights within the ancestral domains already existing and/or vested upon effectivity of this Act, shall be recognized and respected.” It means that any title before 1997 holds more weight than an ancestral claim.
Besides, Mayor Dolor said, he has a duty to build a landfill by virtue of RA 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, which requires all local government units to convert all open and controlled dumpsites into sanitary landfills.
“Ipagpalagay po natin na ‘wag nating intindihin ang basura ng buong bayan, e ‘di buong bayan po ang apektado. Maaaring magdulot ng sakit sa mas maraming tao. Kapag puro na po basura ang Puerto Galera, may turista pa po bang gustong pumunta sa bayan ng Puerto Galera? (Say we don’t build a landfill and disregard the town’s trash. The whole town will be affected, it will cause harm to more people. If Puerto Galera is filled with trash, would any tourist want to come?)” said Dolor.
Mangyans play basketball on land they may have to leave soon.

Mangyans play basketball on land they may have to leave soon.

‘We recognize the law’
The National Commission for Indigenous Peoples or NCIP, which has a mandate to protect the rights and interest of IPs such as the Mangyans, claims they are bound by the law.
Karen Ignacio, provincial officer of NCIP Oriental Mindoro, said that the IPRA is clear and that the best they can do for the Mangyans is to make sure they are assisted in terms of livelihood and relocation.
All 48 families shall be given materials to build their new homes with, on land 150 meters away from their community. They shall also be paid P100 for each coconut tree that will have to be felled for the project. The school will als be relocated near the new site.
These were included in a resolution that was supposed to be signed by the Mangyans on April 11.But, in a change of heart, some of the Mangyans no longer wanted to sign the resolution that both the NCIP and LGU claim had been agreed upon long ago. Some Mangyans walked out of the meeting.
The news reports and blogs came, alleging it is the NCIP that wants to evict the Mangyans.
“Wala po kaming karapatan, wala ho akong karapatan na paalisin sila. Kami ho talaga ang nagsa-safeguard sa kanilang karapatan at tumitingin din para sa kanilang kabutihan. Talagang nakakalungkot ang ganitong pangyayari (We don’t have the right; I don’t have the right to evict them. We are the ones safeguarding their rights and to look out for their welfare, that’s why it makes me sad that there are issues like this),” said Ignacio.

The situation has been tense ever since.

Mayor Dolor claims that Bibo is being used by his political rivals to brainwash the tribe and put his administration in a bad light, and ruin an agreement he said has been in the works since 2009.
“Ang mga Mangyan, mababait. Submissive sila. Masunurin. Naaawa tayo sa mga kapatid nating Mangyan at sa kabila ng kanilang kamangmangan ay pinagsamantalahan pa nitong mga tao na ito na ang gusto lamang nila ay i-advance ang kanilang political agenda. Sapagkat alam naman natin na malapit na ang eleksyon ulit (Mangyans are kind, submissive, obedient. I feel sorry because their ignorance is being taken advantage of by people who want to advance their political agenda. We know election is near),” Dolor said.

Tribal politics?

The tribe chieftain, Raymundo Sulongkawayan, submits to the will of the government. He said he will follow the law even if it means he will be seen by some in his tribe as surrendering their rights.
“Kung ako po ay iiwan nila ay masakit po ‘yun sa akin. Ayaw ko po na iwan nila ako, pero ayaw ko rin naman na sila ay mapupunta sa mali. At kung sila ay sa mali, ‘di ko naman sila kayang samahan sa mali. Maiiwan po ako sa tama (If they leave me, it will hurt. I don’t want to be left alone, but I don’t want them to be on the wrong side, but if they want to be wrong, I don’t want to join them. I want to be right),” Sulongkawayan said.
According to him, Bibo is a relative and also a bitter political rival who once lost to him in tribe elections.
Still, Sulongkawayan said, he has his tribe’s best interest in mind. He will once again lobby for amendments in the resolution so that it will include a clause that says if tribesmen get sick because of the landfill, it shall be investigated and then closed down.
NCIP’s Ignacio said she will consult with the LGU if that clause can be added.
Raymundo Sulongkawayan has started building his new home on land 150 meters away from the proposed landfill site.

Raymundo Sulongkawayan has started building his new home on land 150 meters away from the proposed landfill site.

Not backing down
“Ako lang naman ay nagmamalasakit para sa tribo (I’m just compassionate for my tribe),” said Bibo.
He rejected the government’s offer of relocation and livelihood assistance and is standing firm that a landfill cannot be built on their land.He said it poses health risks to his tribe, who would be living just 150 meters away, and that P100 is a small amount to pay for each coconut tree they had planted.
“Ang hirap magtanim. Sa tagal na itinanim ‘yan, isandaang piso? Eh, abonado ka pa,” Bibo said. “Malapit din lang ‘yung basura dito, eh doon lang kami lilipat sa malapit. Kung dati nga ay umaabot na dito ang langaw mula sa baba, ay ‘yan pa kayang lapit na ‘yan (It was so difficult to plant trees, it took us a long time, and they’re only going to pay P100? That’s not enough. The landfill will be so near the relocation site, if flies from below the mountain could reach us, what more in that distance).”
The NCIP Regional Office formed a fact-finding team, but results of its investigation still say the LGU has every right to build a landfill on its land.The Central Office will make the final decision, but Regional Director Ruben Bastero said he will recommend to have the relocation site investigated, given its proximity to the landfill area and the health hazards that come with it.
“I will recommend na mag-usap ang DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] at NCIP kasi napakalapit nga naman ng relocation site sa landfill (I will recommend that the DENR and the NCIP should talk because the proximity of the relocation site to the landfill is really a cause for concern),” Bastero said.
Bibo also claims the landfill will contaminate water coming from the nearby Tamaraw Falls. Mayor Dolor dismisses this claim by virtue of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) that the DENR issued in 2009, saying there is “no deep well or source of potable water at the down gradient area of the proposed site.”
Power of the CADT
“Eh, bakit pa nila ito sinukat dati kung hindi pala sa amin? (Why did they measure this before if this is not ours?)” Bibo asked.
He was referring to the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title or CADT that was awarded to them in 2004 along with other Mangyan tribes living in nearby barangays in Puerto Galera.The CADT, according to IPRA, should formally recognize the rights of possession and ownership of IPs over their ancestral domains.
But the process is not final until it is registered with the Land Registration Authority (LRA), which has not been done yet. Registration would require that the land has already been surveyed and that titled lands have been segregated, to comply with Section 56.
The segregation process has just been done recently, as part of the investigation of the landfill project.
“Napakahirap kasi ng segregation process. Napakateknikal kaya naman kami talaga (ay) natagalan (The segregation process is very difficult, very technical, that’s why there were delays),” Ignacio said.
NCIP’s Oriental Mindoro office employs a total of 15 staff, attending to close to 70,000 IPs in the province.
Bastero recognizes there may have been a lapse in the process in awarding the CADT without segregating the titles first.
“Hindi ako ang regional director noong 2004. Pero kung ako ‘yung masusunod, dapat hindi na-award ang CADT kung hindi pa sila nakakapag-segregate ng titled properties (I was not Regional Director in 2004, and if I had it my way, CADT should not have been awarded without the segregation of the titled properties first),” Bastero said.
Bastero said that the CADT is still subject to IPRA, and Section 56 still gives the LGU the power to do whatever it wants on its land.
The provision on CADT does have a disclaimer “in accordance with this law.”
The Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP), a non-profit, criticizes this kind of system.
The awarding of CADT takes into account many other external interests, such as private ownership, and that of different agencies such as the DENR which is always on the lookout for protected areas and forestry that may be within the scope of an ancestral claim.
“Marami ng cases na ang pag-apply pa lang ng CADT, mahina na kung ikukumpara mo sa mga malalaking kompanya o makapangyarihang indibidwal na may hawak na titulo (There have been many cases when IPs apply for CADT and it’s already a weak case compared to big companies or powerful individuals with titles),” said Tyrone Beyer, TFIP policy advocacy officer.
“Pina-survey nila ng pagkatagal-tagal, pagkahirap-hirap, tapos hindi rin pala masusunod ang konsepto ng ancestral domain, kaunti lang ang nakukuha ng mga katutubo, o ‘di kaya mapapalayas sila kahit na mayroon na silang CADT (They surveyed it, only to disregard the concept of ancestral domain, and IPs end up getting less, or getting evicted even with a CADT).”
Mangyans living in Sitio Talipanan in nearby Barangay Aninuan make a living from selling nito products. A well-known foundation has been helping them for years, and the LGU promotes the village as a tourist spot. For Mangyans in Sitio Lapantay, it is an entirely different story.

Mangyans living in Sitio Talipanan in nearby Barangay Aninuan make a living from selling nito products. A well-known foundation has been helping them for years, and the LGU promotes the village as a tourist spot. For Mangyans in Sitio Lapantay, it is an entirely different story.

Flaw in the law?
There was a time when the Mangyans were the only inhabitants of Oriental Mindoro. Their claim goes back to before Spanish colonization, while the law was only enacted in 1997.
The TFIP notes that Section 56 renders many ancestral claims invalid, especially since the IPs never had documents to back them.
“’Yung aming pagmamay-ari ng lupa, nauna pa sa mga gobyerno, sa mga Español, sa mga Amerikano, at sa mga Pilipinong pumabor sa ganitong klase ng sistema,” Beyer added. “Ang mismong batas ay may kahinaan talaga sa pagprotekta sa karapatan ng mga katutubo (Our ownership of the land came before the government, or the Spaniards or the Americans or the Filipinos who favored this kind of system. The law itself is weak when it comes to protecting the rights of IPs).”
NCIP said they are leaving it to Congress to review this.
“Marami rin kasing batas na nagkakaroon ng interaction, crisscrossing of these different laws,” Bastero said. “Wisdom na ng Kongreso ito bagamat puwede ring balikan kasi ‘yan ang nagiging problema sa mga lupang ninuno (There are a lot of different laws that interact and cris-cross. It is the wisdom of the Congress to maybe revisit because these have been the problems with ancestral domain).”
Progress, at what cost?
The P50-million landfill project will be good for Puerto Galera, Mayor Dolor said. Apart from its environmental merits, and the fact that it would help sustain tourism, it will also provide jobs for locals.
Residents in the community could construct the road to the site, build the structure, and when it is done, join the staff to handle the administrative, maintenance, engineering, sanitary, and other operations as long as the landfill is operating. The LGU will also provide the workers with houses.
As for the Mangyans, the LGU is proud to say their relocation site is part of their social housing project.
But Bibo is not quick to say thank you.
At the end of all of these, they still don’t own any land.
And the law that was created for them, in the end, cannot protect their rights.
“Ako po ay nakikiusap na huwag naman sana kaming mapaalis dito sa aming pamayanan, dahil napakatagal din naman naming tinrabaho ang lupang ito (I am begging you, please don’t evict us from our community, we worked on this land for so long),” Bibo said.
It remains to be seen whether Bibo can win this battle, or if this story will go down like the rest – where tribesmen lose their homes in their own country.

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