UNITY. Indigenous people leaders call for unity to uphold the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) leadership and to protect Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Reform Act (IPRA) during a press conference at the Hotel DreamWorld in Quezon City on Tuesday (Feb. 7, 2023). IPRA created the NCIP in 1997. (PNA photo by Joey O. Razon)

MANILA – Leaders of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Mindanao called for unity to preserve the gains achieved by the government in protecting the IPs through Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Reform Act (IPIRA) that created the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 1997.

In a press conference at Hotel Dreamworld in Quezon City on Tuesday, the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Council of Elders and Leaders (MIPCEL) and the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Youth Organization (MIPYO) said the gains of government and the liberation of ancestral domains from the claws of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) must be preserved.

“Never again that we will tolerate their (CPP-NPA-NDF) entry on our ancestral domains using various modus operandi and schemes,” the IP leaders said in a statement.

The IP leaders said they have noticed that the communist groups have been imposing efforts to recover their erstwhile controlled barangays in different areas of the country.

“We cannot just be a fence sitter in this evolving situation. It is imperative that we nip this in the bud so to say. We had already made the mistake of being complacent in the past when they set up organizations using issues and the network of Lumad schools that we thought were just okey until they started supplanting, recruitment and killings. We don’t want this to happen again,” they said.

They said the reforms within the NCIP to make it culture-sensitive and service-oriented have been gaining traction through intensified community visitations and by addressing pressing issues affecting the IPs’ welfare.

“Difficult but the NCIP is gaining grounds and government as a whole is responding. Never in history was that basic services and projects under the Barangay Development Plan able to penetrate GIDAS (Geographically-Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas) and the ancestral domains nationwide,” the IP leaders said.

The IP groups also said they had identified the CPP-NPA-NDF fronts and underground organizations as well erring NCIP personnel conniving to obliterate the gains of IPRA and to weaken the NCIP through factionalism and polarization.

They said the CPP-NPA-NDF are conniving with various groups to call for the resignation NCIP chairperson Allen Capuyan amid the commission’s efforts to impose reforms and to advance the interest of the IPs and the Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs).

“We are calling, therefore, the government and its leadership not to be deceived by the issues and intrigues this group is using and exploiting. Resist the objective of the CTG (communist terrorist group) to polarize the NCIP and weaken it as the only government institution dedicated for the ICCs/IPs,” they added.

MIPCEL chairman Lipatuan Joel Unad said he was a former member of the CPP-NPA-NDF that is behind the campaign to discredit the NCIP and violate IPRA.

"Dati akong cadre ng CPP-NPA-NDF at nakasama ko pa pati mga pari at bishop para siraan ang NCIP at labagin ang IPRA (I was a former cadre of the CPP-NPA-NDF and was with the priests and bishops to discredit the NCIP and violate IPRA)," Unad said.

Datu Alimar Limbayon, one of the IP leaders, said he was one of the individuals who joined the “Capuyan resign movement” but eventually left the group after learning that the people behind it have criminal cases and violated IPRA.

Limbayon said a petition calling for Capuyan’s resignation was disseminated to the different tribal groups with a promise to appoint them to the NCIP.

“Now, I am convincing my fellow IPs and ICCs to reject the petition calling for the resignation of chairman Capuyan,” Limbayon said.

Eric Almendras, also a former NPA member, said the CPP-NPA-NDF used deception and lies to undermine the IPRA and the NCIP as a government institution that looks after the welfare of the IPs.

He said the National Task Force to End Local Communism and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is also the primary target of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

“A weak NCIP will be favorable to the CPP-NPA-NDF that is why they are targeting to weaken the NCIP which is a strong partner of the NTF-ELCAC,” he said.

Defend IPRA

Bae Norma Rivera, the B'laan tribe leader in Davao del Sur, said it is important for them to have a leader who will defend the IPRA, "like what Secretary Allen Capuyan is doing in the NCIP."

"Only during this time that we felt we are empowered. Why defend the IPRA? It is the bible of the tribe and our guiding factor in correcting the injustices we experienced years back," Rivera said in a separate press conference held at Star Hotel in Davao City on Tuesday.

Bae Norma Rivera, the B'laan tribe leader in Davao del Sur, speaks during a press conference at the Star Hotel in Davao City on Tuesday (Feb. 7, 2023). (PNA photo by Robinson Niñal Jr.)

For the past 25 years, she noted that gaps and challenges in the implementation of IPRA hounded the NCIP, which crippled the agency in the fulfillment of its mandates.

"For the first time, IP communities became confident in discussing burning issues in public, attested and exposed criminal activities of erring staff and officers, and exert assertion on our rights and welfare in the different forums of governance," Rivera explained.

Under the present leadership, she said the NCIP has become the tribes' "protector" against discrimination and historical injustices.

On the other hand, Rivera said the NTF-ELCAC has been instrumental in liberating them from abuse and injustices.

For instance, Rivera said the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program (BDP) helped them in terms of community development and made them realize that the government is now close to their lives and is working for them.

Meanwhile, Bae Christine Banugan, representative of the Mandaya tribe from Caraga, Davao Oriental, said their call is meant mainly “to defend IPRA and not to dissolve the NCIP.”

Banugan said the issues thrown against the NICP are a direct attack on IPRA. She did not elaborate.

"The big investors were threatened because of the good leadership in NCIP. We are now empowered, we are not afraid anymore because there is an agency that worked hard for our benefit," she added.

Last month, Capuyan called on NCIP officials who “are no longer effective in the performance of their respective mandates” on the ground and “unwilling to respond to legitimate burning issues raised by the ICCs” to resign.

He also bared the rampant selling of ancestral domains with local officials, including governors and mayors, participating in the anomalous deals. (PNA)