Today's Punto
Today's Punto
Conflicted Aeta nation
By Bong Lacson

Aug 01, 2017

UNITED UNDER the Sangguniang Tribung Ayta ng CADT 025-A (STA), the indigenous people have virtually declared an independent, if tribal, republic over their 10,600 hectares of ancestral domain straddling the Clark special economic zone.

This came with their declaration of nonrecognition of the Clark Development Corp. and the unilateral annulment of their joint management agreement (JMA) with the staterun fi rm over the use of their land.

“Kailangan nang putulin ang aming ugnayan sa CDC para maiangat ang aming kabuhayan sa aming lupain (We need to cut our ties with CDC so that we can uplift our livelihood in our own land),” said STA vice president Don Robert Serrano.

His daughter Ruvielane S. Margarito, IP representative in the Mabalacat City council, decried the CDC for keeping them in the dark as to the JMA implementation.

Already “grossly disadvantageous” to the IPs with the 80-20 sharing – the lion’s cut to the CDC, the scraps to the tribes – the JMA, since its signing in 2006, has not had the least benefit to them, Margarito said. No thanks to the CDC’s “adamant refusal” for cuentas claras on the monies accruing from the agreement, not even a list of locators doing business within the ancestral domain.

Thus, when the CDC proffered before them a check of P14.6 million it said represented their 20 percent share, they refused.

“Mag-o-audit po muna kami kasi hindi namin pweding tanggapin ito dahil ito po yung estimated na kinita ng ancestral domain namin, so in the spirit of transparency kung talagang in good faith sila bigay po nila ang kabuuang kwenta (We need to conduct an audit first before we can accept the check. As it is our estimated share from the use of our ancestral domain, so in the spirit of transparency and if they are really in good faith, we should be given the whole accounting of the funds),” Margarito said.

When this was raised in a meeting with the CDC, the tribe was even derided thus:

“Who is going to audit? Kayo (You)? Bakit registered leader ka ba (Why, are you a registered leader)? Marunong kang mag audit (Do you know how to audit)?”

The scoffing condescension of CDC AVP for external affairs Rommel Narciso still stings to this day, said Margarito. “Doon po namin naramdaman na bakit pa kami makikipag-joint venture kung ganyan ang tingin nila sa amin (That’s when we felt why should we continue with our joint venture with them if they treat us that way).”

Divide and rule

Beyond perceived, if not felt, racism, the CDC has also been suspected by the tribes of a “divide and conquer” approach to their dealings with them.

Observed Serrano: “Naging gawi na ng CDC ang pagsasabing hindi nagkakaisa kundi nagaaway pa ang mga katutubo. Eh, sila mismo ang nang-iintriga (It has been the wont of CDC to say the tribes are not united, that they are quarrelling. In fact, CDC itself is sowing the intrigues).

“Hindi po totoo na kaming katutubo ay nagaaway-away (It is not true that we IPs are quarreling among ourselves),” said Serrano, belying reports of inter-tribal rivalries that came to the fore over the lucrative quarrying operations at the Sacobia River.

STA president Oscar Dizon affirmed tribal unity which he said was effected in the formation of the STA which gained the recognition of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) “because all our tribal chieftains have certified it.”

Still, no recognition of the STA by the CDC.

Noel Anthony G. Tulabut, CDC communications manager, said the NCIP letter signed by regional director Ronaldo M. Daquioag on March 7 enumerating Dizon, Serrano, and four others as STA leaders is only a “virtual recognition” of the commission and will still be decided by the commission en banc.

Tulabut explained that the STA still needs to meet the requirements of certifications as IPO (indigenous people’s organization) and IPS (indigenous political structure) mandated in the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) law and under NCIP Administrative Order No. 2 series of 2012.

To compound the matter, the STA as “real representative” of the Aeta tribes in the Clark area has been challenged by “other” IP groups.

Salungat po kami sa mga napiling anim na lider upang sumaklaw sa aming mga karapatan na wala kaming pahintulot sa kanila (We oppose the six leaders chosen to represent our rights without our consent),” read a letter sent to the CDC by eight other leaders headed by one chieftain Rading Sibal of Sitio Baguingin Barangay Anupul in Bamban, Tarlac.

In another letter to the CDC, Danilo Adrias, chairman of Barangay San Vicente, Bamban, questioned the STA, claiming it did not represent all Aeta chieftains. He asked for his inclusion in the group along with Oscar Rivera, a long-time leader of the Bamban Aeta Tribal Association.

Rivera himself has written the NCIP for inclusion in the STA, “given the fact that he was the authorized signatory (of the IPs) in the JMA.”

In the wake of these dissensions, credence obtains in pervading observations that the formation of STA negated its very purpose of uniting the IPs.

Vested interests

The pursuit of the highest interest of the Aeta tribes, Serrano said prompted the STA’s formation, its rejection of the JMA and their withdrawal of recognition of the CDC.

At a prescon last week, STA legislative secretary Albert de la Cruz impressed that the CDC can no longer issue business permits, and it is now the local government unit that can do so within the ancestral domain, with free prior and informed consent of the STA.

How this can be done, implementing rules and regulations -- within or without the ambit of Philippine laws – be damned, it was not said.

Why, the very presence of De la Cruz in the STA has unsettled, indeed caused bitter recriminations among the tribes: What is the business of an unat (non-Aeta), the former vice mayor of Mexico, a town that is well outside the communities contiguous to Clark, sitting in the STA?

Alarms have been sounded too over the “high visibility” of other unats – an ex-member of the provincial board, a former CDC official, pro-poor crusaders, former police and military officers, contractors bragging of affinity with a powerful religious sect, and a host of other hustlers – notably in the quarrying operations.

It very well appears now that behind – at times even in front of – every tribal leader are non- Aeta cohorts. In reality, “handlers,” if we believe some CDC people. And succumb to racism as its external affairs AVP did, disparaging the IPs’ capacity to have a will of their own.

Will. The CDC, the NCIP, the LGUs, and the Aetas themselves can very well draw from there. For a start.

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