Sordid tales of the budget process
(or, How the indigenous peoples are getting it in the neck)

By Gina Mission

Something is not right with the budget of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and its line agency, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB). At least, according to a group of concerned NGOs and individuals who attended the session, "The Challenges of Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Rights Under the National Legal System" of the 1st Alternative Law Conference: Lawyering for the Public Interest. And something is definitely not right, the group added, with the budget of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

   The conference, held at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines, was organized by Alternative Law Groups, composed of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, Women’s Legal Bureau, Tanggol Kalikasan-Haribon Foundation, and the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRNRC).

   In the National Expenditure Program (NEP) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2000, the DENR proposed a budget of P9.6 billion, the MGB P388.951 million, and the NCIP, P797.963 million. However, within the context of the administration’s scarce financial resources, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), acting on the recommendation of the Office of the President, slashed all three budget proposals. The DBM approved P5.8 billion for the DENR, P320.336 million for the MGB, and P351.918 million for the NCIP.

   These figures may look deceptively ordinary at this time of government budget slashes and forced savings. But concerned groups are reading the handwriting on the wall. They see that these figures scream of "unfavorable government priority programs and sectoral biases."

   "These budgets deserve specific scrutiny," said Atty. Marvic Leonen, executive director of the LRNRC.

   Of particular concern, Leonen said, are the allotments within the budget allocations of DENR’s forestry programs, and the MGB and NCIP operations. "The administration blatantly favors commercial exploitation of valuable resources over protection, rehabilitation, equitable natural resource benefits distribution and recognition of ancestral domain rights of indigenous communities," Leonen remarked on DENR’s forestry program. These indicators, he added, directly contradict the administration’s numerous pronouncements on issues facing our natural resources.

An irrational DENR budget

   Under the DENR’s approved budget, its Forest Management Service (FMS) will receive P623.909 million. This program funds DENR’s support activities for industrial tree plantations and logging operations such as area surveys, delineation and issuance of Industrial Forest Management Agreements (IFMAs) and Socialized Industrial Forest Management Agreements (SUFMA), and the granting of timber licenses and permits.

   In contrast, the Plantation Establishment, Maintenance and Protection Program, which funds DENR’s direct forest undertakings through private contractors will get only P180.875 million. The Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) program, on the other hand, which is the national strategy in the formulation and implementation of forestry programs, will only receive P97.367 million.

   In addition, the DENR’s two major forestry projects, the Timber Corridor Master Plan (TCMP) and the Forest Resource Securitization Strategy (FRSS), are not reflected in the proposed budget.

   According to Leonen, the TCMP is actually a land conversion scheme – from supposedly denuded lands into commercial forestlands. This is part of the attempt to revive the wood industry which is suffering from a slump. On the other hand, the FRSS is being bandied about by the DENR as an innovative way to address the financial needs of its community-based forest management program.

   The absence of a DENR budget allocation for these two projects, according to Leonen, automatically transfers the responsibility in funding them from the DENR to the private sector. "The DENR in effect washes its hands of the responsibility, as well of the success, of the scheme," said Leonen.

   "Further, by introducing additional stakeholders and interest groups into the scheme and treating the forest resource as separate from the community, FRSS goes against the very essence of CBFM. Instead, it again will perpetuate the control by large commercial interests of the little forest resources we have left," added Leonen.

A sordid tale at mining

   A closer look at the breakdown of the budget of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau also tells a sordid tale. As in recent years, Mineral Lands Administration (MLA) will continue to get a lion’s share of the budget, at P120.012 million. The MLA funds the direct operational implementation of the Mining Act of 1995, such as the conduct of mineral land surveys and exploration, the processing of mineral lands exploitation and utilization permit applications, the regulation of mining activities, and other such programs.

   In contrast, the Geosciences Development Services, which addresses environmental concerns such as water resources, sanitary landfills, land use, and coastal management, gets only P53.691 million, 19 per cent less than its 1999 allocation of P66.353 million.

   "Already, the allocation of financial resources contradicts the guiding principle set by the MGB," Leonen observed. By choosing to fund the operational implementation of the Mining Act of 1995 over programs that deal with environmental concerns, the MGB is sending a clear signal of how mining issues will be handled under this administration, Leonen added.

Unkindest cuts for NCIP

   Among the three budget proposals, the NCIP got the unkindest cuts. The DBM slashed P446.405 million or 56 per cent off the original request, reducing the agency’s budget to a meager P351.918 million. The amount is further divided into P261.297 million for Personnel Services, P90.521 million for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), and what the LRCNR says is a "comically negligible amount" of P100,000 for capital outlay under the general administration and support services item.

   Section 46 (a), Chapter VII of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997 provides that: "The ancestral domain office shall be responsible for the identification, delienation and recognition of ancestral lands/domains. It shall also be responsible for the management of ancestral lands/domains in accordance with the master plan as well as the implementation of the ancestral rights of the indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) and indigenous peoples (IPs)…."

   To fund this task, the IPRA provided for "a special fund to be known as the Ancestral Domains Fund, an initial amount of P130,000 to cover compensation for expropriated lands, delineation and development of ancestral domains. Thereafter, such amount shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act."

   Both the 1999 General Appropriations Act (GAA), and the proposed FY 2000 NEP, however, have not include and item for this Fund. GAA is the Senate version of the FY 2000 government budget, and NEP FY 2000, also known as House Bill No 8374, is Congress’.

   The NCIP and the ALG conference conceded that the MOOE allocation of P90.521 million is "sorely inadequate" to meet the agency’s operational expenses. Worse, the DBM only approved P3.813 million for the Management/Development of Ancestral Lands (MDAL), in blatant disregard of the NCIP’s proposal for P241.3 million. In defending its proposal, NCIP chair David Daoas reasoned that "the bulk of the Agency’s mandate is founded on the program" and that "it is one reason why the NCIP came into being." Daoas’ pleas, however, fell on deaf ears.

Racehorses more important than IPs?

   Curiously, the allotment for the same item in the DENR budget is higher at P16.208 million. This, despite the fact that the DENR issued Memorandum Order 98-15 last September 25, stopping the issuance of the certificate of ancestral domain claims and certificate of ancestral land claims, a task that has been transferred to the NCIP.

   Leonen assailed the allocation saying that NCIP’s P3.813 million is "a lot less than that allocated for the implementation of Socio-Economic and Cultural Development Projects at P404.191 million" in the national budget. He added that the amount of P3.813 million is even less than the budget for the "improvement and supervision of the racehorse breeding industry" which has an allocation of P4.835 million.

   "Clearly, this administration puts more premium on a pure-bred racehorse than on carrying out ancestral domain development and management," Leonen averred.

   Even if the NCIP’s proposed allocation of P38.210 million for the management and development of ancestral lands (MDAL) is granted, Leonen says it is still a pittance compared to the allocations for the administration of tree plantations and mineral lands of the DENR. Plantation Establishment and Maintenance and Protection will get P180.875 million and Mineral Lands Administration will get P120.012 million.

   "The amounts could indicate the government’s bias for commercial interests that exploit the environment over the rights of the IPs to their ancestral lands and domains," observed Leonen.

   "It would not be surprising then, if the NCIP has not accomplished anything substantial as yet. This could merely be traced to budget misprioritization," he added.

NCIP’s 101 certifications

   But despite the freezing of funds of the NCIP as ordered by Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora and Presidential Assistant Donna Gasgonia in September 1998, NCIP records defy the common notion of how a crippled agency should have performed. Leonen observed that "presumably with mining companies providing for their expenses, the NCIP has been very active, even certifying 101 areas as having no IP occupants."

   From August 1998 to March 1999, Leonen’s organization, the NRCNR, recorded 101 certifications that the NCIP issued to mining companies. Most of the certifications cover Central and Eastern Visayas, with 46 certifications, and Southern Tagalog and Bicol, with 26 certifications. Three are for areas in the Cordilleras.

   With NCIP’s financial problem, people at the ALG conference asked: Where did the money used to fund the requirements of the issuance of such certification, come from?

   NCIP records show that all the 101 certifications were granted after "field investigations by the relevant NCIP Regional Office." NCIP Administrative Orders No. 1 and 3 provide that the expenses for the field investigations as well as the securing of "free and prior informed consent" should be borne by the applicant. The free and prior informed consent (FPIC) is to be given by the IPs in the affected area, through a memorandum of agreement between them and the mining company. The NCIP could not issue a certification to the applicant without the FPIC. In turn, the DENR could not issue a mining permit without NCIP’s certification.

   But while legally-mandated, the practice of the mining applicants providing the funds for NCIP personnel conducting field visits and investigation, as well as for securing the FPIC of the IPs concerned, is not without its downside. A case in point is Mindoro Resources Limited (Ric: link this to the MRL story) which applied for a mining exploration permit for an area covering Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte. The NCIP Caraga Regional Director certified that there are no IPs in the area, even though he personally knew, and even became party to a dispute involving the proper representation of the IPs in the area. The DENR, after receiving the certification, naturally issued the permit to MRL. When the aggrieved IPs complained to the NCIP, Daoas promised to send a team to investigate the area, a plan which didn’t push through because MRL refused to finance the team’s trip.

   Another case is Mindex Resource Development Corporation (Mindex), which was issued a strangely worded certification stating that the application is outside of "CADC-002 given to the Mangyans," and does not answer the only important question in issuing the certificate – whether or not there are IPs in the area. Furthermore, the second paragraph of the certification seems to admit that there are indigenous peoples "inhabiting the area" since, as it states, "their customs and traditions shall always be the primary consideration."

   As soon as it was alerted to this oversight, the NCIP expressed willingness to correct the mistake, but again, Mindex used its power to fund the NCIP’s action by delaying it.

   With such precedents, the ALG group is worried that similar cases will increase, thereby undermining whatever prior restraint the FPIC may serve the mining companies before they can secure exploration permits. And with the FY 2000 budget, the group is even more worried that the budget allocations of these three agencies might just pave the way for the disenfranchisement of the indigenous peoples.

   The Lower House passed House Bill 8374 on second reading last October 10. Senate deliberations on the GAA for FY 2000, are ongoing at the committee level. Upon approval, the proposed GAA will be taken up by a bicameral committee to harmonize the House and Senate versions.

   With the vigilance and aggressive lobbying by civil society, as well as an information campaign at both Chambers, the ALG group hopes that legislators come up with a "more rational and informed debate on the proposed allocations for the financial resources needed to address our critical natural resources and the fundamental rights of our IPs as provided in our Constitution."

   But then the group also realizes that amendments in the budget allocations depend on how the people behind the budgets defend their proposals. And perhaps, how influential they are with the powers that be. That,, the alternative lawyers group admits, they can hardly do anything about.


Next week: Responses by DENR, MGB, and NCIP

CyberDyaryo | 1999.11.11