Malacanang creates still another task force to implement IPRA
By Gina Mission
"We dont need
it," said one member of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples
(NCIP)."Its a duplication of the duties and functions of the NCIP," said
...The commissioners were reacting to the creation of a
presidential task force on indigenous peoples by President Estrada. To concerned NCIP
watchers, the task force looks like another creation by Malacanang meant to sideline the
NCIP, which is the legal body created by law to implement the rights of indigenous
The Task Force
February 10, 2000, President Joseph Estrada, through Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora,
issued Administrative Order No. 108, creating the
Presidential Task Force on Indigenous Peoples "to ensure the immediate implementation
of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and defining the functions
February 14 letter to the Task Force members from Donna Gasgonia, Presidential Assistant
and Concurrent Chair of the Presidential Commission on Urban Poor and Vice Chair of the
National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), described the creation of the body as a
"response to the urgent problem facing the indigenous peoples due to the delay of the
full implementation of the IPRA."
Gasgonias "request", the seven members of
the Task Force were sworn into office by the President on February 18 in Malacaņang.
The event was attended by over 500 IPs from the different tribal communities in the
country. However, although the attendance was impressive, some of them, when thrown random
questions by CyberDyaryo, didnt know what was happening in the Palace, or why they
lang, basta, giingnan ra man mi nga moanhi diri (I dont know, we were just told to
come here,)," was the reply of an indigenous person from the Caraga Region who
William Claver, chair of the Task Force, thought he would be taking his oath as chair of
members of the Task Force have been dismissed by NCIP watchers as
"unsympathetic"to say the least -- to the sad plight of indigenous peoples
(IPs). How will "ensure" IPRAs implementation and "define" its
functions? The question is begging to be asked.
even if the members of the Task Force live up to the expectations of those who appointed
them, the "whereases" of AO 108 bear no relevance to their appointment. Instead,
they open the matter of governing the IP problem to a host of contradictions.
like saying that if eyes are for seeing, then to forgive is divine,"
described NCIP chair Atty. David Dao-as, of the provisions of the Administrative Order.
instance, a good part of AO 108 narrates how, because of a Supreme Court case questioning
the constitutionality of IPRA, the NCIP has failed to perform as mandated by law, and
thus, because of such "legal impediment," the Task Force should be created to
take over the duties of the Commission.
pendency of the case," reads the AO, "has resulted in the delay of basic
services delivered to the IPs, and created an ambiguity regarding the protection and
recognition of their ancestral domain rights.".
Dao-as, however, is not impressed. "There is no legal basis for that because the
Supreme Court has not issued a restraining order or a preliminary writ of injunction
against the IPRA," he said. Following a popular legal doctrine upholding a laws
validity unless declared otherwise by a court of law, the IPRA remains constitutional and
enforceable, he said.
is difficult to imagine that Gasgonia and Zamora, who are both lawyers, could have missed
such a fundamental legal doctrine. Which is why the AOs critics smell something
Whos the real culprit?
108 also states that, "the further delay in the delivery of basic services,
especially those concerning the rights of IPs will defeat the purpose of the IPRA and the
Estrada administrations poverty eradication program."
who is really delaying the services to the IPs?
September 21, 1998, Zamora issued Memorandum No. 21, creating an Ad Hoc Committee to study
the issues relative to the Constitution, administrative setup and operations of the NCIP.
was appointed chair of the committee. The same Memo directed the Department of Budget and
Management (DBM) to withhold the release of funds to the NCIP, except for operational
expenses like salaries and rent, until after the final resolution of the issues
surrounding the Council.
a previous interview with CyberDyaryo, Gasgonia had explained that the release of NCIP funds had to be
withheld to prevent NCIP commissioners from using them for self-serving purposes. The
commissioners are currently under DOJ investigation.
is left of the NCIP after that September 21 memo is an office with more than a thousand
employees and funds that are just enough to pay for their monthly salaries. Nothing more.
Naturally, NCIPs programs for the IPs have had to be put on hold.
Gasgonia asserted during the interview: "With the doubtful performance of the NCIP
commissioners, the government should not release project funds. We are releasing
operational funds - rents, salaries, but not project funds because until they liquidate
their cash advances that are supposedly for the projects that they were supposed to have
implemented, we dont think that its prudent at all to do so. In fact, it
borders on gross negligence to continue releasing the funds to them."
stressed, "We did not want the indigenous communities to suffer the consequences
because definitely the result was that there were no projects for the IPs. And the DENR,
which could have filled in the gap, had some difficulty because of the IPRA law, although
this is being questioned in the Supreme Court," Gasgonia continued.
this legal problem, it was decided to create a Presidential Task Force on Ancestral
Domains (PTFAD)," Gasgonia said. The PTFAD was created by virtue of Memorandum 52, "to assist the Office of the President,
through the Presidential Assistant for Poverty Alleviation, NGOs and POs, in monitoring
compliance to existing laws regarding the of Indigenous Peoples to their ancestral
is it the pending Supreme Court case that is the cause of the "delayed" services
to the IPs?
of the concerns of the NCIP commissioners is that the new Task Force, like the old one,
will "create confusion" among IP communities. As Helen Mabandoz, a Mandaya from
Davao asked: "Who will the IPs follow, the NCIP or the Task Force?"
fairness, the Administrative Order creating the new Task Force is clear about the
groups function which is, "to assist the NCIP in the formulation of a
comprehensive and integrated sustainable development plan for the indigenous peoples,
focusing on the development of ancestral domains, particularly those that are covered by
Certificates of Ancestral Domain Claim issued by the Department of Environment and Natural
Resources, and such other official tenure instruments."
NCIP sympathizers view the Task Force as another strategy of mining advocates to derail
the implementation of the IPRA during the term of the present NCIP commissioners, who are
all appointees of former President Fidel Ramos.
remarked that, for a body that is supposed to "assist" the NCIP, not even once
did the first Task Force consult the Commission on any matter concerning ancestral
point worth noting is Zamoras February 11 Memo to Chairman Dao-as ordering the
maintenance of the status quo regarding the NCIP chairmanship, to give the
"Presidential Task Force on Indigenous Peoples sufficient time to study the matter
and make appropriate recommendations to the President."
nowhere in AO 108 does it say that the Task Force has all that power.
Davao LAMMP Congressman Roy Lopez is right. "The law did not create the Office of the
Presidential Assistant to implement IPRA. It created the NCIP to do that," he said
during a House committee hearing on the NCIP problem.
Christian highlanders-turned rebels rap government for unfulfilled promises
By Gina Mission
Allied Composite Command Generals: "No to Presidential Task Force on Indigenous
They're brave, they're armed, and they're
Members of the Mindanao Allied Composite Command (MACC), a unified Christian-highlander
group in Mindanao are in Manila to protest the recent creation of the Presidential Task
Force on Indigenous Peoples.
Said Benion Lucas, who holds that rank of major general of the MACC, the Task Force only
reflects the insincerity of the Estrada administration in upholding the rights of the
indigenous peoples (IPs). It also shows, he added, the President's lack of seriousness in
fulfilling its promise to "uphold the rights of the IPs."
MACC, an organization duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is the
first of its kind in the country. Its members, who are former ranking officialsand members
of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), are members of indigenous tribes from
different parts of Mindanao who have been assimilated to the mainstream culture. Thus the
term "Christian highlanders."
"We are tribal people but we have already adopted the lifestyles of the
non-IPs," explained Virgilio Seņara, a Higaonon from Bukidnon.
The MACC idea arose from the government's failure to fulfill its promise of
"mainstreaming" former MNLF combatants. J4 Virgilio Seņara narrated how some
25,000 former MNLF revolutionaries believed and waited for a promised job in the
government, only to wake up everyday with no job in sight.
"When you have become so used to war, you can't really be that suspicious. So almost
everybody thought that they would get a job, as promised," Seņara said. It is not
true, he said, that former revolutionaries cannot go back to life in the mainstream.
"It's the government that seems to find it hard to accept us. We feel we are not
welcome in the community," he added.
The MACC's ideals are simple. They don't want their lands, which their people have held
since time immemorial, to be taken away from them. They don't want their people to be
exploited by politicians during election time and be forgotten on most other days. In
short, they want to have the same rights enjoyed by every Filipino.
"We are people, too. Why should the Muslim MNLF members get government support while
we don't? Why should" Christians be superior to us?" asked Brig. Gen. Romeo
One thing stands out among MACC members--at least, the ones who are presently in Manila:
All of them speak good English. But as was later revealed, it isn’t at all
surprising. All of them are well-to-do, and have their own businesses in Mindanao. They
have taken it upon themselves to "fight so other IPs may enjoy what they rightfully
But they want to clarify something. The MACC members are not aiming for the moon. The
organization wants to help disseminate information among highlanders and christian MNLF,
as well as their sympathizers, about the promised government programs embodied in the
final peace agreement between the government and the MNLF. MACC leaders help ordinary
members identify viable activities and assist them in sourcing funds for livelihood
projects, as well as in organizing cooperatives. If there is assistance available from
government and foreign sources for these projects, they would want to avail of them, too.
In addition, they conduct lectures, seminars, training and general information drives on
the need for self-sufficiency in IP communities. In line with the government's effort to
fight poverty, Lucas said that the rights of IPs, as provided in the Indigenous People's
Rights Act (IPRA) should be respected. Government's promises, he said, should be
"But how can the government enforce the IPRA properly when it could not even get past
the issue concerning the NCIP leadership?" asked J7 Deogracias Raez, himself an NCIP
director on ancestral domains.
The MACC generals stressed that the current administration should respect the law. And the
law says that the NCIP is the agency that should implement IPRA, and not any task force.
"Either the government follows the law, or there would really be trouble in
Mindanao," Brig. Gen. Jerry Bontilao warned.
Photo courtesy of MACC